COUNSEL . CONSULTING
CAMPAIGNING . COMMUNICATION

Leeside Consulting was established by Mike Dolley in 2011 after 25 years in frontline politics. Since then projects have varied from campaigning to strategic, ranging from some of the most interesting parts of the UK to some of the most dangerous corners of the world. Leeside’s core UK business is advice and advocacy in the fields of politics, strategy, research and communications, working with politicians, campaigns, interest groups, developers, investors and public institutions. Campaigns further afield have supported presidents, would be presidents, prime ministers, political parties, the United Nations, the African Union and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

Mike Dolley

Mike Dolley is one of the UK’s most experienced campaign directors who has in recent years built a burgeoning reputation in the strategic communications sector. After a successful career within the Conservative Party, culminating as Deputy Director of Campaigning at the 2010 General Election (which saw David Cameron become Prime Minister), a long held desire to move into the private sector was executed, deploying his talents at home and abroad to the advantage of campaigning and commercial clients alike.

Based in London and the West Country, Mike has an extensive network of associates covering the whole of the UK and beyond including a variety of specialists focussed on areas such as residential schemes, retail development, student accommodation, educational institutions, renewable energy projects and the leisure sector. This brings a tailor-made local touch and sensitivity to each and every project.

In the international sphere Mike advises on election campaigns, political party development, media and social media, narrative building and message development and delivery.



Mike Dolley

Campaigns

Mike has utilised his skills and experience at the very forefront of the campaigning world, both in the UK and overseas. His track record is one of success. It’s as simple as that.

His overseas campaign work has most recently (2018) taken him to Iraqi Kurdistan, where, engaged by a world-renowned market research company, he worked with the Kurdistan Democratic Party advising on campaigns and strategic communications for both the Iraqi Parliamentary elections and the elections for the Kurdish Regional Parliament. The party once again topped both polls in Kurdistan. Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani’s party now enjoys even greater numbers of MPs in the Kurdish Parliament and sends more representatives to the Baghdad Parliament than any other Kurdish party.

In 2017 Mike returned to Kenya to advise the Jubilee Party, working at the heart of their General Election campaign. He co-ordinated the Party’s extensive manifesto, authored newspaper articles and press releases and advised the Party’s election committee on political and strategic communications issues, as well as liaising with the international media. Jubilee’s Leader, H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta, was re-elected as President of the Republic of Kenya.

In October 2016, he was invited to become Campaign Director for ex-John Lewis boss Andy Street as he launched a high-profile campaign to become Mayor of the West Midlands. In May 2017, after a ruthlessly targeted, highly professional and hugely inclusive campaign, they stormed to a spectacular victory that confounded every pundit going.

In 2013 Mike was appointed to be Communications Director for the AMISOM peacekeeping force in Somalia, a project jointly co-ordinated by the United Nations and the African Union. After just 3 months in post he was asked to take over as Project Director, leading the move forward from Nairobi to Mogadishu, and for the next 18 months leading the biggest out-sourced UN communications project in the world.

In 2012 – 2013 Mike worked as a senior communications and campaigning consultant to Uhuru Kenyatta and The National Alliance party of Kenya. Against a hugely controversial backdrop, and scrutinised by massive international media interest, Kenyatta was elected President of the Republic of Kenya. Previously, working with a major London agency, Mike acted as a communications and campaign adviser to HE President Rupiah Banda of Zambia.




Election campaigning in Iraqi Kurdistan


Confounding pundits to get Andy Street elected Mayor of the West Midlands

Mike Dolley

Taking strategic communication skills to the front line in Somalia

Commercial Consulting

Mike’s work now includes a Public Affairs dimension where his encyclopaedic knowledge of the British political scene has seen him appointed as strategic counsel to two major blue-chip multi-nationals operating in the UK. He has for several years been seen as an expert point of reference in the world of commercial property development and associated projects.

Acting as an advocate and communicator for a variety of clients, Mike has worked with developers, retailers, public institutions and renewable energy companies to help applicants navigate their way through the miasma of regulation and politics to achieve success. Together with two long time colleagues he has recently formed Facultas Associates which specializes in bringing this expertise to the academic sector of schools, colleges and universities. You can find out more about Facultas here.

An extensive list of expert political and campaigning contacts means that Mike can offer a bespoke and cost-effective approach to helping secure the permissions necessary to achieve the aims of developers and investors. Where his geographical network of expert colleagues can add value in providing an informed pool of local and subject knowledge, he will take the lead in bringing a team together to best serve his client’s interests.

Campaigns are based on a simple business mantra that development, change and progress should be seen as positives rather than negatives and that benefits can be achieved by all involved. Framing the argument in those terms is fundamental to a successful outcome.

A real-life understanding of what goes on behind the often sterile world of planning, councils and committees and a recognition that the decision making of local politicians will always be swayed by the views (and votes) of the communities they represent is a basic ingredient of any application. Successfully consulting and communicating with those same communities is essential in achieving the client’s desired result.

From initial background research and political audit, through to committee stage and decision making, an informed and expert strategic counsel is offered, enabling clients to sculpt both their narrative and message to create the most insightful approach possible. This can then be coupled with the most modern campaigning techniques available to maximise prospects of success within the most time efficient time framework achievable.

Blog

13th February 2020

“The planning system is broken, and it needs fixing fast”

Reshuffles come and reshuffles go. And so indeed do Chancellors. But what really needs analysing is not “who’s in, and who’s out”, but what new Ministers do when they have power, and what their appointment may mean in terms of actual policy and delivery. Nowhere is this more so than in the world of planning.

Whether you are for HS2 or against it, at least we’ve got a decision. And respect to the PM for having the cojones to make one. But even the most ardent supporters of the project will be scratching their heads as to how it can then take so long to deliver the project and actually get the trains running. Why?

Let’s cut to the chase. Britain has a planning problem. And not just in terms of HS2. Longevity, lifestyles, prosperity – it all suggests we need more houses. Dramatic shifts in the world of retail demand a fundamental reappraisal of the role of the High Street. But to what? We all eat out much more. Will Netflix kill the cinema, can small shops survive? So it goes on. None of it is simple and there is no quick fix.

But Britain is quickly growing weary of successive Governments of all hues that promise “fundamental changes to the planning process” and then deliver virtually nothing. The Conservative Party is fast running out of excuses. Its been in power for nearly ten years and is likely to be there for at least another four plus. Housing target numbers are plucked from the air and then ignored with equal alacrity. Meanwhile prices creep up, and homes, particularly for young people, become ever less affordable. And the sacking of Esther McVey and appointment of Chris Pincher today means we have had TEN, yes TEN, Housing Ministers in the last TEN years. Hardly confidence instilling.

A few years back it was all about localism and putting communities in charge. Was this a genuine attempt to empower local people, or the Government passing the buck and dodging difficult decisions? And how does this policy relate to the realities of the local elections cycle and the chaos that can then ensue – witness the emerging shambles in places like South Oxfordshire and the potential for this to be replicated in other areas such as North Somerset.

The fact that the incumbent, the well-regarded Robert Jenrick, has kept his job in today’s re-shuffle should be an encouraging sign and an indicator of progress to come. The determination of metro-Mayors such as Andy Street in the West Midlands to tackle head on the brownfield dilemma and force the Government to help address it is a huge signpost to the developers that regeneration and profit can walk hand in hand. But much more needs to be done, Nimbyism and the Green Belt issue have to be tackled head on and some difficult decisions have to be made.

Step one needs to be huge Government support for addressing the brownfield issue right across the country, including, and not just, in the North and the Midlands. And step two has to be to bring immediate order to the developing chaos across the world of local government planning.

So we welcome today’s reappointment of young Mr Jenrick. We hope he will show some steel, flex some muscle, and taking a lead from the PM, show some cojones!


10th June 2019

“Tack to the right to get selected……..”

Hearing Boris Johnson espousing One Nation Conservatism in one breath and No Deal - Hard Brexit in the next, some of the quotes about the colourful and ultimately calamitous United States President Richard Nixon quickly spring to mind. On occasion Nixon was derided as a “political weathervane” and a “dedicated phony”. Radio show host Clarence Manion dismissed him as: “.. an unpredictable, supremely self-interested trimmer .. has never been anything else”. Harsh words, but understandable in the context of a man whose campaigns for office were allegedly driven by a principle of “tack to the right to get selected, tack to the left to get elected”.

Just as Nixon needed to court and convince the Republican right to secure the Presidential nomination, so Boris Johnson knows that he has to win the hearts, and votes, of the Conservative Party membership to become Prime Minister. He cannot allow himself to be outflanked by the Euro-sceptic flag carrier Dominic Raab, and he must at all times be conscious that lurking in the wings is the keeper of the Hard Brexit flame, Steve Baker, who has made clear his willingness to join the race if the apparent No Deal frontrunner at any stage appears to be shying away from the current October 31st finishing post.

The natural champions of what many might see as a more considered and rational approach, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his Environment counterpart Michael Gove, have both learned the hard way in the last few days that any attempt to try and compromise on the Halloween exit date, is, judging by Conservative membership social media posts and commentary, the political kiss of death. Boris knows that to win the ballot of his Party’s membership, he has to be the more Euro-sceptic candidate of the final two. That is where he is positioning himself.

It is easy for the uninformed, and in some cases downright lazy, commentariat to dismiss the Conservative Party’s maybe 150,000 members as “pale, male and stale”. It is an unfair generalisation, but in terms of age and demographic profile not entirely without substance. It ignores the profile achieved by the LGBT lobby within the Party – just look at how many Conservative MPs are today openly gay. And it ignores the number of non-Caucasian MPs and members the Party now has. Conservative women have long since ceased to be cake bakers and tombola ticket sellers. This is the Party that has given us two female Prime Ministers and a host of women in senior Cabinet roles. Of the current leadership candidates, three came from ethnic minority backgrounds, two are women, and yes Mr Corbyn, one is proudly from a family of Jewish refugees. So, the stereotypical dismissal of the Conservative Party membership is idle, and wrong.

But all the evidence points to the fact that amongst that membership, the importance of Euroscepticism is more deeply engrained than ever before. Irrefutable evidence also tells us that the country was, and continues to be, split from top to bottom on Brexit. Differing electoral systems and varying methods of statistical presentation can effectively tell the story anyway the reader wants to read it. But little has changed since the referendum three years ago. There is no convincing evidence to suggest that a second referendum would produce anything other than a very similar result to the first one. Just that it would divide the country even further.

Next week Conservative MPs start eliminating the initial contenders. As of today, there are only six with any serious chance, perhaps only four. The process of narrowing the field to two at the moment looks like a race to the Euro-sceptic bottom. There is every chance that history will show that our next Prime Minister was selected (not elected) by a simple binary choice made by the perhaps 75,000 Tory Party members who back the winner, and whose sole determining factor was “who will stick to a pledge to have us out by the 31st October come what may?”

Convincing those members that you are the one who will honour that pledge requires some very emphatic commitments. Boris’s recent campaign launch video shows him making just those promises. He did so again in his speech to the One Nation group earlier this week. If that is the demonstrable basis on which he wins the ballot of Conservative Party members, he will then be in a position where he can’t row back without being branded a liar and a fraud, selected on a series of cynically false promises. That scenario would have Mr Farage eyeing the door to No 10.

With a Parliament still overwhelmingly dominated by MPs who either quietly wish to Remain, or who slightly more loudly maintain that a better deal can be secured, or the conversation extended, we live in interesting times.

For business, for the country, and for those who advise clients on likely political outcomes, times have indeed never been more interesting, or more challenging.

There is a plethora of views – but anyone who proclaims certainty, frankly, hasn’t got a clue!


31st May 2019

Elections over – for now! Well, apart from for PM! Now what happens next?

The European election results throw up a myriad of fascinating psephological discussion topics, but the hard facts are straightforward. Brexit did as expected. Conservative and Labour did disastrously. The more unforeseen beneficiaries were Lib Dems and Greens.

Professor Sir John Curtice from Strathclyde University, one of the UK’s most pre-eminent political commentators, has summarised it succinctly as follows:

“The results of these Euro Elections 2019 are 'a draw' between remain & leave, which shows just how polarised the public is over Brexit. Efforts to find a compromise solution have not worked - we are a divided country”

The Conservative collapse was already “discounted in the market”, and the fact that Theresa May had already signalled her resignation somewhat drew the sting. This in turn has increased the scrutiny of Jeremy Corbyn’s position and he is now under pressure to more clearly define what Labour’s Euro policy is, particularly in terms of a possible confirmatory vote, which seems to be a posh term for a second referendum. His Deputy Tom Watson, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry are already making noises in the media, and of course the fact that the Labour Leadership is so London-centric means they are even more acutely aware of how badly the Party did there. It is quite extraordinary that there is no Labour MEP in Scotland.

There will now be huge pressure to resolve the situation. The Conservatives will be desperate to have the UK out of the EU by the 31st October and it will be the over-arching issue of interest in their leadership contest. But even that is now more confused – the Leavers will point to the Brexit party success as a mandate to leave come what may, whilst the more centrist will cite the combined vote for Remain inclined parties as evidence that there must be some form of deal. In essence – apart from the allegiances of the MEPs boarding Eurostar at the end of June, nothing has changed from what we already knew. We have a Leave electorate and a Remain Parliament. Both will claim justification from these results.

Even the most die-hard Conservative Euro-sceptic is not going to be able to avoid the evidence that there is still a substantial Remain body across the country – how will they seek to unite the country? Some will call for a General Election, but it is hard to see how either main Party could want one until the Brexit issue is resolved. How could Rory Stewart run on the same manifesto as Boris Johnson if he refuses to sit in his Cabinet? And what would Corbyn say to the British people about that second referendum question? An early election with the issue unresolved could be suicide for both major Parties.

It is interesting to see the impact of the d’Hondt system of PR. Had the contest been on a single member Westminster constituency first past the post system, the outcome would have been an overwhelming Brexit victory, despite them achieving less than one third of the national popular vote. Could an early General Election give us Prime Minister Farage?

The full result is here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/crjeqkdevwvt/the-uks-european-elections-2019

The paralysis of zombie Government will continue for now, with all the downsides that brings for those just trying to get on with life and plan for the future. We will most likely have a new Prime Minister sooner than anticipated – maybe by the end of July? The timetable is due to be agreed next week. How he or she will then square this circle remains to be seen. They will appoint a completely new Cabinet – including almost certainly a new Chancellor of the Exchequer. And the changes will trickle all the way down to junior Ministerial level in every Department. Select Committee Chairs may also change.

Next year’s big contest is London, and Mayor Sadiq Khan may well be concerned. In the strongest Remain voting region of the UK, the Lib Dems came out on top. Jeremy Corbyn & Emily Thornberry can’t be too comfortable knowing that their home Borough of Islington voted Lib Dem. If the Labour Party position on Brexit is not resolved by May 2020, Sadiq could have a previously unexpected fight to stay in power at City Hall. But how do Green and Lib Dem get it together so as not to split their vote?

Never has effective political analysis, understanding and engagement been more important. The imminent change of national leadership will most certainly be revisited again in less than three years’ time. And quite possibly a lot sooner!


24th May 2019

Less speed and less certainty – the political tsunami ahead is bad news for developers

The election results of May 2nd have thrown many Councils into turmoil, with disparate groupings elected on a variety of wild promises suddenly finding themselves not just elected but, in many cases being part of coalitions and groupings grasping the reins of leadership. How long some of these coalitions will last is another matter.

The tsunami will reach its peak early next week as the results of the Euro election become evident, and with Mr Farage’s landslide already discounted in the market, we now know that we can look forward to an imminent running of one of Britain’s most historic races – the Conservative Party Leadership Stakes. Builders, developers and planners should not turn a blind eye to this. For many with applications in the pipeline or pending, the political confusion of the next three months or so will threaten those essential buzz words every investor focuses on – speed and certainty.

Speed of determination will certainly be an issue. In many parts of the country councils are struggling to form new administrations, authoritiess are still devoid of leadership and the committee structure that forms the working framework of the local council remains unpopulated. Officers work may be grinding on in the background, but it will be devoid of strategic direction in many cases, or indeed pursuing a course that in itself was the very reason why the previous elected council was sacked by the electorate. It wasn’t purely about Brexit. New Councillors across the land were elected on populist pledges to “oppose this’, “reject that”, “tear up proposals to build” or “take the plans back to the drawing board”. At least one council is already postponing committee meetings because the newly, and unexpectedly, elected members can’t attend the meetings where decisions should be being made due to work and other commitments.

Certainty goes straight out the window as well. Again, look no further than the election pledges of the new Councillor teams. Housing allocation numbers will, we are told, be challenged, strategy plans re-visited and government decisions questioned. And statutory determination periods look set to become even more of a moving target than they have ever been. Uncertainty will be exacerbated by ongoing changes of personnel as this brave new world unwinds. Alliances will change, members and leaders will resign and there will be an inevitable churn of senior officers as differences emerge and frustrations boil over. And that’s just at a local level.

Westminster will shortly be approaching a frenzy of political horse trading as the competing leadership hopefuls build their campaign teams, buy off potential supporters and opponents with rash pledges, and of course quietly make promises of jobs in Government should they become Prime Minister. It is no secret for example that the current Secretary of State responsible, James Brokenshire, is very much a Theresa May protégé and favourite. Maybe not quite the reference to have on your CV this summer? And if he goes, what then happens to Housing Minister Kit Malthouse? And so the cascade of change trickles down.

One thing is for sure. When the political maelstrom settles down, a lot will have changed. And of course, a lot won’t! Threats will have become opportunities for some, and for others opportunities will suddenly be threatened. Never will serious political intelligence and understanding be more important – and that’s before we get to the 7th May 2020, when yes, the electoral roulette wheel will spin yet again. Will it be red next time, or blue, or yellow, or green? One thing it won’t be is certain!


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