Howell James

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Howell Malcolm Plowden James (born 13 March 1954) is a government spin doctor, political advisor, and PR executive. In August 2009 he was director of corporate affairs for Barclays Bank.[1]

He is currently chief executive of lobbying agency Quiller Consultants; previously he was head of corporate communications at Christies.

Career

Advertising and commercial broadcasting

After leaving Mill Hill boarding school in north London James signed up for a traineeship at a London advertising agency where he worked as an account executive. Meanwhile he moonlighted at Capital Radio, looking after guests and manning phone-ins. [2] In 1978 he was appointed Head of Promotions at the London station. [3]

In 1982 he joined TV-am as Head of Press and Publicity. TV-am, the ITV breakfast franchise, was then headed by Peter Jay, a prominent neoliberal ideologue who was close to the future BBC Director-General John Birt. Together Jay and Birt had developed a critique of television which came to be known as the ‘mission to explain’ which became the philosophy of the new company. In 1983 Jay was forced to resign amid criticisms of his management style [4] after which another future BBC Director-General Greg Dyke is credited with saving the company. [5] James worked at TV-am until 1985 when he took up a number of positions in the Thatcher government [6] His successor, David Keighley, later became a right-wing critic of the BBC.

Government advisor and corporate relations expert

James was a Special Adviser to the Cabinet Office in 1985 and to the Department of Employment from 1985 to 1987. That year he was appointed a Special Advisor to David Young at the Department of Trade and Industry. James had been introduced to the Thatcher government (and more specifically David Young) by its PR guru Tim Bell, who financed his positions as special adviser. James was a close friend of Bell’s wife, who had worked for James at Capital Radio. [7]

In 1987, after a brief period doing PR for the Dorchester hotel, [8] James was appointed Director of Corporate Affairs for a BBC, a position he held for five years. [9] Tim Bell was also appointed as a PR consultant to the Corporation. [10] Both these appointments were highly controversial because of their connections to the aggressively anti-BBC Thatcher government, and were part of the process of commercialisation which began in the mid to late 1980s. After James's appointment the Opposition home affairs spokesperson wrote to the BBC chairman, Marmaduke Hussey (himself an anti-BBC Thatcher appointment) to demand the cancellation of the appointment or a review of it within six months. [11] Marmaduke Hussey responded by demanding a retraction saying that Robin Corbett's labelling of James as Thatcher's 'poddle' had caused 'grave offence'. [12]

In 1992 James was appointed head of corporate relations at Cable & Wireless, a company which his political mentor David Young now chaired. [13]

In 1994 James returned to government as a political secretary to John Major. James replaced Sarah Hogg and according to the Guardian, was seen as ‘more media-savvy, extrovert and networking’. [14] The Guardian adds that he was seen as ‘“quite rightwing” - and that coming from rightwing journalist Simon Heffer. [15]

Brown Lloyd James

James’s role as a political secretary came to an end with the Conservative election defeat in 1997. That year he founded the advertising and PR company Brown Lloyd James with Sir Nicholas Lloyd, former editor of the Daily Express who was Knighted by Thatcher, and Peter Brown a ‘music, entertainment and communications’ expert who represents Andrew Lloyd Weber. [16] He was a director of Brown Lloyd James until 2004. He was famously hired as a spokesman for the Hinduja brothers, whose £1m donation to the Millennium Dome led to Mandelson’s second resignation from the Labour Government. [17] Peter Mandelson and James are old friends and Mandelson’s partner Reinaldo Avila da Silva previously had a relationship with James. [18]

Labour Spin

James was a member of the Phillis Committee (chaired by Bob Phillis, chief executive of Guardian Media Group) [19] the 2003 Review of Government Communication which recommended the appointment of a permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office to oversee communications operations across government. [20]

James was subsequently appointed to the very post that the Phillis Committee created. The Conservative party commented: ‘This is a very strange appointment. It is a strange way to try and end the culture of spin in Downing Street, appointing a good friend of Peter Mandelson to such a sensitive post. And it is strange that Labour should want the services of the man who masterminded the 1997 election campaign for John Major.’ [21]

Revolving Door

  • Corporate affairs director, Barclays plc. Role was approved by ACOBA "subject to the automatic three-month waiting period from his last day of service and the condition that, for 12 months from the same date, he should not be personally involved in lobbying UK Government Ministers or Crown servants, including Special Advisers, on behalf of his new employer."[22]

Affiliations

Notes

  1. Peter Mandleson's PR friend opens office in Libya, Daily Mail, 30 August 2009
  2. Profile: Howell James: So is this the son of Prince of Darkness?’, The Sunday Times, 28 March 2004
  3. JAMES, Howell Malcolm Plowden’, Who's Who 2009, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2008 [Accessed 26 Nov 2009]
  4. Moving Image Communications Ltd, TV-am Timeline [Accessed 22 October 2009]
  5. Peter Jay, ‘Jay talking’, Observer, 18 June 2000
  6. JAMES, Howell Malcolm Plowden’, Who's Who 2009, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2008 [Accessed 26 Nov 2009]
  7. Profile: Howell James: So is this the son of Prince of Darkness?’, The Sunday Times, 28 March 2004
  8. Matthew Tempest, ‘Profile: Howell James – Whitehall's new press chief is a 'rightwing' former Tory adviser with links to Peter Mandelson’, guardian.co.uk, 25 March 2004
  9. JAMES, Howell Malcolm Plowden’, Who's Who 2009, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2008 [Accessed 26 Nov 2009]
  10. Tom O'Malley, Closedown?: The BBC and Government Broadcasting Policy 1979-92 (London: Pluto Press, 1994) p.158
  11. Stuart Wavell, 'Howell of protest - Howell James', The Guardian, 8 September 1987
  12. 'Chairman of BBC demands retraction', The Guardian, 12 September 1987
  13. Profile: Howell James: So is this the son of Prince of Darkness?’, The Sunday Times, 28 March 2004
  14. Matthew Tempest, ‘Profile: Howell James – Whitehall's new press chief is a 'rightwing' former Tory adviser with links to Peter Mandelson’, guardian.co.uk, 25 March 2004
  15. Ibid.
  16. Brown Lloyd James, Peter Brown, [Accessed 26 November 2009]
  17. ‘Profile: Howell James: So is this the son of Prince of Darkness?’, The Sunday Times, 28 March 2004
  18. Cole Moreton, ‘Deconstructing the Mandelson set’, Independent, 4 February 2001
  19. ‘Profile: Howell James: So is this the son of Prince of Darkness?’, The Sunday Times, 28 March 2004
  20. Ian Hall, ‘Analysis: The myth of spin-free govt communications’, PR Week UK, 5 September 2003
  21. Cole Moreton, ‘Deconstructing the Mandelson set’, Independent, 4 February 2001
  22. Tenth Report 2008-2009 Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, accessed 25 November 2014