Uber hires former political spin-doctor as new UK comms chief
Uber has just announced the hiring of a new head of communications in the UK. His name is Alex Belardinelli and his appointment is interesting for several reasons.
First, Belardinelli was until recently a senior advisor and spokesperson for Ed Balls, the politician in charge of setting economic policy for the UK’s (opposition) Labour party. Second, Belardinelli is a career political player, with close to zero experience in communications or strategy in the private sector.
According to well placed folks in Westminster, by hiring a former Labour strategist, Uber is trying to broaden its political reach to include the opposition party as well as the ruling Conservative party.
It’s widely felt inside Uber’s UK division that the company has the support of the Conservatives pretty much “sewn up,” thanks to the recent appointment of former Conservative party strategist Rachel Whetstone as their head of global comms. As I wrote earlier this year, Whetstone has incredibly close ties to Prime Minister David Cameron. Her husband, Steve Hilton, is one of the people credited with getting Cameron elected in the first place. Moreover, the UK government is about to announce its much-anticipated Digital Transformation Plan, which promises to make it easy for sharing economy companies to “disrupt” legislative red tape. As one well-placed source explained to me: “ The sharing economy in the UK is so undeveloped, all that really means is 'make it easier for Uber to grow'.”
Now, by hiring Belardinelli, the company hopes to secure support from the other side of the house, especially given the Uber-skepticism of leading Labour figures.
So that explains why Uber might want to hire a Labour politician strategist as their comms head, as opposed to someone with actual business experience. But why Belardinelli specifically?
A clue to that might be found in some of his comments made to the media before taking up his new role. Take, for example, his response to a BBC question about why Labour might have lost the previous election -- a response, first quoted by Guido Fawkes -- which suggests Belardinelli doesn’t share the new Labor leader’s socialist predilections….
“We didn’t do enough. I think there are things we could have done differently. I think we could have had a message that was more pro-business.”
Words to warm a Randroid’s heart.
But what’s this…?
In 2013 Balls came out strongly against so-called “zero hour” contracts, which treat workers as employees without any guarantee of income in any given month. Balls told journalists that the use of such contracts “puts a real strain on working families and cause huge anxiety and uncertainty.“
Indeed it does. Just ask any Uber driver.
But surely Balls’ comments seem slightly awkward now that his own former spokesperson has become the voice of a company that entirely runs on zero hour contracts?
Actually, no. A few months after Balls took his bold stand, the Sun newspaper revealed that Balls’ own office employed several zero-hour employees of his own. Turns out, Balls only hated zero hours contracts when other people used them.
And guess whose job it was to get in front of the story and assure the press that, actually, there’s nothing wrong with the contracts after all?
You guessed it. Loyal spokesperson, Alex Belardinelli.
A pro-corporate political spin master, perfectly at home with hypocrisy, media manipulation and the exploitation of part-time workers. Welcome to Uber, Alex!