Of course it’s not the Queens Speech

Today sees the real start of the 2015-20 parliament with the first Tory only Queens Speech since 1996. Of course this is a speech not written by the Queen but inside No10. Of course the palace battles to make sure today doesn’t sound like a continuation of the election battle we have endured for the last few months, but I have to admit to always having a wry smile at all the ‘New Labour’ phrases the Queen had to read out in the speeches I attended. “My government will govern for the many not the few” 

  
Towards the end of my time in Parliament the novelty of the Queens Speech had worn off, and I wasn’ desperate to be around for the day of pomp & ceremony. But for new MPs it is a strange chnace to get on the TV amongst the leaders as cameras pan across to the them walking into the Lords together. As I noticed over the years a moment of high profile BBC News was worth a hundred Loughborough Echo stories! Even my brief apperance on the Radio4 Today programme 2 weeks ago is the start of many conversations still at the start of meetings.. I never realised how many people listened to R4! Back to today. 

There are many tricks you learn in parliament from the old stagers. They can save years of learning the hard way. One of the easiest tricks I was taught in my first year was where to stand for the Queens speech! In my first year I got into the Chamber nice and early to grab a good seat. Of course this was great and worked a treat, until I realised that having the seat only lasted until Black Rod came and banged on the door we closed in his face. As soon as he knocked and we let him in everybody from the two frontbenches, followed by the rest of the Commons, trooped out to walk to the ‘Other Place’. I followed but of course was now right at the back and got no further than the Lords Lobby. When we came back later to hear the debate in the Commons my place had gone. But an old wise head then showed me how it worked and how he had been seen on all the news channels mixing on the front row with the two front benches. It was all about placement and timing. 

The following year Instead of going into the Chamber I stood in Members Lobby. The BBC fix a camera in here to capture the moment the two front benches emerge from the Chamber. We placed ourselves in shot in the line of MPs & staff. Bingo. We were in all the live shots and texts started to arrive – “we’ve just seen you on the telly”. The next part was all about timing. Whilst not suddenly jumping into the Cabinet you had to dive into the scrum that was now walking into the Lords and be near the front. Jump in too early and a sharp elbow from a Cabinet or shadow cabinet member would quite rightly eject you back to where you came from. Sneak in at the rear and you were being swept along. Once inside the Lords to listen to the Speech from the Bar it was then crucial to move left or right to be near the front and in camera angle again. The panned shots of the PM and leader of the Opposition having to stand close to each other meant there were lots of chances of being caught on camera for the live and evening news. 

Learning these tricks cost me nothing – but it did mean that friends and constituents could see you at your workplace and that you were hanging aorund the decision makers. As a fresh 32 year old MP that seemed important. Of course over the years I realised the hard work goes into all the unseen meetings an behind the scenes boring stuff. That is where victories for constituents are won and I shunned the limelight. I made a deliberate decision not to feed the media machine that builds up politicians only to spit them back out again whent they are bored of them. I decided to just become a hard working local MP. Slwoly I even stopped going to Parliament on the Day of a a Queens Speech. I could do much more in the constituency to help people and travel down for the debates later in the week. However, perhaps I got the balance wrong. As ironically I do more national and local radio these days I understand the power of being seen. 

I am sure each generation of MPs works out the best use of today. Whether at home in the contituency or finding the sweet spot to be seen on the ‘telly’ the dy is not important. It is the measures being announced.

So today I find the first Tory Speech since 1996 a very depressing day. This is not just because of the party politics and the individual mesures, but just the general tone of the country it signals we will become. The legislation sets the tone, but day after day Ministers get to make lots of micro decisions that are shaped by the tone of what we are hearing today. It seems a mean, small minded country that we are haeding for. 

However, there is a glimmer of light. This is a government with a majority of just 12. It is beholden to its right wing and already internal battles have meant the proposal to scrap the Human Rights Act has been dropped for the time being. Saying you will do something in an election is not the same as legislating. The best opposition to this measure has come from senior Tories so far. I hope there is more to come. 

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Leadership Election Veteran – So Seeking YOUR vote..

Until I sat down to write this I hadn’t realised how many Labour Party leadership elections I had been through. Like a lot of things in life I still regard myself as a beginner and struggle with the concept that I am grown up and people want me to mentor them!

Don’t panic – the headline does not suggest I am running or want your vote for myself – but I would love to hear from all my non-labour supporting friends about the qualities of the leadership candidates before I cast my vote.

Having joined the Party in the 1980s my first experience was seeing Michael Foot beaten up metaphorically by the media. We changed to what we considered a moderniser – Neil Kinnock. And he was. We needed somebody who could change the fortunes of the Party after 1983. Our focus was inward looking. Kinnock of course was a great orator from the platform, but we had entered the television age. We were slightly behind the curve. We gave him the chance for one last heave after our 1987 defeat! We know where that ended in 1992. I remember clearly all those articles about whether Labour could ever win again after 1987. By the defeat in 1992 even I was starting to wonder. But by 1997 I was an MP in a Labour government with a 144 seat majority and then the talk became whether the Tories could ever win again!

In the period after 1992 I has become part of the John Smith Leadership campaign team. I was responsible to Robin Cook for the East Midlands CLPs. We made sure they nominated and then voted for John. When we look back at our 94% vote we like to think we did a good job. But this is when I first got my teeth stuck into realising in the Party we like to show our ideological purity – not elect the right person. In today’s currency, even John Smith would be called the Blairite candidate. We get really stuck in labels that mean plenty to us but nothing to the electorate.

So whilst I will eventually make my decision about who to vote for – my single vote – I want to do things differently this time. I don’t want to listen to an internal party debate about who is a Blairite or Brownite. I don’t want to know which tribal wing of the party they come from. I put this aside in 2010 and voted for David Miliband because although my personal politics were closer to Ed’s I had represented or been a candidate in a marginal  constituency for over 20 years and knew what makes swing voters tick. And guess what. They are not the same things that get the average Labour Party member out of bed on  a cold rainy weekend to go leafleting and canvassing.

Take the reaction to Liz Kendall talking about Free Schools. The reaction from many was that she should just join the Tory Party now. Don’t get me wrong I think Free Schools are a dangerous gimmick and create havoc for local planning. But now they exist it it hard to convince people who don’t engage in politics that getting rid of them is not about reducing ‘choice’. Most people don’t care about the NUT, old LEAs and what the local Labour party thinks. If some of the ‘aspirants’ we need to get to vote for us see we always against their choice agenda they will see us as statist and backward looking. So these issues need to be addressed with more maturity than simply shouting down anybody who dare say this.

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I get the idea that we are electing somebody to lead the Labour Party. But I hope we are doing much more than that. I hope we are electing somebody we can feel confident we can put in front of a modern electorate and they will feel they can look at them and think – yes I can see them as Prime Minister.  I am afraid that was never going to happen for Ed however much we wished it be true. I learned this lesson with Gordon Brown in 2010. Once the electorate has made up its mind it is almost impossible to shift in the short campaign.

So this is where you come in. I will create a poll on this site, my facebook, linkedin and website at http://www.sajeimpact.net for you to have your say. With over 3500 facebook friends, 5000 twitter followers and 2000 on Linkedin I think there is an interesting sample.

Which (if any ) of the candidates looks like they could be PM

Which of them seem to be speaking sense.

The candidates for the Leadership are:

Andy Burnham MP

Liz Kendall MP

Mary Creagh MP

Yvette Cooper MP

I will do a similar exercise for the Deputy Leadership when all the runner and riders have been decided. I am guessing this will be a smaller sample as most of the MPs running will be poeple very few of us will have even heard of!

Parliament Returns – but not for All

In a social media age my timeline this week was filled with new MPs ‘selfie’ photos of them swearing into the new Parliament. Clearly they were ‘official’ selfies from some of the new camera angles that seem to have been installed. I guess seeing the photos and claims from new MPs  to be ‘looking forward to serving constituents of x y or z’ are better than the last 2 years of “great labour doorstep” session selfies on Twitter.

I have to admit that for most of the time I feel comfortable that I have moved on from my 13 years in parliament and 20 as a parliamentary candidate. I believe life has its seasons and in 2010 my season in front line politics came to an end. But at little moments like the swearing-in I do feel a slight disappointment not to be there. Understandinly I miss the chance to represent people in our parliament. This is why I was happy to talk last week to the Radio 4 Today programme on life after politics when they called. They felt I had managed to create a new life after parliament and wondered how I had done this. 

  
There is alwas a danger of doing these interviews and then R4 tweeting the story on their website. You don’t go on radio to seek any sympathy – indeed far from it. But you know there will be a backlash from trolls who love to be abusive about any MP – even former MPs!  I agreed to do it because I wanted to bust some of the myths that surround our demise and to remind listeners that most MPs are relatively normal people who suffer personally when they lose their job and way of life. They suffer as all other people do by feeling a sense of rejection. They are not special people or superhuman. The Commons is full of people you will never hear of like me. We are humble back benchers ho don’t seek the limelight or Ministerial office. We don’t walk into highly paid jobs. This is not special pleading as I coped pretty well with losing but I know MPs from all sides of the House who have found it tough. I only mean as tough as anybody losing their job – but in a post 2010 world being an MP is no longer all the glamour it was cracked up to be!

Many of the myths that have built up are worth dispelling. I was quite shocked how little people understood about the life of an MP and just how little the ending was equally misunderstood. I was asked so many questions that I thought it worth writing up at the time.

As you leave the election count you are effectively given your P45. In front of public gaze you are made redundant. You are described daily in TV, radio and print as a/the  loser. There is little escape locally. I didn’t want to lose but had worked out that unless something dramatic turned up I was going to lose. So at least I was mentally prepared. I even had a line from the West Wing in mind – in Politics sometimes the other guy wins. I know lots of former collagues who hadn’t prepared themselves for defeat. It is harder for them. I know others in other jobs who have lost their  work through redundnacy who assumed they would be ok do take it much harder. 

Of course for days afterwards people approach you and say they couldn’t understand how you lost. They and everybody they knew wanted you to win! On my Facebook timeline people were adding their comments to my result with expressions almost bordering on grief. After about 36 hours somebody did post – He hasn’t died you know! 

Indeed I was quite surprised how much of a sense of relief I felt on the Friday morning knowing my fate had bee sealed. It was as though a burden had been lifted. The time in Parliament from 2008-2010 had been tough. Lots of colleagues had been exposed by the MPs Expenses scandal – my close colleague David Taylor had died of a heart attack, probably caused by the press stress, only weeks before. The global banking recession had been a tough time tyring to put our economy back on track and seeing the fall out as many people’s lives were turned upside down. So I guess adding my name to the unemployment figures was not a shock and something hundreds of thousands had been through. Unemployment happens and quite rightly in a democracy it should happen to MPs too. In fact it should happen to more & more often.

I got my first job offer on Saturday morning. I popped into Bradley’s, our local village shop, and Paul the owner asked if I wanted to do the Sunday Paper Round as they were short of a couple of deliverers! I was also struck at my new found freedom. A former constituent asked me some question about the voting process in Sheffield (there had been queues at 10pm if I recall correctly). I was able to say – “I don’t know about it, I don’t really care and guess what – it is nothing to do with me anymore” It was a liberating feeling. Suddenly not every situation around the world was resting on my shoulders.

However, on Monday the hard work started. I now had a staff team to make redundant and close down an office I had run for 20 years in Loughborough. We had over 22,000 case files of individuals and desks, office leases and employment law to deal with. Being an MP was always like runing a small business. This was the toughest part. As any employer will agree letting people go – destroying their lives – is hard. I see the media still lump the resettlement grant into the headlines about MPs expenses. The reality is that an MP like me gets 6 months redundancy pay after 13 years of service. I realise this is not ungenerous. However, compared to many other professionals I know it was not too wild! Especially as I have to ‘work’ the period in question closing down my office and my life as an MP. I was surprised how much there was to do. But for the media to pretend we get £100K+ of expenses is so misleading. They use the word expenses so pejoratively.  None of us get to see that money. It is staff salaries and statutory redundancy pay, Office rent and end of lease payments for office equipment and even professional shredding services.

I was fortunate that I didn’t need to sign on. I decided quite quickly that I should move on from the political front line. This is important . You need to decide if you are going back or forward with your life. I created a lifestyle business at Saje Impact (www.sajeimpact.net) which used my passions in life to eek out a living and volunteer for numerous charities. I was not typical I found out later. I bumped into other former MPs who had received no paid work for over two years  Others – the high profile ones – of course got lucrative NEDs. But these are the minority. Yet the public assumes that’s what all MPs do. It isn’t. Many struggle. We have an amazing set of skills but not that they are always obvious. 

The other great myth is about the pensions and employment situation People I meet assume I am on my pension. I am not and can’t receieve this until I am 65. I still have 14.6 years to go! The other is an assumption that you simply go into opposition in the constiteuncy and are somehow ’employed’. There is no role of opposition in a constituency.  I can assure you there are no employed candidates. Indeed it costs time, effort and a lot of money or a forgiving family to become a candidate. This is increasingly a problem for our democratic system as I have written about before. It reduces the pool of people willing or able to put themsleves forward to be candidates. It is helping to create a political class. I couldn’t afford to think abou being a candidate again as I had no job or income and a family to house & feed.

Finally I wanted to emphasise none of the interview was looking for sympathy. I knew the risks. I took the hit. But I was fed up with some of the myths continually going unchecked.  Being an MP is not just a job – it is a way of life. It is a 24-7, 365 days a year public service position. I know my fello interviewee described the process as like grief and in one sense I agree. It is a ‘grieving process’  In the same way that it makes the ‘job’ very special it also means it takes a great deal of readjustment. I would say in the same way as people from military backgrounds struggle to adjust to civvy life. There are just some jobs which are more difficult to adjust. Again I am looking for no sympathy for me or those others who lost their roles, but understand the problems and at least be pleasant to these human beings! I am also not claiming being an MP is the same stress as being in the Military but it is true of some jobs being bigger than the person and becoming a full way of life – not just a job

 My simpe ask is that MPs who lost this time are at least treated as human beings at a vulnerbale time in their life. Just don’t kick them whilst they are down however much you disagreed with their politics.  
You can see from http://www.sajeimpact.net or my twitter @andyjreed_obe what I now do with my life and how I now feel I am able to make a positive impact on the world away from front line politics. I hope I have been able to show it is possible to move on. But it has never been as easy as I would like to think. MPs don’t deserve your sympathy but they should be treated as vulnerable human beings. If they accept their defeat in grace they should be treated with a little respect and some understanding. No more – no less. 

It’s all about the narrative

I have posted on a regular basis my observations about political discourse and the book Don’t Think of an Elephant. Having just read another round of articles in the press from former colleagues it has never seemed more relevant. 

  
To summarise the auhor George Lakoff points out that people think in ‘Frames’ and the lesson for the Democrats in the 90s was that the Republicans got this. The Democrats, like Labour last week, hoped a list of policies which the electorate said they supported (even when blind tested) would be enough to get them into government. The problem as Lakoff points out is that most people don’t follow politics to the same degree as MPs and the commentariat. This means in an election people vote on the basis of their big picture Framed ideas and who suits those frmaes best. I will use this word only once but this is where the aspirational politics piece fits in. Individually  as I say people liked the Labour policies but the Tories had successfully framed this election long before the short campiagn and the alleged progress Ed and Labour made by having a ‘good campaign’. I know thet Douglas Alexander got all this. We have chatted about Lakoff and framing. He knew the book inside out. So I am not sure where our lack of narrative came from. 

The election was decided on – Ed Miliband, the economy, Scotland & the SNP(& immigration for UKIP swichers)  In each of these areas the instinct of people won them over to stick with the Tories. No long list of policies that didn’t add up to an alternative narrative was going to break this hold over the big picture of this campaign. Sometimes this was raised as an issue – about creating a positive vision for the future. It is certainly a theme that is starting to be raised in the Leadership debate. It is not enough to list a series of new paltitudes – about being for aspiration or about unity. What do these mean? We need a much better articulation of the vision for the country and what sort of country we wil be governing in 2020? I bang on about this a great deal. Party leaflets that say Councillor X or Y wants cleaner and safer streets. Meaningless. When was the last time anybody proposed dirtier and unsafe streets…?

So whilst the number of articles being written at the moment from the party are often old ‘big beasts’ settling old grudges from an era of Blairites v Brown v New Labour v Old Labour, the electorate don’t care about this. These are internal battles that are only even fought by a fraction of the 220,00 Labour Party members. 

Once all the leadership an deputy leadership contenders have anounced I will be running my thoughts across what they have to say. I am fortunate that I know their personal qualities and know them well from inside the party. But for me none of this matters. My sole test will be who can create a vision, a narrative that undersands and appeals to the electorate that will win seats like Loughborough again. If we ever want a working majority in the Commons my old seat needs winning back. There is no point creating even safer majorities in our ‘safe seats’ it is all about creating the One Nation Ed started to articulate a couple of years ago. 

I am looking forward to the ongoing debate. It is healthy to discuss what we are for. It’s uncomfortable to do it from such a poor position in opposition but in the long term a refresh might help to win another generation of governing. 

We have given up the economic arguments

William Keegan in the Guardian sets it out here.

In this helpful article William Keegan finally sets to bed a number of the myths about the spending/overspending debate – the global financial crisis and the so-called long-term economic plan. Sadly I am not sure arguing over the facts will help, as Osborne has rewritten history already as the 2015 GE campaign has shown. It is probably too late to make the more subtle arguments about the state of the economy in 2008-2010 as the last Labour economic record has been trashed by the Tories, the media and now many Labour leadership hopefuls. They have abandoned the argument and put it into the too difficult to discuss box. The death knell of trying to take on this misleading interpretation of history was probably the TV debates when the audience turned on Miliband on the issue of debt, trust and economic competence. As somebody who was proud to serve in a Labour government that started to make the much needed investment in our country – after a generation of under investment – I would want our leadership hopefuls to at least put the issue into some context. Rather than trash an impressive decade of growth and stability under Labour. In 2007 we had started to slow the growth in spending but the global crash put paid to any sensible slowing of spending. As I say the Keegan article sets this neatly into context.

But more importantly this article and many more are great at exposing the myth of the need for a pace of austerity that has been damaging to our economy. As you can this is not just me thinking these things but it’s a view supported by the Governor of the Bank of England. Remember growth was running way ahead of the figures of the Chancellor for the last quarter of his 5 years – 0.3% quarterly growth after the longest recession in living memory. It didn’t have to be this painful.

Unfortunately because our leadership hopefuls would like to draw a line under this argument they are conceding the territory and the austerity programme to the Tories. We have fallen for this myth that the national economy is like a credit card and that it was ‘maxed out’. So where does this take us? Over the last 48 hours I have listened patiently to the hopefuls and many other commentators who want to get across their verdict on why Labour lost last week. Again they come from different wings of the party and use every scrap of date to make their point. Some argue we weren’t left wing enough or that we weren’t near enough the centre ground to win seats in the Midlands and South. Others that we didn’t sound aspirational enough or not tough enough on immigration to allow UKIP to steal votes from us in the North. Of course the inconvenient truth is that all these and many other factors – loss of trust on the economy, the performance of Ed Miliband and the SNP factor all helped to make this an awful week for progressives. This is why the fightback is so tough as Labour will have to win again in Scotland, regroup and win back in the North with our traditional vote and then achieve what Blair did in 97 and win seats in the South. We lost in 92 and won with a landslide in 97 so we shouldn’t be totally depresses. of course all the circumstances are different but 5 years is a long time in politics!

This week when I think all of the leadership and deputy leadership candidates have declared I will run my eye over their potential and who I think will win. As the process starts my main fear is already happening – people are looking for a candidate for the Labour party.. whilst all the time we need a candidate who appeals to the country and will look and sound like a future Prime Minister in 5 years time. That’s our task.

Link

Today’s organisation I volunteer with is LRS – where I have been the Chair since 2005.

The CSP has grown in size and reputation thanks to the leadership of our Director John Byrne and the team. Our ambition is of course to make Leics (which means Leicester & Rutland too) the sportiest and most physically active County in the country. This means everybody who is able being active and/ or involved in an activity or sport.

Whilst we are fortunate to have Premiership football, rugby, basketball first class cricket & a European winning Hockey team our contribution is to ensure every child has a great schools experience, every adult can do something throughout their life , our elite athletes can find the way to the top and every community in Leics gets a fair opportunity to participate. From cradle to grave we work to make our systems, our investment and our coaching create a great experience.

From the website you can see all the things we are doing – from the school games to recognising out oldest athletes.

You can see from all the work why I’m proud to serve and breathe sport in Leicestershire

Leicester-Shire & Rutland Sport – County Sports Partnership for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland