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Of Parliamentary Democracy and WPP By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.




Yes, to answer one of several points made to me subsequently following my Syria response commentary piece on Saturday, I do believe in the necessity of debate on all issues and that in respect of what occurred on Friday evening, that the House of Commons should properly debate the UK decision to support its French and US NATO allies in attacking chemical weapons establishments in Damascus and elsewhere. But that is not to say that I believe that Prime Minister Theresa May made anything other than the right decision to act and support our principle allies.

As I implied in my Saturday piece, the immediacy of the situation did not allow Mrs. May the option of delaying a decision on whether to support her French and American allies. It was a case of yes or no and thus, having taken advice from those responsible for UK security and defence and having discussed the issue in Cabinet, given the strength of apparent evidence available and particularly that which France claimed to have, she was right to act when she did rather than waiting to place the issue before Parliament. In any event, I do firmly believe that Mrs. May acted in the manner she did because in her view (and mine too) this was in the UK national interest.

Today the House of Commons will get the chance to debate the decision to join forces with our US and French allies in making very specific attacks on known chemical weapons establishments in Syria. Yes, after the event but nevertheless, in line with precedent that existed before the failed or should I say aborted attempt to establish a principle that Parliament is the place where decisions of this nature reside back in 2013.

Yes, there are those who say that Mrs. May is not best equipped to make decisions such as this. To that I say bunkum! She may not be a modern day equivalent of Winston Churchill or a political prophet such as Boothby, but she recognises the importance of doing things in the national interest. Had the Labour leader today been Clement Atlee, John Smith or most others in the post war era, she would I believe have had their total support.

The Prime Minister rightly recognises the importance of supporting our allies, of the special relationship and the context of this and of course, that of the NATO alliance and the EU. One of my respondents made the point that she needed to protect the special relationship above all else. In doing so he reminded that President Macron of France had in essence stolen a march on her having declared the decision to take limited military action ahead of the UK and also that when President Trump thanked and praised his allies for their part in this, he tellingly mentioned the French first.

So, I for one do not share the view that the failure of Mrs. May to recall parliament to discuss the Syria chemical weapons attack response was a demonstration of any weakness. To me it was quite the opposite of that and what emerged from No 10 was surely the right course of action to take.

Neither in this case can I believe that in taking what most will surely see as being humanitarian based action following the chemical attack on Syrian people by whoever, that Mrs. May or indeed, her US and French counterparts have broken the spirit of United Nations Security Council military intervention requirements. Indeed, whilst chemical weapons were not at the heart of the NATO humanitarian intervention in Kosovo, there are many similarities.

Here’s another view ad it is one that says that if we (and our allies) don’t stand up to actions such as this, who will? Use of chemicals in warfare was outlawed many years ago and whether or not Syria was itself to blame or whether it was factions inside that country or Syria’s allies, we cannot stand idly by.

We should also be extremely concerned having heard the views of Jeremy Corbyn and indeed, those of the leader of the Scottish Nationalist. Mr. Corbyn says that he would support no action in Syria unless the UN was supportive. Mr. Corbyn well knows that four times previously Russia has vetoed UN Security Council requests to hold formal inquiries and in the process this has ensured that the New York based body has been placed in a position where it can neither support nor oppose military action being taken.

Summing up and to use some words from another respondent who implied that the utterly pathetic passive laughable response from the HM Opposition says it all. To imagine that we should assume the role as peacemaker and deal breaker amongst a regime and its Russian counterparts that swerve any responsibility with foreign policy of deflection, deceit and denial is more confirmation if it was needed of Jeremy Corbyn’s road to utter irrelevance of UK influence and capability.


Not a company or sector that I would normally touch on but the resignation of founder and long-time CEO from WPP Sir Martin Sorrell is, to say the least, interesting. No, interesting not in respect of its reasoning and I am certainly not going to get embroiled in that, but in the manner of its timing.

Sorrell may be regarded as the last maverick CEO listed in the FTSE100 Index of large quoted companies; the last real autocrat if you like as well and perhaps even of WPP as a company being regarded by some as the very last conglomerate. Sure, in building WPP as a vast organisation that it is in the world of advertising and PR, Sorrel is certainly not to be regarded as an asset stripper in the same form as say that of Jim Slater, Own Green, Greg Hutchings or Barrie Stephens.

But he is to be regarded as a clear thinking autocrat and one who built and managed a company from that of being an also ran to an empire. His company has lasted longer than any of the above mentioned albeit not necessarily in respect of name and that is to his eternal credit. Never a man to be seen as being backward in coming forward and with a love of performing on media, Sorrel was a man who was admired and loathed in equal measure.

All credit to him for what he achieved but if my view of WPP being the last of the conglomerates is right, albeit unlike the others a service based rather than a manufacturing based one, what happens next? Yes, I share the view that break up is inevitable and that, quite probably, within five years the UK will no longer be the number one in advertising.

As to the notion of Sorrell starting a new business or taking another advertising agency over and building it up to compete with WPP, frankly I think not. However, I would not be at all surprised should he take part in subsequent ownership of any part of WPP should it be broken up.

I know not or indeed, have no inclination to even wanting to know why Martin Sorrell chose to go now. We will find out in due course no doubt. But, specific recent issues aside and ignoring gripes about his ridiculously high salary and autocratic style aside as well, I’ll bet it was because he well knows that the advertising industry approach that WPP has led is falling apart and that the best days of WPP are behind it. With the shares down another 5%, the future for WPP may well be something else.

CHW (London – 16th April 2018)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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