Interview with Stuart Thomson
Stuart Thomson’s new book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ is out on the 24th March 2016. I asked him a few questions.
Could you tell me a bit about your book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’, please?
I’ve worked in public affairs for nearly 20 years and I’ve always wondered whether what I do to help organisations engage in politics and policy-making in the UK, which is what public affairs is, is the same as others do across the world, for instance in the US or New Zealand. So that was really the starting point for this book.
It explores public affairs and lobbying in established, new and emerging democracies around the world with each chapter looking at the techniques and methods as well as discussing the political structures.
Its written by practitioners so readers really get an insight into what is involved and what people do to work with Governments.
I was really pleased when Tim Bale, Professor of Politics, at Queen Mary University London said the book “provides myriad, real-world insights into a business every bit as vital to politics and policy these days as elections are. Highly recommended for practitioners, academics, and anyone wanting to find out what it’s all about.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself!
What do you hope your readers will gain from this book?
I’m really pleased with how the book has turned out. All the chapters are really strong but each has its own different style. I was conscious of the need to make sure there was some variety otherwise it could get quite boring just reading about structures of government.
I think readers will see how lobbying is part of the democratic process and how good public affairs leads to better policy-making. Its all a long way from the idea of brown envelopes changing hands so the book busts a few myths and misconceptions as well.
The book will also help readers see beyond their own national boundaries as well. That can give confidence as well as ideas and inspiration. Readers can learn about some of the practices that work and a bit about what to avoid as well.
How long did it take you to write?
It’s an edited book so there were periods of intense activity and periods where each of the individual authors were busy doing their own thing. From the initial conversation with Matthew at Urbane, through to identifying and contacting authors, providing them with a clear brief and requirements, getting the chapters back, commenting and discussing with authors through to finalising took around 18 months. Now we have the marketing to deliver and sales to secure!
Have you always been interested in politics?
Totally. From watching John Craven’s Newsround (a BBC children’s news programme) through to actively discussing issues at home when I was young, politics has always been there. I don’t want to come across too much like a geek (well, maybe just a little bit!) but I always took great delight in having a political opinion at school and being ready to discuss points with friends and teachers. I’m not sure all the teachers enjoyed that but I certainly did.
I did politics and economics at University and have been fortunate enough to be involved in politics through my work as well so I suppose that is a bit of an obsession.
Do you give talks on politics at all?
I do. I often give talks on business and politics but also on public affairs as well, sometimes to graduates or those wanting to know more about what a career in public affairs might mean for them. I’m also fortunate enough to do some media work as well so in recent months I’ve talked about the EU referendum, the Google tax issue, business growth and back in 2015 I spoke quite a lot about the General Election.
As well as talking about politics, I also run training on public affairs as well. As well as demystifying what it is all about, the training also gets some great discussions going about the challenges people and organisations have faced in engaging with government and politics, and we talk how they could have overcome them.
Are you currently working on any other writing projects?
I am hoping that a chapter I’ve contributed to a book of political ‘what ifs’ for Biteback has made the grade. I also write quite a few articles for trade publications around more specialist technical issues as well so the writing is ongoing. It’s something about my job that I really enjoy and value.
I’ve got a couple of other ideas as well but Matthew doesn’t know about them yet!
How did you come to discover Urbane Publications?
I worked with Matthew, the founder of Urbane, in one of his previous roles so when he went ‘solo’, I was delighted he came to me with an idea. My first book with Urbane, ‘Public Affairs: News, Views and Hullabaloos’, was based on my blog. To be able to work with an enthusiastic, ideas-based publisher is a dream come true. Matthew is a pleasure to work with and I am honoured to be part of the Urbane family and it really does feel like a family. Just without the drunken arguments at Christmas… Actually, does that make Matthew, the patriarch of the family, a publishing Peggy Mitchell?
I see you have a blog as well. What do you mainly write about on there?
I’ve been writing the blog for over 3 years now and it focuses on public affairs. That gives me latitude to write about politics, communications and business. Its quite a broad field but for those work in public affairs, we tend to have to deal with challenges from a number of sources, all the things that can come the way of politicians. So I try to explore all of these in the blog. I also blog for the Huffington Post and get to contribute guest posts to other sites as well. I’m always happy to submit pieces.
What do you think about the Government?
That’s a loaded question! This Government, and David Cameron in particular, did really well to secure a majority at the last election. The question now is what they want to do with the five years they have in government. There is a danger that the EU referendum takes over and then, whatever the outcome, the Conservative Party fixates on who takes over from Cameron, as he ‘pre-announced’ his intention to stand down. They are though being helped by the lack of a coherent opposition at the present time. Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the Labour Party, has still to assert himself on his party or the country as a whole. I spend my time as work helping organisations work all this into the way they engage with politicians and build their reputations. It’s a complicated time.
Are there any past Prime Ministers you’ve really admired?
Loads – they all have their own traits and simply getting to be Prime Minister is a sizeable achievement in is own right. If I were to pick a few then I’d say Tony Blair for the way he enthused the country and won elections for the Labour Party (which historically doesn’t happen often), Clem Attlee for quite simply rebuilding the country after the devastation of World War Two and Margaret Thatcher for her dedication to her own beliefs (like them or not).
Do you find social media useful?
I love social media! The way it allows you to engage with people is fantastic. I know it has its much darker side but the openness and transparency it brings can only be good for democracy. There are though still only a few politicians here that really understand it and do it well. Done badly it just means that politicians have a new channel to broadcast their own voices and opinions. It should all be about the engagement. The same goes for organisations as well.
If you could be the Mayor of London for a day what would you do?
This might be a dull answer and I’d hate to end our chat on a really serious note but as the parent of a ‘soon to be going to secondary school child’ and with two others behind him, I’d sort out the availability of secondary school places. There simply aren’t enough and that will hold London, and critically its children, back. That and more housing, Crossrail 2, more cycle lanes, improving air quality…. I could come up with quite a list.
About Stuart Thomson
Stuart Thomson is a public affairs and communications consultant with leading law firm Bircham Dyson Bell. He advises clients on political and media engagement, reputation management and crisis communications.
As blogger for Bircham Dyson Bells ‘Public Affairs Blog’ and the author of ‘Public Affairs in Practice’, ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations’, Stuart’s reputation has seen him appear on the BBC and Sky News, judging for the PR Week and Public Affairs News awards. He now also blogs for leading news publisher, The Huffington Post.
Stuart is an honorary research fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen, and amongst it all finds time to tweet @redpolitics.
‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ is available to pre-order from:-
Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/public-affairs-2/
Amazon UK – http://amzn.to/1R7L93N
Stuart Thomson’s Website – http://www.stuartthomson.co.uk/