Johnson Installs ‘Cool, Calm’ Eddie Lister as Senior Adviser

(Bloomberg) -- Even Boris Johnson’s closest friends wouldn’t call him organized. The U.K.’s next prime minister is an ideas man who has compared leaving the European Union to the 1969 moon landings. Making Eddie Lister a senior adviser should help keep his feet on the ground.

Lister, 71, was chief of staff to Johnson as mayor of London from 2011-16 and is credited with helping him win a second term, using his emollient personality and experience in local government to steer a Tory mayoralty in a Labour dominated city.

Johnson Installs ‘Cool, Calm’ Eddie Lister as Senior Adviser

“Looking back it was pretty amazing what he pulled off when it came to the tricky London scene,” said Matthew Pencharz, a deputy mayor under Johnson. Lister “was outstanding at the political running of the building: talking to borough leaders, facilitating meetings and smoothing relationships.”

Prior to City Hall, Lister served as leader of Wandsworth Council from 1992 to 2011. As the longest serving council leader in the country, he oversaw the slashing of local taxes and became the poster boy for Tory local government: Wandsworth, in south London, still has the U.K.’s lowest council tax.

Melanie Hampton, a Wandsworth councilor who first met Lister when she was a candidate in 2005, said he was a hands-on leader. “The great and the good sometimes think they are only great and sit in ivory towers, but he was out knocking on doors,” she said.

One detractor, who worked closely with Lister in City Hall, said he relies on key staff to deliver policies and isn’t always across the detail. That’s about the worst anyone will say about London-born Lister. Even his Labour opponents privately recognize his charm.

It’s Lister’s character -- he was known as “Steady Eddie” in City Hall -- that will help Johnson tackle Brexit, the thorniest issue of his premiership, according to Katie Perrior, who helped run Johnson’s 2008 mayoral campaign before serving as Theresa May’s director of communications.

Perrior said Johnson, with a wafer-thin majority in Parliament, may have to revive May’s Brexit deal and sell it as his own, while convincing reluctant members of Parliament from all sides to see it through. And that’s where Lister comes in. His negotiating skills could help convince both the Brexit hard-liners and Europhile elements of the Tory Party, she said.

“If they try and sprinkle a bit of Boris glitter on Theresa May’s deal and need to persuade both the European Research Group and Remainers to back it, then Eddie is the perfect person to get the deal over the line,” Perrior said. “Because he hasn’t come up the ministerial ladder he doesn’t carry the same nasty baggage as some.”

Teresa O’Neill, currently Conservative leader of London’s Bexley Council, said Lister managed to put structure in place where there had been “chaos” in the first three years after Johnson was elected mayor in 2008. Those skills may be needed again.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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