Dennis Stevenson

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Dennis Stevenson (also known as Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) is a non-party aligned member of the House of Lords and is the Chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. He is an important 'fixer' behind the scenes in the interface between business, politics and the Arts. In business he is a member of the boards of several companies including Economist Newspapers Ltd, Pearson, HBOS and Manpower. [1].

Stevenson is a personal friend of Peter Mandelson and has been involved in market-friendly think tanks such as Demos. His own consultanicies, including SRU and Cloaca Maxima (named after a large Roman sewer), have important business connections. SRU was bought by Brunswick Group in 2000 and Stevenson also has a shareholding in (and put up the money for) the New Labour-connected PR firm Lexington Communications. He also has a shareholding in the PR group Huntsworth run by Tory peer Peter Gummer (Lord Chadlington). Stevenson is also Chancellor of the University of the Arts and a former Director of the Tate Gallery. [2]

In May 2000, British Prime Minister Tony Blair appointed Stevenson as Chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission responsible for vetting all members of the 'reformed' House of Lords and choosing the 'independent members'. [3]

In 1999 the Press Association ranked Stevenson as number 24 in its Top 50 "Powerful People" list. By late 2004, the Times Online ranked him as number 8 in its Power 100 list. [4]



After graduating with a Master of Arts from Kings College Cambridge, Stevenson worked for the next ten years as Chairman of Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee New Town Development Corporation "attracting Japanese investment to the Northeast." [5]. He was appointed to that position by Tory minister Peter Walker at the age of 26 (Sunday Business, 2 May 1999)

"When I was very young, Prime Ministers (Kakuei) Tanaka and (Edward) Heath had a summit and set up an agreement to see more direct investment into the U.K. Heath then did something extraordinary--he sent me here to negotiate. I was then 26. I was sent to negotiate with Imazato-san (Koki Imazato, 1907-1985), who was the chairman of Nippon Seiko (NSK Ltd.). I spent five years negotiating that deal and afterward I was used by the British government for all direct investment," Stevenson told Daily Yomiuri Online. [6]

These links with the Foreign Office seem to have endured. In the late 1990s he was appointed to the board of the British Council, the cultural propaganda agency of the Foreign Office[7].

Labour links

After Cambridge, he was reportedly, briefly a member of the Labour Party and then treasurer of the Peckham Young Socialists (Independent on Sunday 5/9/93). "Then I was quite antibusiness and I set up my business to give myself the independence to do nonbusiness things because, like many people of my generation, I was what journalists might describe as left of center, though increasingly I don't think it has a meaning," he told Daily Yomiuri Online. [8]

"I am a terrible intellectual snob. I would be very cross if anyone came away from meeting me and thought I was dim," he told the Sunday Times in 1996. He describes himself as a liberal, for others he is "openly arrogant and elitist." (Sunday Times 20/10/96) He describes Mandelson "as a close friend, but it has nothing to do with politics." (Sunday Times 20/10/96) The Sunday Times report also adds that he had been approached by both parties and donated to both.

The BBC described Stevenson as "an old friend of Peter Mandelson, whom he recruited to his management consultancy SRU" in 1990 before he was an MP and after his time as Labour Party Communications Director, although almost nothing is known about the period. [9] (Sunday Business 2/5/99) Sunday Business also adds Stevenson tried to buy an ITV franchise with T&GWU and a local brewer — they failed but the ITA insisted Stevenson joined the board of the winner).

Big business-Labour link man

Stevenson was an under-recognised gateway for big business into Labour and has provided a great deal of Mandelson connections, saying that Blair

"always wanted to make Labour into an alternative party of business. There were some big businessmen who were always pro-Labour: Lord Clive Hollick and Chris Haskins for instance. Blair wanted to meet the others, so I organised evenings where he could meet friends of mine. People running FTSE companies... Blair has involved businessmen to a huge extent... In fact he has almost delegated power to them, I think there is a legitimate question about the extent to which that is actually right", Eleanor Mills wrote in the Sunday Times in June 1998.

In a letter to The Independent in July 2003 Stevenson wrote that "it is true that I was a member of the Labour party ... for a few months 35 years ago! I have never been a member of a political party since and indeed we stopped all party political donations, including a substantial one to the Labour Party, when I took over as chairman of Pearson some years ago."

The Demos nexus

Stevenson moves easily between the areas of corporate power broking and social policy think tanks that provides seemingly informal initiatives exploiting the ambiguous terrain between state and private sector. He attended the 1995 Bilderberg Group meeting in Zurich [10] and was on the Demos advisory panel between 1998-2004 [11][12][13].

He says he first met Geoff Mulgan the Director of Demos “when I was giving a talk to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. They’re very high-powered, I’m very busy, and I wanted some help. Somebody pointed me in Geoff’s direction — he was still working for Gordon Brown then, as his researcher — and he was wholly wonderful, incredibly widely read. I'm a great pessimist about America, and I wanted to tell all these republicans and Wall Street types that unless something changes soon, they're heading for some ghastly social breakup Anyway, he'd read all the interesting books, books by French people on America, and he came up with new thoughts, interesting angles”. (Independent on Sunday 24/1/93)

He founded a consultancy company SRU with Peter Wallis in the 1970s. It later advised the BBC governors on the future of broadcasting and Gordon Brown on Labour’s industrial policy. (Independent on Sunday 5/9/93) SRU was taken over by Brunswick PR Ltd in 2000. (Alan Parker, Brunswick's Managing Director, is also a Demos trustee 2000- 2006). [14]

'Stevenson Commission' on IT

Stevenson was appointed by Tony Blair to head an inquiry into the role of information technology in schools - dubbed the Stevenson Commission - which reported in 2000. Having personally funded the ‘Stevenson Commission’, an examination the role of information technology in schools, he was appointed as the PM’s adviser on the application of information technology to education.

This quickly went on the road to privatisation when SRU and Lexington Communications (a Labour-connected lobbyist firm started with money from Stevenson, who is also a shareholder) got together an anti-BBC alliance to attack their free digital plans. This included several big names in British commercial broadcasting. The put-up pressure group ‘The Digital Learning Alliance’ brought together the British Educational Suppliers Association (advised by SRU) and the Publishers' Association, with a committee comprising of financially interested companies: including Stevenson’s Pearson Education.

He joined English Partnerships who bought the Dome site where he worked closely with Peter Mandelson in the lobbying frenzy. Manpower pledged £12m to the Dome (as did BSkyB at one point). Stevenson forged the deal between the Labour party and BT (Independent 27/9/96). He was supposedly ‘recruited’ by Blair in 96 "after an approach by Peter Mandelson... who Stevenson met years ago when both were involved in youth movements." (Sunday Times 20/10/96) Indeed their connections go right back to the British Youth Council.

The Sunday Times report also adds that Stevenson “helped to fill the posts” and suggests that the ‘Rebranding Britain’ escapade was a distraction from the influx of big business onto the government’s ‘Taskforces’. Jeremy Paxman described these with “if you have a wife with an eye on a ladyship, you can’t pass up the opportunity to be part of one of these new taskforces... since this government is obviously going to be in power for a long time... the usual suspects are once again vying for power and influence.”

A report by Cranfield University revealed the extent to which the Taskforces — part of Blair’s ‘commitment to change’ — were peopled by key players in British companies. Christopher Haskins of Northern foods for instance is also on the Demos advisory board and the ‘New Deal’ and Better Regulation Task Forces, steering British agriculture towards US-style integrated agribusiness, and British food consumption towards highly processed unhealthy preservative-packed food. Stevenson also pushed through the government’s lunatic arts policy (Evening Standard 30/6/98)

He was made a life peer in 1999 and sits on the cross benches in the House of Lords. [15] However, In April 2004 the Daily Mail noted that Stevenson "managed the rare distinction of being one of only two peers to fail to register a single vote - out of a possible 226 divisions - in the latest attendance figures for the House of Lords."

Current Directorships

Stevenson is a member of the boards of several companies including Economist Newspapers Ltd, Pearson, HBOS and Manpower. [16] (In early 2005, at the time he was still Chairman of Pearson, Stevenson's pay was increased to £325,000 a year rate for his chairmanship).

  • He was appointed a Director of Halifax in May 1999 and became Chairman in July 1999. With the merger of Halifax with the Bank of Scotland in September 2001 he became Chairman of HBOS. [17]

In March 2005 the Aberdeen Press and Journal reported that Stevenson was £538,000.

  • He is a Non-executive director of Manpower Inc In an interview with Daily Yomiuri Online he stated "That company got involved in one or two great financial scandals in Britain. It was bought by a company called Blue Arrow as a result of a crooked deal with NatWest. I was asked to be a nonexecutive director. After four months on the board, I asked all the British executives on the board to resign. We had a fight--a very famous fight. In the end, I won and they lost. They bought the company of the man who you interviewed--Mitchell Fromstein (Business Landscape on June 19, 1996). That was ridiculous because his was the most successful company in the world. When they bought his company, his company was 80 percent of their business. National Westminster Bank allowed them to use so much money that they could do it. And they fired Fromstein, who is a really competent person.So, I eventually took the steps which led to them being fired, and we brought Mitchell Fromstein back. It's a very emotional thing." [18]

He also has a number of unpaid interests including with The Takeover Panel, Aycliffe & Peterlee New Town Development Corp..

Previous Directorships

Stevenson was Chairman of the media group Pearson plc which he joined in 1986 as a non-executive director. He was chairman of the company between 1997 and October 2005. [19] Pearson publishes the Financial Times and the Economist. His reported 'first act' at Pearson was to introduce Marjorie Scardino who had been running the Economist as chief Executive (Sunday Times 20.10.96)

Other business interests have included involvement in an array of companies including British Sky Broadcasting Group (Murdoch was reportedly reluctantly persuaded to accept him as an independent director and recruitment head of BSkyB -Sunday Business 2/5/99), Cloaca Maxima, London Docklands Development, Thames Television and as Chairman of SRU.

Other past positions included with Lazard Bros. & Co Ltd (Stevenson got "the Lazard directorship.. from Pearson's shareholding in the bank... and Halifax is a Lazard client. But in fact he was chosen for the Halifax chairmanship because the former building society was a client of SRU" according to Sunday business 2.5.99), British Technology Group, Tyne Tees Holdings plc, AerFi group, J Rothschild Assurance Holdings plc, Smithfield Development Ltd, St James Place Capital plc. He also held a number of unpaid positions including as Governor of the London Business School, Governor of the London School of Economics, a member of the Board of the British Council and Chairman of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery (Margaret Thatcher supposedly vetoed his appointment to the Tate but Tim Bell interceded on his behalf) and Chairman of the Tate Gallery Foundation.

In The Independent in September 1993, Patrick Hosking wrote that "Thatcher vetoed his appointment to high-ranking jobs at least twice, according to Westminster sources, including the chairmanship of the British Technology Group, the successor body to the National Enterprise Board."

Sunday Business reports that 'He retired from SRU's management a decade ago {in 1989} and sold out in 1996' (2.5.99).

Corporate power networks

The Times reports on Stevensons corporate connections

  • Sir Frank Barlow and Lord Stevenson sat together in the Pearson boardroom between 1986 and 1996 and at BSkyB in 1994 and 1995.
  • Lord Rothschild and Lord Stevenson have sat on the board of St James’s Place Capital together since 1997. Lord Rothschild was appointed non-executive deputy chairman of BSkyB last year. Lord Stevenson was a non-executive director at BSkyB from 1994 to 2000.
  • Greg Dyke, the former Director General of the BBC, was on the Pearson board with Lord Stevenson between 1996 and 1999. In 1995 both men were on the board of BSkyB.

British Council work

Stevenson's British Council work (he was a member of the Board), involved their 2002 psy-op ‘Connecting Futures Research’ based in Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia and Turkey which propagandises that "63% continue to place the UK high on their list of favourite nations. Only 19% view Britain with less approval than before, while 18% actually look at us more favourably." [21] Stevenson went to Ramallah giving out crayons to local kids; improving Britain’s image abroad and keeping quiet about his arms company friends. "Activities included painting, facial painting, drama, magic, racing, dancing and singing." [22].

External links


  • "How Blue Arrow strayed", The Times (London), April 9 1989. (Stevenson was a non-executive director of the board and played a critical role in the boardroom struggle of Blue Arrow, a company which took over Manpower).
  • Clay Harris, Vanessa Houlder and Philip Coggan , "The Ongoing Saga Of A Remarkable Chain Of Events", Financial Times (London), April 17, 1989, page 30.
  • "People: Stevenson takes on Takeovers", Financial Times (London), July 24, 1992, page 16.
  • Patrick Hosking, "Profile: Master of the low profile; Dennis Stevenson's dazzling career may soon land him atop GPA", The Independent on Sunday, September 5, 1993, Sunday, Business On Sunday, Comment Page, page 13.
  • Roland Rudd, "Tough task for a master of low profile - The new chairman of GPA who is not averse to taking risks", Financial Times (London), November 1, 1993, page 18.
  • Neroli Lawson, "The Nobody Everybody Wants to Know", Evening Standard (London), February 2, 1995, page 13.
  • Matthew Lynn, "Patter merchant with a power base", Sunday Times, October 20, 1996.
  • Patrick Wintour , "Bosses in Secret Pact to Aid Blair", The Observer, January 19, 1997, page 1.
  • "Blair backs a superhighway to education and prosperity", The Herald (Glasgow), March 21, 1997.
  • Emily Bell, "Mammon: Mr Renaissance has his fingers in every pie", The Observer, March 23, 1997.
  • Eleanor Mills, "Doing the business with Blair and Co", Sunday Times, June 21, 1998.
  • Chris Blackhurst, "A Foot in Every Camp, a Finger in Every Pie: From Downing Street to Pearson, To Lazards, To the Law Society - Everyone Wants A Piece of Sir Dennis Stevenson's Time", The Independent (London), Business, March 28, 1999, page 3.
  • "Stevenson Takes Chair at Halifax", The Independent (London), April 28, 1999, page 15.
  • Richard Northedge, "Stevenson: Man for All Seasons", Sunday Business, May 2, 1999, page 5.
  • Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, "Blair and the new e-politics; The Prime Minister has a trio of advisers who have encouraged his growing fascination with the web", Evening Standard (London), March 29, 2000, page 61.
  • "Sixties liberal who has 'cut it' in the City: A 'Tony crony' with a powerful resume will head merged Halifax-BOS", The Evening Standard (London), May 4, 2001, page 37.
  • Dennis Stevenson, "I'm No Crony", The Independent(London), July 8, 2003, page 15.
  • Richard Hay, "Theguv'nor", Daily Mail (London), April 27, 2004, page 39.
  • Joe Watson, "Bank claims chief's huge salary rise was merited", Aberdeen Press and Journal, March 30, 2005.

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. Institute for Government Board of Governors, organizational web page, accessed April 11, 2013.
  2. Rare Recruitment Advisory Board, organizational web page, accessed August 30, 2012.
  3. Waterstones Board, organizational web page, accessed April 13, 2013.
  4. Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility PEople, organizational web page, accessed June 20, 2013.
  5. Inter Mediate Trustees, organizational web page, accessed November 7, 2013.
  6. Royal Parks Foundation Trustees, organizational web page, accessed December 18, 2013.
  7. David Astor Journalism Awards Trust Trustees, organizational web page, accessed January 11, 2013.
  8. Tate Foundation, Tate, accessed April 21, 2009.