We couldn’t resist sitting down to watch the BBC1 Series #Bodyguard. I have to admit to always loving the heady mix of politics and Bond/ Spooks type dramas. Yes I get annoyed when I have to put up with them using the wrong buildings & settings for events, but I have learned not to shout at the TV so often! I also have to remind myself it is a drama and accuracy is not guaranteed or required.
I am sure I will return to the programme when we have more to go on! The first 20 minutes of the first episode was about as tense as I could take for a Sunday night. Whilst the characters have not fully formed for the viewer yet there is enough intrigue set up for me to *need* to watch the rest of the series.
Whilst I have only witnessed Protection from a distance or been involved in the training I have always found it fascinating for both parties. When I first met MPs from NI and Ministerial friends with protection I was very grateful that i was never in a position to need this level of security.
However, I did have a little taste of what life was like once a year during my time as an MP. One of my friends was involved in the Police in Leicestershire and each year they needed a ‘live’ victim to practise their close protection officers skills. Once or twice a year one of my constituency Fridays was given to Special Branch and they were instructed I had now become a target for a Friday! I was given 7 officers and two cars and other elements of the Police in the County did have permission to try a ‘hit’ if they had time to test their colleagues.
I must secretly admitting enjoying the first part of the first experience. For those of us who have a slightly James Bond inner desire being whisked around the County in an unmarked police car and support car – having your door opened and walking into a meeting with the advance team having cleared the path for you. There was a buzz. However, I can always remember thinking by the end of a 10 hour day that I was fed up with every movement being shared with a team of 7 Officers!
I was instructed to make life a little tough for them – insisting on eating out in public places or suddenly changing the plans for the day. But on the other hand I couldn’t go to the toilet without giving notice so that it could be checked and cleared! By this time I was starting to feel all my privacy was being lost and I was looking forward to the point we said goodbye at the end of the day. I really don’t know how people cope having the intrusion in their lives. I have genuine sympathy.
One year the Queen was due later in the month to open the Space Centre in Leicester so they thought it would be useful to use me as a dummy run for the day. No jokes but its probably the only time I was Queen for the day… treading her every step ahead of the visit.
On another occasion we got late notice that Gordon Brown when he was chancellor was available to open the Ford Centre at Loughborough University during a visit to the East Midlands. We grabbed the opportunity and I had to inform Special Branch we had a proper VIP. We squeezed the visit into the late part of a Friday afternoon after I had been around the County and constituency all day. We arranged to meet Gordon at the West entrance to the University and travel in together. We were running a little late from Leicester so the team got permission to do the A6 at let’s say slightly higher than the national speed limit. When we arrived I could see Gordon’s slightly battered Rover with 5 of his team squeezed into the seats waiting for us. I swept up into the layby with my two cars. An officer stepped out, opened my door as the others checked Gordon and his team. I remember Gordon and Ian Austin giving me a strange look as I strode across “You are either important around these parts Andy or you have made some pretty dangerous enemies”
So I will watch #bodyguard with an element of admiration for the officers who do this job. Week in week out just ferrying around VIPs but having to be ready for the one moment their skills are required. Equally I admire those in politics who are willing to sacrifice their personal freedom and privacy for public service. It looks glamorous but it isn’t!
I always find holidays a great time to relax and in my case get in some serious reading and thinking space. In a world dominated by immediacy we don’t create enough thinking time – especially in politics.
In the last few months I have drafted some posts and blogs only to not press publish when it has come to the final moments. Ironically my last post was about the kinder type of politics personified in Tessa Jowell but the two drafts that didn’t make it to publication were withheld because I had come to certain conclusions about Labour on anti-Semitism and the ongoing weakness of Corbyn on #Brexit in these blogs. I didn’t publish these because I usually feel other great writers are much better at expressing what I want to say, and to be honest the level of abuse that is thrown around on Social Media is something I still find unpleasant. On the Anti Semitism row it is pretty awful.
However, I decided in my time away a few things to concentrate on over the next 12 months and I helped clarify my thoughts on a range of issues whilst sitting on a French beach!
I have still not changed my mind about Corbyn. I will return to why in a separate post. Most of the things I thought in 2015 still are relevant. They are still why I think he can’t lead us to a Labour majority government with a clear working majority. But I am now comfortable with being in a minority on this within the current Labour party – but clearly in tune with what the electorate as a whole think. I think I have always said things as I see them and I see no reason to change my mind. Its now about how I handle being in a Party where I don’t support the leadership and how I work my way through this.
I won’t be leaving Labour despite everything going on at the moment and being told to F**K off and join the Tories by people who have only just joined Labour. I joined the Party in 1983 at our low point in recent history and spent years trying to make it electable again. Whilst I fundamentally disagree with the Leadership on so many fronts I will do we did last time. I will Work hard inside the Party to help it understand what it takes to build a coalition of voters required to win an election. Ie beyond our core. I have spent 30 years in Tory heartlands and the Loughborough Marginal. I still think too many in Labour don’t understand what makes switchers tick!
Whilst there is lots of talk about a ‘new party’ happening I will not be distracted by this for now. This excellent article by one of my favourite political writers Stephen Bush sums this up nicely – Leaving Labour: Why a party split is now inevitable. I am amongst those who are deeply attached to what I still believe is my party. I have given 30 years of my adult life to the Party in various guises and won’t give up on it easily. The last 2 years have sorely tested my resolve – from the leadership to threats of deselections, infighting pathetic handling of #brexit and anti-Semitism rows. I am fortunate to be an ordinary party member and hold no official position any longer as I can speak freely about how badly I think the party is doing with these issues. But I stay to fight and make the case.
Having decided to stay and fight when good friends have given up and left I will need to work out some more details of what this will look like. For starters I will be joining a few of the campaigns that are most important to me – and changing the Party position on #Brexit will be my priority. I will continue to openly criticise the party on the position it is taking. I know from numerous conversations inside parliament that there is a sensible majority against anything resembling a #NODEAL or hard Brexit, so in the interests of the country we need to unite around those willing to put the countries economic future first and create a practical #brexit or even a #nobrexit if a second vote takes place once the details of any deal are known.
So over the next 12 months my efforts will be put into #brexit and the continued fight for a Labour Party that knows how to understand the wider electorate is hopes to represent. We have a leader and membership that only wants to shout inside its own echo chamber. The fact that Corbyn lags May and Don’t know in the best PM YouGov polling should alarm party members but it doesn’t. And in a sense that is more worrying. I guess this means at election time I will struggle as people like Corbyn and his supporters did to ‘endorse’ the leader to be PM. But at least unlike many of his closest friends and advisors I won’t be joining or voting for another party in a general election!
So I will stay, fight, be vocal and a bit of a pain, but still with the overall intent of replacing this Tory government. I will do my bit and not run away. Too many people tell me weekly that they are leaving Labour and won’t vote for Corbyn. I will try to convince them they are still better off without a Tory government even if none of us think Corbyn will be decent PM. It is the sort of contortion Corbyn had to perform regularly as he campaigned against all Labour leaders! It will be fun!