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Aeolus is an elite networking business club based in Scotland, created by Baroness Goudie, 'vice chair of the Labour peers in the House of Lords and networker extraordinaire'.[1] . It is 'called Aeolus after the Greek god of the Four Winds'. Goudie 'began sending out letters to prospective clients earlier this month', reported Scotland on Sunday in July 2004.[2]

It existence was disclosed in 2004 when it was revealed that it was offering access to politicians in return for a £16,000 membership fee:

It is the kind of restaurant bill that would give all but the most wealthy of diners galloping indigestion. But it appears that if you want to have dinner with the likes of Mrs Tony Blair these days, £16,000 is the price tag.
That is the annual sum being charged by a remarkable new venture about to be launched in Scotland, which promises a unique chance for the elite of the business world to mix it with Britain’s most powerful political names. Meet the stiff entry requirements, stump up the cash and you gain entry to regular lunches and dinners with a veritable A-list of stars, including Cherie Blair, Gordon Brown, Alastair Campbell, Michael Howard, Lord Robertson and Douglas Alexander.
Those behind the new club believe it will be the perfect opportunity for elite business-types in Edinburgh and Glasgow to glad-hand with the influential. But last night, a row over the scheme was already brewing, as politicians claimed it represented a blatant case of access being granted for cash. [3]

The elite networking function of Aeolus was emphaised by the cost of joining and its orientation towards corporate membership:

In order to preserve that crucial air of exclusivity, the membership will be by invitation only and restricted to a mere 120 people. Only two people from your particular field of business will be allowed to join, in order to ensure you keep an edge over your envious competitors. Insiders say that the take-up has already been overwhelming, but the names of those in the know remains a closely guarded secret. Nevertheless, its membership is itself likely to be a who’s who of Scottish business.
Goudie’s qualifications to open the new club are perhaps unmatched. She is reputed to have one of the most exclusive contact books in Britain, and lists Brown among her close personal friends. She was also a long-standing friend of the late Donald Dewar. In a letter sent to prospective members leaked to Scotland on Sunday, Goudie eulogises about the benefits membership might bring.
"Not only will your network multiply overnight, but you will also have unique access to, and interface with, some of the most powerful figures in today’s national and international arenas who will be guest speakers at our monthly events," she writes.
"These world-class speakers will share their views and briefings on current topics and give members access to a sphere of influence that is normally restricted and, we believe, unavailable anywhere else."
"The idea, in a nutshell, is to give you the most informed view of what’s happening in today’s business world in order to help share exponential success tomorrow."
Nothing, it seems, is too much for her clients. Greeting them for lunches or dinners - to be held in Edinburgh and Glasgow - will be Michael Shea, former press secretary to HM the Queen. Members will be able to request that they sit next to particular people in order to make the right inroads.
"We can also set up one-to-one meetings between most speakers and members," Aeolus’ promotional material adds. And what’s more, the group "can advise on making formal approaches to the public sector, regulators and politicians".
Although there is no suggestion of illegality, the revelation that Scottish business people are being offered the chance to pay to have access to some of the most influential people in Britain is bound to raise questions about elitism and cronyism. Goudie herself rose to prominence in 1998 after being given access to another exclusive club by Prime Minister Tony Blair - the House of Lords. The Labour donor had already become a key networker in London and Scotland as a public affairs consultant and as a major player in the voluntary sector.
When Donald Dewar died in 2000, it was Goudie who played a large role in organising the funeral. She is ably supported in the venture by some of Scotland’s most prominent marketing brains - amongst them the venture’s chief executive, Vincent Taylor, the advertising guru behind slogans such as "You can’t get better than a Kwik-Fit fitter". The venture is also being run by former IBM manager Reggie Davidson, whose previous employers include the FBI.
Baroness Goudie was unavailable for comment yesterday, but one contact at the organisation said that the group was already achieving success. "There has been a very strong uptake indeed," he said. If members get tired of political gossip, there are also a smattering of speakers from other walks of life - including Martin O’Neill, the Celtic manager, and General Sir Michael Jackson, chief of the general staff at the Ministry of Defence. From the media, BBC political editor Andrew Marr and world affairs editor John Simpson are lined up to speak, as is comic Clive Anderson and new BBC chairman Michael Grade.
Alan Hogarth, spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland (CBI), said: "No doubt Baroness Goudie will have done her market research on this and you have to wish her well on her entrepreneurial venture. Nobody questions the value of networking and the opportunity to listen to and meet senior people.
"You would have to expect fairly good value back from what is a pretty hefty subscription sum - which amounts to around four times the average golf club membership."[4]

'little more than a gush of hot air'?

Once Aeolus was exposed in the press some of the key New Labour names linked to it were quick to distance themselves:

The first to deny any link with Aeolus was Cherie Blair, who wrote to this newspaper to say that she had no involvement with the organisation. In her letter, she said: "I have no involvement with this organisation, am not planning any involvement, nor have I ever contemplated any involvement. Indeed, I had never heard of the organisation until your story was drawn to my attention."
In addition, Chancellor Gordon Brown had no knowledge at all of the arrangement and aides categorically denied he had agreed to appear at the ultra-exclusive club. A Treasury spokesman said: "The Chancellor is not speaking at such an event. There have been no discussions about him speaking at any such event."
Other prominent figures that were listed as confirmed speakers by the events company spoke of an unsolicited letter being the only communication they had had with the firm. Last night Lord Cullen, the Lord Justice General and Lord President of the Court of Session, said he was surprised to receive a message from the firm which claimed he had agreed to speak at their events. "I received a letter from Aeolus which stated that someone in my office had agreed that I would be interested in speaking and we could find no trace of any such communication. I have never been personally approached as far as I can recollect. "I made enquiries because I couldn’t understand it and my office was not able to confirm that there had been any such approach."
A spokesman for Paisley South MP Douglas Alexander vigorously denied that he had agreed to speak at the event. "Mr Alexander will not be speaking at this event and he has never agreed to speak at any such event," he said. The junior minister, a leading supporter of Gordon Brown, is understood to have written to the firm asking for his name to be withdrawn from their promotional material. [5]

The appearance is thus of a botched launch. But it is perfectly clear that Baroness Goudie remains close to senior new Labour networks, as she remains involed in ventures such as PiggyBankKids run by Sarah Brown, partner of the Chancellor.


External resources

  1. ^ GUY DIXON, EDDIE BARNES and MURDO MACLEOD Dinner with Cherie? It's yours for just £16,000 Scotland on Sunday, 18 July 2004.
  2. ^ GUY DIXON, EDDIE BARNES and MURDO MACLEOD Dinner with Cherie? It's yours for just £16,000 Scotland on Sunday, 18 July 2004.
  3. ^ GUY DIXON, EDDIE BARNES and MURDO MACLEOD Dinner with Cherie? It's yours for just £16,000 Scotland on Sunday, 18 July 2004.
  4. ^ GUY DIXON, EDDIE BARNES and MURDO MACLEOD Dinner with Cherie? It's yours for just £16,000 Scotland on Sunday, 18 July 2004.
  5. ^ MURDO MACLEOD AND YAKUB QURESHI Speakers off peer's dining club menu, Scotland on Sunday, 11 July 2004.