Chris Lewis: the PR boss backing Penny Mordaunt to be PM

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The Guardian

On Wednesday night, dozens of journalists and political aides joined the Tory leadership hopeful Penny Mordaunt at a drinks event in the garden of Westminster Abbey. Guests such as Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK enjoyed plenty of wine and were joined by costume actors dressed as traditional British icons such as Beefeaters, Paddington Bear and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous.

Mordaunt was the star of the party, which was held by a charity run by the multimillionaire PR agency boss Chris Lewis, an ally of Mordaunt over the last decade.

Even amid growing public interest in the potential future prime minister, little attention has been paid to 61-year-old Lewis – a man who lists his job title as the “Grand Enchilada” and writes business leadership books.

Last year Lewis co-authored a book with Mordaunt that laid out their manifesto for reviving Britain post-Covid and post-Brexit. Titled Greater: Britain After the Storm, it has already created one minor skirmish in the Tory culture wars after forces on the Conservative right objected to its criticism of the 1970s BBC sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, which featured actors in blackface.

The book contains a Trainspotting-esque list setting out their joint pitch for why modern Britain is better than the UK of the 70s over several pages, including: “No borstal. No body odour. No accusations of wearing poof juice (aftershave). No male cosmetics of any kind. No bath once a week whether you need it or not. No snotty sleeves. No skid marks. No priapic priests. No Catholic guilt. No ‘fallen women’. No ‘Loony Bin’. No rhythm method. No Kotex Wonderform menstruation belts. No circle-stitched bras. No imminent threat of nuclear deaths. No Black Panther. No Moors murderers. No Yorkshire Ripper. No Ruth Ellis. No Reg Christie. No Timothy Evans. No ‘he slipped on the way to the cell, sarge’. No Kray twins. No bent coppers. No Bakelite handles. No ‘I can’t speak now the pips have gone’. No 405- or 625-line TVs.”

Although it did not hit the main bestseller lists, the duo’s connections helped it receive endorsements from Sir Elton John, Sir Richard Branson and Tony Blair. Even Boris Johnson chimed in to provide a quote for the book’s blurb calling it “loving, invigorating and delivered with characteristic wit”.

Exactly how the two know each other is unclear, although the Times has reported that Lewis and Mordaunt arrived together by helicopter at the Hay literary festival this year while other guests relied on more traditional transport to the relatively remote location.

Lewis began his career as a journalist in the 80s, working night shifts and selling stories before a stint in the managing editor’s office at Associated Newspapers – the parent company of the Daily Mail. In the 90s he moved into PR, founding Team Lewis, which claims to have 500 staff in 30 offices around the world and lists clients such as Adobe and McAfee on its website.

Married with children, he moved his family to San Diego and splits his time between the US west coast and the UK. In an interview with a local news outlet he praised a local congressman for being a “Democrat that really understands business”.

Team Lewis, the communications company entirely owned by Lewis, is highly profitable, according to its latest accounts – with the founder paying himself £750,000 in dividends last year. His company gives hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to charity but his involvement in politics has so far been low level, although his official biography says he co-founded the all-party parliamentary group named women in parliament.

Mordaunt has known Lewis for a decade, attending one of his book launches at Portsmouth College in her constituency and writing the foreword for another of his publications on leadership. Lewis has also started a thinktank called the Leadership Lab – with the latter word standing for Lewis Advisory Board, meetings of which have been attended by Mordaunt.

July 15, 2022 at 07:35PM Jim Waterson and Emine Sinmaz

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