Robbie MacDuff

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Robbie MacDuff (Robert Walter MacDuff, b. 19 June 1958) is an Australian-born lobbyist and former parliamentary researcher who has been at the forefront of the lobbying industry campaign against transparency in both Scotland, where he was secretary of the Association of Professional Political Consultants Scotland, and in London as a Director of the British APPC (since 2005) and its Chair since 2008.

He is a partner at the Remarkable Group. Previously he was partner at lobbying firm College Public Policy, part of the College Hill communications group, having sold his lobbying firm Precise Public Affairs to College in April 2008.


Robbie MacDuff on Newsnight Scotland, 28 February 2001

In January 2002, MacDuff and Chris Lowe established Precise Public Affairs. [1] In 2008, the Precise Public Affairs website noted that MacDuff had been in lobbying for nineteen years, making his start date around 1989. He had worked for clients in Westminster, Brussels and Edinburgh with Ian Greer Associates (1989-96), moving to Edinburgh to set up the firm's Scottish office (Seiga Political Consultants) before Ian Greer lost his libel action against The Guardian and MacDuff moved to Strategy in Scotland (part of Grayling Group) as Managing Director.

Over the years, MacDuff has worked for several prominent companies including Kingfisher, Thames Water, British Gas, GNER, Railtrack Scotland, Alfred McAlpine, BHP, Birmingham International Airport and 3i plc.

He is a former Secretary of the Edinburgh Business Labour Forum, and is a member of the Institute of Directors. [2]


Macduff was a researcher for Labour MP for Bootle Alan Roberts for seven years (1982-89) and, in 1985, attempted to win a nomination to fight a parliamentary seat for the Labour Party. After a procedural hiccup, nominations by the TGWU Westminster branch (to which many labour researchers then belonged) for delegates to particular constituencies would have to be re-run. The Guardian reported that ‘Left wingers are suspicious that attempts will be made to block certain nominations: for instance, Mr Robbie MacDuff… to Mr Peter Shore's constituency’. [3]

Five years later MacDuff tried to gain the Labour nomination for the Bootle by-election but reportedly fell victim to a 'Sun test' with Labour enforcers asking by-election candidates 'whether there is anything in their private lives which could embarrass the party if it appeared on the front page of a tabloid newspaper'.

MacDuff reportedly 'received more than a quarter of the local constituency nominations for the forthcoming by-election but he was excluded from the shortlist by the national executive vetting panel of John Evans, MP for St Helens North, and Eddie Haigh, a Transport and General Workers' Union official.' According to the Independent:

Janet Pickering, who chairs the TGWU's parliamentary branch - representing MPs' and peers' staff, said the strength of his nominations would normally have guaranteed him a place - if there was no by-election. Ms Pickering added: "It could, of course, have something to do with the fact that Robbie is gay."

In response:

Mr Evans and Mr Haigh said that The Sun was not specifically mentioned when candidates were asked whether there was anything in their private lives which could be used to embarrass them or the party, although Mr Haigh conceded: "I suppose it is in the back of people's minds." [4]


After failing to gain a nomination for a seat, MacDuff joined the lobbying firm Ian Greer Associates (IGA) and was seconded to the Labour party to fight the 1992 General Election. [5] Later it was reported that IGA had recruited ‘a real Old Labour name’ in MacDuff. [6] By 1993 MacDuff was reported to be an ‘Associate Director’ at the firm. [7]

With Ian Greer

In 1994 it was reported that ‘Of Mr Greer's staff, 43 are members of or sympathisers with the Tories, another seven Labour supporters or members.’ [8]

Greer reportedly demanded much of his staff:

One former employee said: "Staff are expected to get up at 6 am to read the morning's Hansard and get all the relevant bits faxed to clients by 8.45 am. On Sundays, he expected you to read all the papers and if there was anything affecting the clients you were involved with, to contact them immediately to see if anything needed to be done." In return, pay is high.

Other people at IGA at the time included Greer’s chief assistant Andrew Smith, ‘who joined as a 19-year-old in 1984 and is described as "the son Ian never had". Plucked from a job as filing clerk in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, he is now deputy managing director with ambitions to become an MP.’

Greer's lawyer, Andrew Stone, ‘who works for Lewis Silkin, and his auditor and accountant, Ian Mablin, who works for Wilson Wright, are both non-executive directors.’ The three associate directors included MacDuff, Patrick Ferreira, ‘a former airline steward’; and Jeremy Sweeney, ‘a Tory well known for his love of fishing, hunting and shooting.’

Angie Bray, aged 39, formerly Chris Patten's assistant at Conservative Central Office, is a recent recruit. Others include Perry Miller, formerly special adviser to Malcolm Rifkind, the Defence Secretary, who switched careers five months ago. [9]

Paying No Poll Tax in Tower Hamlets

At Ian Greer, MacDuff, a former tower Hamlets resident, was reportedly responsible for losing a potential lobbying contract with Tower Hamlets local authority when it was ‘on the point of tying up a deal with Ian Greer Associates, the parliamentary lobbyists well versed in currying favour with the Conservatives’. According to The Independent, MacDuff’s name, ‘regrettably enough, is well known in the council's poll tax collection office. The latter has even had to go to court to try to persuade MacDuff to pay the charge (a snip at £147 in 1991-92). Amused, we asked Tower Hamlets for its view of this lapse - and the council rather over-reacted. In fact, IGA was told yesterday afternoon its services won't be required after all.’ [10]

Cash for Questions

MacDuff was involved in the row over the unethical lobbying practices of IGA. David Hencke wrote in The Guardian in 1994:

In the Cook Report, TV researchers posed as British representatives of an American company which wanted to launder the proceeds of art treasures amassed by Soviet former Communists to buy up Whitehall's Insolvency Service... Ian Greer agreed to act for the bogus company for pounds 10,000 and offered to arrange meetings with Trade Minister Neil Hamilton; David Amess, parliamentary private secretary to Michael Portillo, and Sir Graham Bright, then PPS to John Major. He also boasted on film about his ability to get parliamentary questions tabled for clients and wrote to the firm promising to obtain confidential information from Whitehall.

Faced with the scandal that engulfed IGA, MacDuff wrote to ‘several MPs attacking the Guardian for printing the story and promising MPs that Ian Greer "has at no time, nor will it at any time in the future, pay MPs to table questions."’

Instead of dealing with the issues raised, MacDuff attempted to explain the story away as the obsession of one journalist:

"I hope you will understand how disappointing it is that one company within the lobbying industry can be singled out by one journalist working for one newspaper and then being engaged by a television company, for the apparent purpose of undermining the commercial operations of that company." [11]

MacDuff's deprecation of the exposure of unethical lobbying at IGA calls into question his stated commitment to ethical lobbying in his subsequent incarnations with the APPC. Appointed as Chair of the APPC in 2008, MacDuff said that the association's "Code of Conduct and standards of ethics are important to all sizes and types of public affairs consultancies." [12]

In 1996 it was revealed that Greer, ‘sent his staff out to work for MPs and ministers during the [1992] general election campaign.’ These included MacDuff who reportedly worked for Chris Smith. The Independent reported in October 1996:

As well as making cash donations to MPs' fighting funds, Mr Greer encouraged staff to leave the office for the three-week duration of the election battle and to work for prominent politicians. They continued to receive full pay from his firm, Ian Greer Associates, and their services were provided to the MPs for free… "It was great work experience for them," explained Mr Greer. [13]

Decline and Fall

PR Week reported in October 1996:

Labour MPs, too, were tainted, including Doug Hoyle and Chris Smith, Shadow Secretary of State for Health. In the latter case, though Smith met Mr Greer on several occasions at receptions, contact was through Robbie MacDuff, a former Labour researcher, who campaigned for Mr Smith in the run-up to the election and arranged for a small Greer payment to the constituency fighting fund. [14]

As the end drew near, PR Week noted:

IGA chairman Ian Greer and chief executive Andrew Smith did not make it to the Blackpool bash, apparently due to being holed up in London facing the hungry press. However, managing director Jeremy Sweeney and Robbie MacDuff, managing director of the agency's Scottish office, were on hand and did a fine job of putting on a mutual brave face - no doubt relieved that at least some delegates had turned up… Perhaps unsurprisingly, Labour bigwigs were too busy rubbing their hands at the turn of events - news of which broke just before the evening reception - to attend the do. However, some lesser lights were there to quaff the orange juice and hear a presentation from non-executive director and Labour peer Baroness Turner of Camden. [15]

Two days later, the brave faces were abandoned and MacDuff and others resigned from IGA ‘claiming that Mr Greer withheld information from them.' [16]

The Observer of 6 October, 1996, notes that

Mr MacDuff, aged 38, was a former research assistant to Allan Roberts, late Labour MP for Bootle. He assisted Chris Smith, Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, during the 1992 election. Mr Smith, the shadow health secretary, received pounds 200 from IGA for his campaign fund. He now lives in Edinburgh and was employed on the IGA-associated company, Seiga Political Consultants. A statement released by Mr MacDuff said: "Today, two directors of IGA have announced their resignation from the company in all its operations. Both enjoy long membership of the Labour Party and the trade union movement. "Both believe they have not been, as directors of the company, given all the information which, they believe, should have been available to them." Mr MacDuff said he had been employed by IGA since 1989 and was one of the first Labour Party activists to move into parliamentary consultancy. [17]

To Edinburgh

MacDuff left London and set up an Edinburgh office of IGA in 1996 in anticipation of the creation of a Scottish Parliament. The Herald reported in March 1996 that:

Robbie MacDuff, managing director of Seiga Political Consultants, represents one breed of which we can expect to see considerably more once a parliament is set up in Edinburgh. The lobbyists, influencers of political opinion, have set up camp outside every legislature since that meant the royal tent.
Most of us assume that we will be able to bend the ear of our Assembly person as they go about our business. That laissez-faire attitude is also evident in the business community, which has failed to address the wide range of issues for which it should be setting down markers, according to MacDuff.
"Late last year, businesses felt they were not part of the process of shaping how an assembly would affect Scotland," said MacDuff. He attributes that to a concentration by the Scottish Constitutional Convention on the issues of framework and numbers, but finds growing interest in the issues of what an Assembly would decide and how it would do it.
"I assume that people would want a Scottish parliament to be a radical and reforming legislature, and if we want it to start with a bang everyone should be ensuring good and close co-operation between the business community and our existing parliamentarians," he said. [18]

For MacDuff the touchstone here is business, as that is what provides the main income for lobbying firms and represents the overwhelming bulk of their clients. Though MacDuff continued to claim that his clientele was broader - in 1998 the Daily Record quoted MacDuff as stating that:

"We will be approaching the Holyrood government on behalf of charities, trade unions, small businesses and plcs when there is legislation that has consequences for them." [19]

It would appear that MacDuff saw the establishment of the Scottish Parliament as the emergence of a new market for lobbying and took the opportunity to facilitate a significant degree of public-private relations in a short space of time. During SEIGA's existence, it was located at 12 Rutland Square, Edinburgh, EH1 2BB. [20]

Edinburgh Business Labour Forum

MacDuff was involved in the Edinburgh Business Labour Forum a lunch club intended to bring lobbyists and Labour Party figures together. He states that he was its 'secretary' though his name never appeared in any of the press coverage associated with it. [21] It was in operation by 1996 and seems to have ceased operations in 2004.

Strategy in Scotland

In 2005, Edelman vice-chairman Europe Michael Burrell spoke about MacDuff in these terms:

The Scottish Parliament was being set up and I needed someone with a Scottish-sounding name to head our office in Edinburgh. Robbie fitted the bill - the clients didn't need to know he's Australian. [22]

APPC Scotland and the lobbying regulation debate 2000-2003

On 30 April, 1999, Fran Abrams reported that:

Robbie MacDuff, managing director of Strategy in Scotland, the Edinburgh branch of the English lobbying firm Westminster Strategy, said it was "naive" to think lobbyists could regulate themselves. "I don't think Scotland is so special that it will work here when it doesn't work in London," he said. "In an industry where people are chums, there are too many temptations." [23]

Back to London


The APPC threw out a complaint about the lobbying firm Morgan Allen Moore - two weeks after a similar complaint about the agency was withdrawn. The latest complaint was submitted by a body called the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics. MacDuff, who was appointed as Chair of APPC in 2008, said: 'The complaint is not being investigated.' [24]

Career history


  1. 'Investment in Precise a further step in building leading presence in UK public affairs', Precise Public Affairs website, accessed 6 May, 2009.
  2. 'People', Precise Public Affairs website, accessed 6 November, 2008.
  3. Alan Rusbridger, 'Guardian Diary / Labouring points', The Guardian, 1 February, 1985.
  4. Anthony Bevins, 'Candidates face vetting by party officials in 'Sun' test', The Independent, 5 October, 1990, p. 1.
  5. Chris Blackhurst, 'The lobbyist and the MPs' hired help', The Independent, 3 October 1996.
  6. It is worth noting that this reference to MacDuff as 'Old Labour' comes from the ‘Old Conservative’ Peter Clarke. See Peter Clarke, ‘Left-wingers on the transfer list’,The Scotsman, 4 October, 1995, p. 13.
  7. David Hencke and John Mullin, ‘The Power and Prestige of Ian Greer: John Major and Norman Lamont are among the long-standing political friends of Ian Greer. Yet his pounds 3m lobbying business is formally tied with only one Tory MP, Michael Grylls’, The Guardian, 5 October, 1993, p. 6.
  8. David Hencke, ‘Master of the Grand Gesture; David Hencke charts the rise of Ian Greer, the Westminster lobbyist whose clients range from British Airways to the African National Congress’, The Guardian, 12 May, 1994, p. 3.
  9. David Hencke and John Mullin, ‘The Power and Prestige of Ian Greer: John Major and Norman Lamont are among the long-standing political friends of Ian Greer. Yet his pounds 3m lobbying business is formally tied with only one Tory MP, Michael Grylls’, The Guardian, 5 October, 1993, p. 6.
  10. 'Diary', The Independent, 3 July, 1992, p. 19.
  11. David Hencke, 'Lobby Row Inflamed by Letters in the Lords: Labour MPs angry at plea by front bench spokeswoman', The Guardian, 22 July, 1994, p. 7.
  12. 'APPC MEMBERSHIP GROWS AGAIN', APPC website, accessed 6 May, 2009.
  13. Chris Blackhurst, 'The lobbyist and the MPs' hired help', The Independent, 3 October 1996. (Accessed 6 May, 2009)
  14. Stephen Castle, ‘Rise and fall of the greed generation's lobbyist’, The Independent, 6 October, 1996, p. 17.
  15. 'Diary: Press conferences take precedence over party conferences for Greer', PR Week, 4 October, 1996.
  16. Alison Little, 'Greer to Quit as 'Sleaze' Row Rumbles On', Press Association, 6 October, 1996.
  17. David Pallister, David Hencke and Owen Bowcott, 'Tories Tangled Web: Greer Throws in the Towel as Directors Quit', The Observer, 6 October, 1996, p. 3.
  18. Jennifer Cunningham, 'Burning question on how an Assembly would affect us: Industry begins to examine implications of a Scottish parliament', The Herald (Glasgow), 25 March, 1996, p. 19.
  19. 'LOBBY FIRMS' GOLDEN PROMISE; Scottish political lobbyists are promising clients they will have even more clout in Holyrood than at Westminster', Daily Record, 9 July, 1998, p.2.
  20. 'Computer Consumables Suppliers', BView website, accessed 6 May, 2009.
  21. 'People', Precise Public Affairs website, accessed 6 November, 2008.
  22. 'Opinion: My Best Hire - Robbie MacDuff', PR Week, 3 June, 2005. p. 19.
  23. Fran Abrams, 'Voting for a New Britain: Lobbyist Gifts are Banned for Scots', The Independent, 30 April, 1999, News Section, p. 9.
  24. 'The Week in Lobbying', PR Week, 12 September, 2008, (Section: Public Affairs, p. 7)
  25. 'Investment in Precise a further step in building leading presence in UK public affairs', Precise Public Affairs website, accessed 6 May, 2009.