Burnside bounces back with oligarchs


The Guardian has noted the blossoming  PR career of David Burnside since he lost his south Antrim Westminster seat in 2005.

As a training ground for a career in the brutal and suspicious world of post-Soviet business, the enmity of hardline Northern Irish politics is hard to beat. That is the path trodden by David Burnside, a steely former Ulster Unionist MP turned public relations man who has emerged as a key bridgehead between Russian interests and the Conservatives.

Burnside came to wider prominence in the Thatcher  era as an aggressive  PR to Lord King, the chairman of British Airways in a war with Richard Branson which ended in an agreed damages in a  “dirty tricks” libel battle.

The cigar-loving 62-year old from Ballymoney was revealed to have taken a group of prominent Russians, including a close ally of Vladimir Putin, to the 2013 Conservative summer fundraising party and introduced them to David Cameron.

Since losing his South Antrim parliamentary seat in 2005, he has built up a client list that has included a foundation run by a Ukrainian gas and chemicals oligarch wanted by the US for bribery, a Russian chemicals billionaire seeking a British passport and the Moscow International Financial Centre, a Putin-led initiative to boost the attractiveness of Russia’s markets to foreign investors.

Maintaining their old association from Vanguard days,  Burnside was a critical supporter of David Trimble until 2004 when he called for his resignation as Ulster Unionist leader.  He was too canny – and perhaps to wedded to his lucrative PR career – to go for the leadership of the failing party himself.  He is probably too impatient and confrontational for the long haul that typifies the real winners in unionist politics and probably too economically right wing for the prevailing dependency culture.  .His hopes for DUP/UUP unity haven’t been fulfilled, as yet.

I’d quibble with one aspect of the Guardian piece . If “hardline Northern Ireland politics was a” good training ground for the brutal and suspicious world of post-Soviet business” wouldn’t the Assembly  be full of millionaires?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London