Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications

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Perhaps the PR firm with the widest reputation for what it calls 'integrity PR' is Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications the firm started by Julia Hobsbawm and Sarah Macaulay who first met at school but became business partners through working for the Labour Party in the early 1990s. Macaulay, now known as Sarah Brown, is better known as the wife of Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister and former Chancellor of the Exchequer. Hobsbawm has been a long time fundraiser for New Labour, and a tireless defender of the PR industry.

Hobsbawm got an early job with labour after working in book PR and then at satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting (BSB). 'During my time at BSB' Hobsbawn recalls, 'I had met Ken Follett, and we had struck up a friendship and talked about our enthusiasm for the Labour Party. He was about to start up the 1000 Club – for people who gave £1,000 or more a year to Labour, which I later ran – and knew they were looking for a fund-raising consultant at Walworth Road. I was offered the job on a freelance basis.' From there according to Hobsbawm: ' I was aware of what the Democratic Party was doing with their fund-raising, and I wanted to try and import some of their techniques, like their gala dinners.'[1]

The first gala dinner was held in June 1991 in London's Piccadilly. The planning began in February. Hobsbawm, 'held training sessions for the catering staff to make sure everything would be all right on the night.'[2]

Kinnock, [then leader of the party] acknowledged: 'This event has not been greeted in some sections of the movement with the enthusiasm it might have been. It is not a new-fangled idea. We are talking about raising money.' But the array of show business personalities, image makers, businessmen, intellectuals and politicians gathered around 20 circular tables discounted the £500 a head price tag, though one college professor was scolded by his wife that they could have had a family holiday for the same money. Nor did they think they were breaking with socialist traditions. 'To quote Gunter Grass, ‘nothing is too good for socialists’,' said David Puttnam, the film producer.[3]

Puttnam's view was apparently not shared by most of the party's left, 'who would have choked on the cost of the meal ticket before they had even tasted the starter of fresh salmon with lemon, cucumber, capsicums and herbs served with a lemon and chive cream. The late Eric Heffer tore up his invitation and claimed it was a slap in the face to those struggling to make ends meet. 'I find it nauseating in the extreme,' he said. Dennis Skinner, who had voted against the dinner at Labour's National Executive (and what an NEC meeting that must have been), spent the evening lecturing to a party meeting in Lincolnshire on the folly of 'an elitist dinner'. He even took his own sandwiches. ‘I don't go to junkets.’ [4]

Elitist, perhaps. But the fund raising functioned as more than a bank balance raising event. Among the luvvies and the politicians, were the unmistakable signs that the Labour Party (pre-New Labour) was courting big business. And the big business representatives and their spin doctors and lobbyists were certainly present. 'Brian Basham, a public relations consultant for such Tory captains of industry as Lord Hanson, Lord King of British Airways, and Lord Young of Cable and Wireless, found himself crossing party lines… Nazmu Virani, chairman of Control Securities and owner of the Belhaven Brewery, sat with Bryan Gould. Swraj Paul, chairman of Caparo Industries, joined Jack Cunningham at his table. B&Q, hoping for better Sunday trading, had booked a table for ten.'[5]

Hobsbawm and her prospective partner worked together on the fundraising dinners. Macaulay's company Spirit handled design work for Labour's gala dinners, which were launched by the then Julia Hobsbawm Associates.[6]

The 1000 club dinners grew in significance as the Labour Party moved towards business, with the so called 'prawn cocktail offensive' from 1991 onwards and especially in the years after Blair was elected leader in 1994. By 1996 the 450 tickets sold out a month before the event and Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications (HMC) refused to divulge the guest list: 'this is a private function. People who have bought tickets have asked not to have their names disclosed', said an HMC staffer.[7]

HMC was formed in 1993 and became the doyen of New Labour networking. Most of their clients were New Labour friendly and they provided the lubrications of much of the networking between New Labour and big business in the years between then and the victory night celebrations at Royal Festival Hall in 1997 at which Hobsbawm was – naturally – present.[8]


The HMC client list read like a who's who of New Labour friendly organisations including think tanks, media clients and arts organisations. King's Fund and the Metropolitan Police. Magazines including, Vanity Fair, Prospect, the Economist Group, Time, Fortune and The New Statesman under then new proprietor, millionaire and New Labour supporter, Gerry Robinson. Other media clients have included Mirror Group, the Independent, Ian Hargreaves (when editor of the New Statesman), Rosie Boycott (at the Independent on Sunday), Forward Publishing and BBC News Online. The Royal Shakespeare Society, Runymede Trust, CRE, Emily's List, Demos and the Institute for Public Policy Research were also listed. The clients disclosed to the press do not include any of the world's most controversial companies: no tobacco or arms companies, no Nestlé or Coke.[9]

conflicts of interest?

Between 1998 and 2001, Sarah Brown’s PR consultancy Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications received £45,000 from the British Council for helping to organise two cultural events. In 2001 she moved to the arts division of the financial public relations giant Brunswick. Over the next three years it received £79,000 from the British Council, mainly in the form of monthly retainers.
The FOI documents were obtained by Rob Wilson, Conservative MP for Reading East and shadow minister for higher education. He has written to Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, asking to know whether Brown, during his period in the Treasury, declared the contracts to the Whitehall authorities.
“It is clear that as director of Hobsbawm Macaulay and employee of Brunswick, Sarah Macaulay Brown had a direct financial interest in the British Council at a time when her husband was substantially increasing its funding,” Wilson writes.
He points out that in the 2002 spending review, for example, Brown announced its budget would rise from an annual £157m to £185m over three years.
Wilson added: “Under the terms of the ministerial code this should have been raised with the permanent secretary at the Treasury by the chancellor and the appropriate action taken. It would be helpful to know whether this matter was raised with the permanent secretary and, if it was, what action was recommended.” The FOI documents also reveal that the British Council awarded the contracts to Sarah Brown’s firms without a competitive tender. “Guidelines state that competitive tender is only required for monies over £100,000,” the council said. “As none of the work above falls into this category it is unlikely that the work was put out to tender.”
Between 1998 and 2004, the British Council was chaired by Helena Kennedy, the Labour peer and left-wing barrister who is a cousin by marriage of Sarah Brown’s former business partner Julia Hobsbawm. Kennedy was succeeded by Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader.
The British Council said its main contact at Brunswick had been Helen Scott Lidgett. She was Sarah Brown’s art teacher at Camden school for girls in the 1970s. Scott Lidgett later joined Hobsbawm Macaulay as a PR executive and moved with Sarah Brown to Brunswick seven years ago, where she is now the partner in charge of the arts division.[10]



  2. Maurice Chittenden 'It's our party' Sunday Times, June 9, 1991
  3. Maurice Chittenden 'It's our party' Sunday Times, June 9, 1991
  4. Maurice Chittenden 'It's our party' Sunday Times, June 9, 1991
  5. Maurice Chittenden 'It's our party' Sunday Times, June 9, 1991
  6. Kate Nicholas 'Macaulay steps down from agency MD role' PR Week , October 19, 2001, p. 1
  7. cited in David Osler, Labour Party Plc: New Labour as a Party of Business, Edinburgh: Mainstream, 2002, p70
  8. Henry Porter 'Election '97: 'Now it starts', and courtiers crowd into the New Camelot; The Tory old guard has given way to a circle of young, high-flying achievers who are ambitious to be heard The Independent (London) May 4, 1997, Sunday; Page 16
  9. Ref needed
  10. Jonathan Oliver, Political Editor Gordon Brown is dragged into spat over funds. Tories cry sleaze over British Council payments to Sarah's firmThe Sunday Times March 9, 2008