It’s a Dream or a Nightmare

Having spent a full day yesterday at conference yesterday I managed to meet, drink coffee, talk listen, attend events, receptions and meet up with what we fondly call the PLP in Exile – ie an ex Labour MPs Club! I talked to all wings of the party and those here for ‘lobbying’ or exhibitors. Hence my title. For some – as I overheard one Labour veteran phoning his wife say of McDonnell Speech – this was the best speech I have heard, I have been waiting 30 years to hear something like this. But most of the people I spoke to feel they are living in a nightmare and assume one day they will weake up and realise this was all a bad dream. 

  
The most worrying conversation I had was one person who felt they were living the dream. When I explained that from my experience I was pretty confident that a Corbyn led party couldn’t reach out to middle England and win an election they told me “oh I know but that doesn’t matter, we now have a genuine left wing choice.” For once I was lost for words.

I have to admit that my group of friends in the Party means my sample is clearly not representative of the wider membership but I did manage to speak to many IN the shadow cabinet, those who didn’t choose to go onto the front bench, former collegaues and fairly sensible activits. The overwhelming message was clear. We cannot fight an election in 2020 with any hope of winning with Corbyn as leader.

What is obvious is quite a bit of affection for Jeremy himself – and deservedly so. Although former hardened whips don’t share quite the same affection. Don’t forget this is a Leader now asking for some loyalty who came into Parliament to vote against us and his Labour government over 500 times. Most of those votes would have been for Tory and Lib Dem amendments. The call my McDonnell for those who decided not to serve to ‘come back’ and serve the party was difficult to take seriously for many.

The other consistent message I heard was the need for MPs and front benchers to apply a fixed grin, smile and pretend everything will be ok. They know this truce can’t last as some decisions will have to be made on policy at some stage and their views are diametrically opposed to those of Corbyn. Whilst Jeremy himslef has been quite consensual so far, they fear that not all those now getting their hands on the machinary of the party are quite so nice.  

I have already cited the size of the mandate for the Corbyn victory means they have to respect his position. Perhaps that is why tests are being set for him as it wil be difficult to see how on earth any leadership contest could be crafted in other circumstances. The tests are of course the elections in 2016. We have a good series of tests with the London Mayoralty, Scottish & welsh as well as local government elections. None of us trust the polls at the moment so perhaps only real votes in real elections will give us any clues about project Corbyn. It will be mid term of a Tory government imposing austerity cuts so in the discourse of the Corbyn campaign we should be winning hese elections – and winning them big. Failure to do so will be a massive blow to the Corbyn project. So it seems at least until May 2016 nothing will happen. The leadership and front becnh will try to find a formula that works for them both. I am not convinced how this will work. There are way too many differences. I can foresee too mnay internal battles and not enough focus on doing the job of opposing the government. Already you can see the Tories feel they have free reign to do what they like almost with impunity.

I have been cheered by the fact that there are now so many people willing to do some heart searching and to work out what went wrong in May 2015 (we seem to have forgotten here that we lost an election badly in May) There is no assumption that a return to the formula of the 1990s ill work again in 2020 or 2025. It will be a very different world by then and like in so much of my other work work on thinking differently I would love our policy making toto forward thinking about the world as it might be not as it was 5 years ago.

  
Finally before diving into meetings and working out how I will watch the main event – the Leaders speech – I was struck by the fact that this is the first Leaders speech that has not been tested against a focus group for a generation. I know the term focus group has become discredited and especially by those who want a politics of passion and inspration. I get that. But a focus group IS useful because guess what, most voters don’t have a passion for politics and don’t always want inspiring. They want to know what it means for them, ther lives and their communities. They don’t want all the rhetoric that goes down well in the hall. And this is my worry. For those MPs and others who have seen Corbyn at the fringe meeting circuit , and those who witnessed the TUC speech, it is basically the same everyhwere he goes. It is the speech he has happily given to rallies for 30+ years. Corbyn has spent his life giving heart warming speeches to already convinced groups and lost causes. He is great at making people feel good about their cause and campaign. But he is now the Leadrer of the Labour Party and somebody who has to win the hearts and affectsions, loyalty and trust from large swathes of the electorate who he has never really spoken to before. This is a mssive test and surrounding himslef with the right people who can tell him this will be vital.

What next for me? I am willing and able to offer advice to anybody who will listen. I will be part of any debate and policy making process and will make the case for politcies that deliver the possibility of a Labour government. It means I will continue to comment from the sidelines without being disloyal and too critical. I am taking up the challenge set out by Corbyn for more open and honest debate, so I am sure they don’t see honesty from those who disagree with them as crticism – but healthy discourse.

I am looking forward to playing a back seat role with a variety of hats on – but 2016 will be a great opportunity to follow some of my passions around sport policy and working with others to look at the role of faith in politics and wht it means in an increasingly secular society. 

As everybody said yesterday. We live in ‘intersting times’.

Conference isn’t what it used to be

Regular readers over the years will know how much I used to try to avoid political conferences. I think I have spent less than a couple of hours of my life sitting inside a conference hall. However, the real business of a conference  takes place in the fringe meetings, the little huddles of people gathering over coffee and the late night bar chatter. 

I arrived in Brighton last night to come and talk about sport policy to as many MPs, advisors and delegates as possible. Whilst it is early in the electoral cycle its important that HMG official opposition is holding the government to account and as Labour is stil so large in local government that the benefits of sport policy are well known & understood. How the oppostion responds to the sports consultation will determine if we can get some cross party consensus for example.

I have only been ‘live’ in Brighton since 8.30 and have had my first 10-15 conversations. I always forget how many friends I have inside the Party and how much fun they are. There are many things I don’t miss about Westminster but having such a great bunch of colleagues around is something I really DO miss. 

I will try to update and collect the mood of Brighton. The conversations so far have reflected my own postings over the last few weeks… We are now in totally Unchartered waters politically. We have a leader who is like a fish out of water as I had it described today. All that experience of giving off the cuff talks/ speeches to rallies is not the same as leading a political movement. There are most MPs who feel they are going to wake up soon from this nightmare / dream! They understand the size of the Corbyn mandate from a new mass party of ‘supporters’ but know, like me, that the electoral mountain we needed to climb has just became bigger in 2020. 

We all know people who are equally excited by the prospect of something very different and the chance to have what they call a ‘genuine Labour Party’ back. Yet despite these poles of difference the conference behaviour seems to be carrying on as normal. However, this is a conference a million miles away from the heady days of the mid to late 90s and mid 00s when we were in power and people felt we mattered.  I am guessing but many people and organisations booked to come to conference thinking the Party might be in government. We will have to see how opposition goes when parliament returns but I am guessing lobbyist, campaigns will not feel they *need* to be here in such numbers next year and it already feels flat.. You can get a table for coffee anywhere! 

One hour down -15 conversations in. I will now dive fully into conference and the fringes… Let’s see what emerges.  

 

DCMS Consultation

One of the new projects I want to take on in 2016 is the establishment a new investment fund for sports that have a social impact. The project can be found at www.sportimpactfund.com

I have posted on the sport impact fund but wanted to share with all my sport and political friends!


We were delighted to see the DCMS Sports Strategy consultation was so strong on the need for new income streams into the sector.

Andy Reed said ” We have made the case you can see across this site that a Sport Impact Fund could make a significant contribution to the growth of the sector and particularly where Sport is delivering a social impact on behalf of society.”

“We would encourage anybody who has seen what we are proposing to establish here at the Sport Impact Fund to use this last week to respond to the us and the DCMS consultaiton by giving examples of what you would use the fund to achieve. As always examples and best practise will bring this concept to life.”

Ends

The Consulation can be completed online here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/a-new-strategy-for-sport-consultation

A Week IS a Long Time in Politics

As you may have gathered from my twitter and Facebook I have fortunately been slightly pre occupied over the last week with the Parliamentary Rugby World Cup. Ironically the event got me onto the Daily Politics Programme when they did a light hearted piece on Friday.

However, with over 300 Parliamentarians from across the globe conversation inevitably drifted to politics very quickly and because the Commons & Lords is an All-party Rugby Team I have been talking with Lib Dem Peers & an MP, Tory MPs and Labour backbenchers. I was at an event on the Integrity of Sport in the Lords too which I chaired mid-week and again the walk from the tube through the Commons & Lords brings me into regular contact with many old colleagues from all sides of the House willing to share their news and views. My ‘friends’ extend right across the political spectrum from very old red Labour to Tory MPs many expected to defect to UKIP! 

Of course there was lots to talk about this week – about 99% of it about Corbyn and the effect it will have on British politics. The conversations centred around; what does it mean for the realignment of politics, how will the Tories react, what will it mean for the Lib Dems (one offer to defect and one “You’d be mad”), ‘what a shambles’, How long will he last, why didn’t he sing the national anthem etc. 

Each of these topics probably deserves a blog of its own and I have been catching up over the weekend on some great articles from a variety of commentators. So let’s start with what went wrong and why Corbyn let himself be defined in his first week because he wasn’t organised. The Corbynites must have known for some time he was on for victory. I was told even before I went on holiday by one camp that they were going to lose to him. Through most of September there was no doubt (despite me being told off for daring to suggest this would happen). So why on earth did the first 48 hours look like it was all a surprise and nobody had a plan what to do? Surely somebody has a ‘First 100 Days’ playbook somewhere in his team or are they all so anti-media and spin that they REALLY do think they can win the next election via twitter and town hall meetings? I was pleased to see even Owen Jones in the New Statesman pointing out the danger of such a strategy. It is a recipe for disaster. So in the first week we have the sight of a Shadow Cabinet being formed without any leadership and with MPs distancing themselves and even making it clear when they took jobs on what terms they had agreed to serve. Corbyn actually has a Shadow cabinet with more women than men, from a pretty wide spectrum of the party yet even this was turned into a PR disaster by the non-appointment of a woman to one of the ‘top’ jobs and the appointment of the much disliked John McDonnell to Shadow Chancellor. I see a number of astute appointments have been made but I fear it may be a little too late to try and sell Corbyn via the media to the public.

For me the above examples from the first week confirm my greatest fear. At no point during the campaign did anybody really test the ‘leadership’ qualities of the candidates. The least qualified of the candidates to offer leadership or even management (the two are different) was of course Corbyn. It may seem strange to those outside politics that we seem to choose the most like our political prejudices rather than the best placed to lead and win elections. Since Blair we seem to have decided we don’t like the idea of wining, as it means compromise. 

Following this slightly inauspicious start we then had the sight of a non-singing leader of the Opposition at an official WW2 event. Poor old Jeremy would have been damned as a sell-out if he had suddenly started singing the national anthem and equally lambasted as we found out if he stuck to his guns and stayed silent. The coverage was way over the top but welcome to modern day journalism! I will admit to being a republican too and in my student days I didn’t sing the anthem. I started singing when I represented my country in sport and the anthems were used. I realised that whilst I didn’t necessarily want God to save the Queen we had stumbled upon this awful song as our sporting anthem too and I had better get used to it. Equally funny in recent years has been having to work with a Royal or two through my sports links. I am pretty open that I would prefer not to see our Head of State chosen by the accident of birth but whilst there is some minor constitutional link I am happy to be polite and work with them to achieve common goals – like more sport being played. If their patronage opens doors to help then it is worth working with them rather than ignoring them and waiting for the day we abolish the monarchy. The position Corbyn now holds is to represent the entire Labour party and official Opposition at these events, so he may need to put aside some personal student politics!

On the positive side I have written about the change in mood he created at PMQs. I am sure there will be some positive feelings about party democracy in future as members will feel more included in the decision making inside the party. So all is not bad. But the important test now is to see how Jeremy starts talking to the country and what reaction people outside the party have for him and his policies.

This brings me to the conversations with political opponents who seem slightly uncertain what this might all mean for them. Having just elected a left leaning leader for the Lib Dems they are now wondering exactly how to position themselves and whether they like to call it centrist or not, the possibility of them being the sensible left leaning party seems possible. For some time they positioned themselves to the Left of Labour (in Northern seats at least) whilst being soft Tories in the South. In 2015 they were found out under Clegg and almost need to start again. For those I have spoken to they see themselves as a home for sensible social democrats if Labour continues to drift further left leaving the centre ground. Most of the Tories I spoke to were more certain this was good news for them but with a heavy note of caution added on top. Their fear is that it allows the Tories to take the centre ground for granted now that Labour has abandoned it and all those who had fought hard to modernise the party and reject their ‘nasty right wing’ label are going to have to fight this all over again. They are also wary of a populist creating more hope and optimism than they care to admit. They are of course delighted that Corbyn won because they think it gives them the 2020 election already, but they are wary it allows their own ranks to descend back into the old rivalries over Europe and other defining issues that gave them a civil war for 20 years. Without a serious opposition there is a danger that it may be created from within, especially with the European Referendum looming in 2017. 

I don’t see the possibility of the immediate re-establishment of the Lib Dems as a political force. Their defeat in 2015 was so deep and painful. I can’t see the Tories completely imploding over Europe either. So this leaves the other two rumps of voter’s choice – UKIP and the SNP. 

I have not seen much about the impact on UKIP yet – especially from a Labour perspective. As we know UKIP gained large votes in many Labour held seats and prevented us winning some marginals. Two years ago UKIP was a Tory problem but it is equally a Labour problem now. Many left because they didn’t recognise that Labour stood up for them or didn’t speak for them now. I don’t think many of those that left over issues like immigration and welfare will be won back by the Corbyn position on these two issues. But again we will have to see. As for the SNP, there are many Corbyn supporters who believe our path back to power lies through telling SNP voters they can have a left wing labour party again. Having spent time talking to defeated Labour candidates and party workers north of the border I don’t think it as simple as this. The SNP surge is much more complex than this simple analysis suggests. 

Where does all this leave us? We have a Labour leader who is unable to control the positions taken by his MPs and Shadow Cabinet who are currently still working and speaking up on positions taken prior to the Corbyn victory. They have all agreed to take positions after being given assurances about some key issues like NATO and Europe. We have the daily sight of Shadow cabinet members contradicting positions taken by Corbyn and certainly not quite enthusing about the likelihood of a Corbyn win in 2020. We are told this is all very refreshing and great to see open debate. The problem is that the electorate also hate seeing divided parties and there is a fine line between open debate and open warfare!

There is still a lot of settling down to be seen. The build up to conference will be really enlightening and we await to see more details from the Leader and his Office about how they plan to take forward policy making and who will control this process. I can’t see Shadow SoS really staying if the Party decrees they have to take an untenable position on some key issues. 

Finally I wonder how long it will be before people decide if Corbyn is actually up to the job of leading an opposition political party. I ask this in all seriousness. There has been little sign of these qualities so far. They are not the qualities I want or expect of Corbyn. His strengths have always been elsewhere. He is a good constituency MP determined to pick unfashionable political fights. That is great and there is a role for MPs like this. It is the sort of role I would like to have carved out if I had 32 years in politics! It is a nice place to be. Leadership is difficult and a long hard slog. It means daily attention to the job and whilst it is great that Corbyn is fulfilling some constituency engagements and surgeries he can’t neglect the official invites he is getting as Leader of the Labour Party and Official Opposition. It is a full time job, not a drop in when you can part time chair role!

For me the jury is still out about how long he can last. If we lose in May 2016 in London, Scotland, Wales & in Local Govt surely the knives will be out. So until then let’s allow him time and space to get this shambolic start behind him and give him the opportunity to show some leadership.

New Style PMQs

It has been a roller coaster of a ride for Jeremy Corbyn since his election on Saturday and PMQs was the first time to see him in action in the Commons. As a former insider it is difficult to express how much of the mood for MPs is set by this weekly encounter that many of us hated in its current yah boo political style. It does matter up to a point. But as a vehicle for holding the PM to account it has largely lost its ability to do so.  I hated PMQs as a forum, but enjoyed it as theatre.  I always tried to ask serious questions and not to join the shouting. It took a lot of self restraint!

So Jeremy Corbyn by announcing he was going to do things differently would have struck a chord with many people. Although to be frank every leader of the Opposition and PM have said the same and it has lasted a few weeks, a few hours or a few minutes! 

It has not been the best start for Corbyn and his team. I say ‘team’ but from the shambolic few days he has had I am not actually sure there is a proper team in place yet. I really hope for his own sake he can rely on some good people to help him. I don’t mean to over style or over coach him but mumbling speeches at TUC conferences are not a great start. It is probably the easiest audience he will ever have and whilst most told the cameras how excited they were by his speech, most privately despaired. The fiasco over the Singing/Not singing the National Anthem is a case in point. It is an unecessary battle line. 

Today the idea of taking questions from the Public  or ‘crwodsourcing’ had some merit and the authenticity of the questions shone through from people who know what is happening in their ‘real lives’. This is always powerful and harder to tell members of the public they are wrong rather than fellow MPs. It is an innovation that should stay even when people are bored of it… 

The Corbyn style of asking questions in a calm way was welcome. Although he will have to work on the sharpness of the questions and perhaps give himself a couple of quetions as follow up with supplementaries when the PM slips out of answering the question by making a facile point or by deversion. Short sharp pointed questions have always caught Prme Ministers off their guard. Don’t forget PMs spend a great deal of time preparing for PMQs and rehearsing their ‘answers’ so they usually have good lines available when questioners give them time to think.

I was equally interested in how Cameron handled the new style. He cleverly showed he could calmly answer questions instead of going into one of his red faced rages that frankly make him look petulant. Look at not only the style of his answers but the long term traps he has laid  for Corbyn. In a very sublte way today he started defining Corbyn and you can see the ‘attack lines’ emerging already. We will see a lto more of these lines on the economy and defence.

Quite a few journalists gave it to Corbyn ‘on points’. I saw it as a 0-0 score draw. The real tests are still to come and I bet by 2019 as we build to the next election we won’t be having this style of PMQs. The noise will have risen by then. But let’s hope things have changed a little for the better.

  

The Shadow Cabinet 

so the full list of the Shadow Cabinet has been announced. 

Five years out from a general election and after a defeat the role of this group is to take the role of opposition seriously whils re building for an election that will take place in very different circumstances in 2020

There is lots of real talent missing but this is not a bad group, give or take one or two disastrous appointments. 

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, said:

“We have delivered a unifying, dynamic, inclusive new Shadow Cabinet which for the first time ever has a majority of women. 

“I am delighted that we have established a Shadow Cabinet position for mental health which is a matter I have long been interested in.

“Angela Eagle’s appointment as the Shadow First Secretary of State means she will deputise for me when David Cameron is not available for Prime Minister’s Questions. 

“The Shadow Cabinet is a strong combination of change and continuity that will now come together to hold this government to account, starting today with this pernicious Trade Union Bill.”

Labour’s new Shadow Cabinet is:

Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party
Jeremy Corbyn MP

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
Tom Watson MP

Shadow First Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills
Angela Eagle MP

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
John McDonnell MP

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Seema Malhotra MP

Shadow Home Secretary
Andy Burnham MP

Shadow Foreign Secretary
Hilary Benn MP

Opposition Chief Whip
Rosie Winterton MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Health
Heidi Alexander MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Education
Lucy Powell MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Owen Smith MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
Maria Eagle MP

Shadow Lord Chancellor, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Shadow Minister for the Constitutional Convention
Jon Trickett MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
Lisa Nandy MP

Shadow Leader of the House of Commons
Chris Bryant MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
Lilian Greenwood MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Vernon Coaker MP

Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Diane Abbott MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland
Ian Murray MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales
Nia Griffith MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Kerry McCarthy MP

Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities
Kate Green MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Michael Dugher MP

Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Registration
Gloria De Piero MP

Shadow Minister for Mental Health
Luciana Berger MP 

Shadow Leader of the House of Lords
Baroness Smith of Basildon

Lords Chief Whip
Lord Bassam of Brighton

Shadow Attorney General
Catherine McKinnell MP

Shadow Minister without Portfolio
Jonathan Ashworth MP

Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning
John Healey MP

Other Announcements:

Yvette Cooper will continue her work on bringing together councils, faith groups, and community groups to respond to the refugee crisis. She will chair Labour’s task force on refugees.

This is the first Shadow Cabinet of which the majority are women, with 16 women and 15 men members.

#ChilliMEChallenge

Whilst sometimes we get caught up in the grandiose projects in politics I was always struck by the number of smaller (but not those affected)  issues that needed their voice heard.

I have a vested interest and am delighted to raise awareness of ME. With family (current) experience seeing and hearing from self help groups via social media of the difficulties people are having I feel compelled to do my little bit to raise awareness. It would be great of this little challenge generated the same interest as the ‘Ice-bucket’ campaign, but even if it doesn’t I hope the right people sit up and take notice.

  
http://www.sajeimpact.net/blogg.html