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Revealed: Lobbying chief set to win seat on policy-shaping Labour committee

Director whose lobbying firm represents BlackRock and Police Federation seeks place on party’s conference committee

Solomon Hughes
19 July 2023, 11.05am

Cicero lobbyist Alice Perry, who is running for a place on a key Labour committee, hosted Keir Starmer at the firm's office


Twitter/Alice Perry

The leading candidate for election onto the Labour Party conference committee is a director at a corporate lobbying firm that represents Serco, Barclays and Blackrock.

Alice Perry is running for a place on Labour’s Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC), which decides who says what and when at the party’s annual meeting in October.

Since January, Perry has been an associate director at Cicero. The company promises to help its clients – which include the Police Federation and several City institutions – tackle “changing legislation” using its “extensive networks across the political and regulatory landscape”.

While Perry does not list her role at Cicero on her Labour election statement, the firm views her political experience as advantageous to its lobbying. It boasts of her “strong relationships across the Labour Party” and her involvement “in drafting three general election manifestos” on its website.

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Last month, Perry hosted Labour leader Keir Starmer and the party's chair, Anneliese Dodds, at the offices of her lobbying firm, tweeting that it had been “lovely to welcome @Keir_Starmer, @AnnelieseDodds and the fab @LabourParty team to @CiceroGlobal today for a breakfast roundtable”.

CAC members are elected annually by delegates at the party conference to run the following year’s event. The committee sets the agenda for the conference, which in turn shapes Labour’s policy.

If Perry is elected this autumn, she will organise the 2024 conference. As she says, this will take place “shortly before, or immediately after” the next general election – which pollsters suggest Labour will win. The conference would then be of “historic significance” in setting the next government’s policies, Perry points out.

Perry is currently the forerunner in the race, having been backed by both ‘Labour to Win’ and ‘Open Labour’, respectively the leading ‘moderate’ and ‘soft left’ Labour groups.

Cat Hobbs, the founder and director of anti-privatisation campaign group We Own It, warned that lobbyists having close links to political parties is “how democracy gets bought and sold – and it’s totally unacceptable”.

This was echoed by Rose Whiffen, a senior research officer at anti-corruption organisation Transparency International UK, who said: “When lobbying companies hire staff with such close connections to political parties, it begs the question if they are being recruited for their skills, their address book, or possibly both.”

Lobbyists inside Labour

Many lobbying firms are hiring Labour-connected staff to show clients they have influential “networks” in an increasingly likely Labour government.

Last month, Starmer’s former chief of staff, Claire Ainsley, became a senior adviser to WPI Strategy, a lobbying firm set up by one of David Cameron’s former advisers.

WPI says it specialises in “influencing change” using its “highly experienced team drawn from the most senior roles in government”. Its clients include Pennon Group, owner of South West Water, which was fined £2m in April for illegally dumping sewage in the sea.

The recent hiring spree has also put lobbyists inside Labour Party structures.

Abdi Duale was elected to Labour’s controlling National Executive Committee (NEC) in September, as part of the ‘moderate’ slate. In the same month, he took up a directorship at lobby firm FTI Consulting.

FTI offers clients “direct advocacy” with “elected and appointed policymakers”. Former Labour MP Gemma Doyle, a director of a key Labour ‘moderate’ group, Progressive Britain (formerly Progress), also works for FTI, whose clients include Palantir, the American spy-tech firm that is chasing contracts in the NHS.

Political parties can be cosy with private lobbyists or they can stand up for the public – they can't do both

Cat Hobbs, We Own It

Many Labour members are likely unaware that the lobbyists representing Palantir have an employee on the NEC.

But Palantir appears to have a policy of hiring insiders from all political parties. It is a client of Fleetwood Strategies – a lobbying firm founded by Rishi Sunak’s election strategist, Isaac Levido – and employed Global Counsel, the consultancy firm of Peter Mandelson, an architect of New Labour, as recently as last year.

At a Global Counsel event in March, called ‘Rebooting the NHS’, speakers included Mandelson (who is reportedly a close adviser to Starmer), Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, and Palantir’s UK health.

Speaking to openDemocracy, Hobbs of We Own It urged Labour to crack down on lobbyists’ access to the party.

She said: “We need politicians who will make the hard but necessary decisions to defend the public from profiteering at our expense. Whether that means bringing outsourced contracts back in-house, stopping sewage flowing in our rivers or protecting patient data from US tech giant Palantir.

“Now that these potential conflicts of interest have been exposed, Labour must take action to change its rules and replace these individuals. Political parties can be cosy with private lobbyists or they can stand up for the public – they can't do both."

Lobbyists haven’t just quietly been elected onto key labour committees – last year they were openly handed a role by a member of Labour’s front benches.

Anneliese Dodds, the Labour Party chair and the shadow equalities secretary, had a secondee from lobby firm Weber Shandwick in her office “to support my work as a member of the shadow cabinet” from September 2022 to March. Labour did not pay for the lobbyist’s work, which was valued at £55,000.

When lobbyists hire political staff, it begs the question if they are being recruited for their skills, their address book, or both

Rose Whiffen, Transparency International

In a 2015 job advert, Weber Shandwick promises it can “change legislation”. It says it employs staff with “experience in government” who “feel comfortable utilising” their “networks” for clients.

The firm’s current clients include privatiser Serco, offshore finance lobby group British Virgin Islands Finance, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and oil lobbyists Offshore Energy UK.

Dodds’ decision to hire the lobbyist came a year after she attacked her Conservative counterpart, the then-Tory chair Ben Elliott, for co-owning a lobbying firm. In August 2021, Dodds demanded to know if Elliot’s lobbying company had got into “the corridors of power and what it used that access to lobby for”.

Whiffen of Transparency International called on politicians and their parties to “consider what risks these job moves pose and be alert to approaches from ex-colleagues now lobbying on behalf of private companies”.

Perry told openDemocracy that she is “completely transparent in my work and the separate Labour Party activities I undertake in my free time”.

She added: “I don’t foresee any potential conflicts of interest arising between my paid work and the role of CLP representative on the Labour CAC, but if a conflict were to arise, I would declare it and recuse myself on the CAC.

“My employer and clients treat probity and understanding potential conflicts of interest very seriously, as do I as a former chair of the Labour National Executive Committee.”

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