Ahead of his highly anticipated address at the 2014 CIPR Fellows Lunch, Sir Peter Luff MP Hon FCIPR reflects on his illustrious career in public affairs and politics.
Born in 1955, Sir Peter has been Member of Parliament for the Conversative Party in Worcestershire since 1992. He graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Economics in 1976 and became Managing Director of the public affairs organisation, Good Relations Ltd. in 1982.
Sir Peter has chaired select committees and was appointed Defence Minister between 2010 and 2012. He was knighted in the 2014 New Year Honours for political and public service.
As a member of the Institute since 1972, which aspect of the public affairs industry do you think has evolved most significantly since you began your career?
The recognition that public affairs is indeed a legitimate and integral part of the public relations industry and not, as some misguided souls sought to claim, a branch of the law. Our court is the court of public opinion.
What has been highlight of your political career?
There have been so many; being elected in the first place; chairing two select committees; winning campaigns against the sexualisation of magazines for teenage girls, on funding for students of dance and drama and now on promoting engineering; serving as a defence minister; and battling successfully for hundreds of constituents who faced injustice. Oh, and sitting with Ted Heath in Spring 1982 in the Great Hall of the People and hearing Deng Xioaping reveal for the first time his one country, two systems solution to the Hong Kong question.
What has been the highlight of your career outside of politics?
I really enjoyed working with the Meat and Livestock Commission to save British livestock farmers from ill-informed attacks and with the Chamber of Shipping to arrest the decline in the British Merchant Marine and the number of ships flying the Red Duster. Public affairs professionals can do real good.
Which of the skills you acquired during your public affairs career have you found most useful in your role as an MP?
Getting used to handling the competing demands of many clients; in politics it’s just the same – in the great circus of life in both politics and public affairs you can’t be just a juggler or a lion tamer – you have to juggle lions.
How has Parliament changed since you were first elected?
To quote Shakespeare, “Let me count the ways.” Changing technology, changing hours, changing challenges, changing buildings, changing expectations and, yes, changing expenses rules. The list goes on and the cumulative impact is more considerable than people, even most MPs realise.
As an active Twitter user, how has social media influenced your day to day role as MP for Mid-Worcestershire?
It has become a vital,source of news about local and national events and I hope it enables me to communicate in a more spontaneous and varied way with many of my constituents – but only a small minority of them in practice so far. It’s an extra, not a panacea.
What are the main communication challenges politicians face over the next five years?
Come and hear my speech on 25th July!
What can CIPR Fellows expect to hear during your speech at the Fellows Lunch next month?
That would be telling – and I’m still working on the speech, but in the run-up to the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta next year, it will be about some of the challenges to democracy in the UK. And there are quite a few.
Who would you say is the greatest communicator you’ve worked with?
Undoubtedly Lord Tim Bell. He has an extraordinary gift of insight and common sense, an ability to see the strengths and weakness of any argument, and real creativity too.
What would be the one piece of advice you’d offer to aspiring communications professionals?
Get the argument right first; everything else flows from that.
The 2014 CIPR Fellows Lunch will take place from midday on Friday 25 July at the House of Commons. Sir Peter Luff MP Hon FCIPR will be guest speaker. For further information, please visit the CIPR website.