#Bodyguard

bodyguardWe 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!

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What Next in Politics?

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.

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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!

 

 

Kindness in Politics

4565776351_69df760550_bOver the last few months I have been motivated to write about politics and then as I open up the blog I just think – ‘Oh I can’t bothered’. It’s only going to get people shouting on social media again.

But yesterday as I heard the of the sad news that Tessa Jowell has passed away I was deeply moved and reminded there was a time when politics was gentler and could operate with kindness.

As usual many more people have written more eloquent pieces about the sad passing of Tessa Jowell.  But because of the contribution she made to both politics and demonstrating it was possible to be nice and kind I wanted to do more than  the simple social media post.

I know Tessa will rightly be remembered for many of her achievements like SureStart, but I really got to know her because of my links to sport and the Olympics. There are things I regret from my time in Parliament and one of them is not accepting the offer from Tessa to be her PPS in the run up to the 2010 General Election. I had worked closely with Tessa, the BOA and Seb Coe and others to support the case for the 2012 Olympics from within the Treasury role I had at the time.

There are little memories. At conference in Brighton a couple of years ago Tessa saw me came over outside the Conference Centre and grabbed me to take her into the little Thank You party she was holding. I joined her at a Campaign Fundraising dinner for her Mayoralty & she did what all good politicians do – she namechecked me in her thank you speech. But what was different about Tessa is that you could tell it was natural. It wasn’t a technique but genuine warmth.

These summed up years of chats and coffees in the Commons or at events. She never seemed rushed and despite the many Ministerial calls on her time always found those moments to be with people and ‘present’ As I read about everybody else having the same experience it makes you wonder how she managed to fit it in. However, I recall in one of our chats about Ministerial life she sis confess that only a couple of hours on that Sunday afternoon had she has any ‘me time’ after another hectic week in Westminster, her constituency and then the Sunday round of TV.. she says she loved it and thrived but it was a confirming moment that I had always known the pursuit of ministerial office wasn’t for me. I wasn’t prepared to give up so much me, family, church and sport time to politics!

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Although we’ve bumped into each other over the last few years her last time in Loughborough during the 2010 Campaign was special. She came up with the PM to launch the Sports Manifesto we created and I had helped write. She was just wonderful all day with people. Never needing to grab the limelight. If you see the photos , always there but never pushing to the front. Flickr

Through her I met many wonderful Sports Journalists who you will see have nothing but praise for her

Paul Kelso wrote this – Paul Kelso

This was a lovely piece from Alistair Campbell who knew better than most.

Or some political writers – one of my favourite is Stephen Bush who wrote this

She could get angry about things too – as she did about Gove and his cuts to Schools Sport

Over the years I have lost some close and good friends in Politics all taken too early. Tessa will be long remembered for her political career but also for her very human touches of kindness. That’s worth a lot more in the long run.

 

Reshuffles What are They For?

I used to be really interested in political reshuffles. They were always quite good fun and when you knew all the individuals involved it was always quite fascinating to see who was on the up and who was on the downward career path and who was simply being moved around in circles. Some Ministers lasted  years in the anonymity of the PUS role! Hidden away in the department and Westminster Hall debates.

Of course for most people there is very little interest in Westminster politics and so these are basically anonymous names being moved around departments that most of us haven’t really any understanding of what they do or what they job entails. Most would argue they run fine without Ministerial interference.

On a reshuffle day the tea rooms and portcullis area used to be awash with people second guessing what might or might not happen. Most MPs who thought they were in with a chance will be in place by their phones or make sure their mobiles have a good reception. The ‘Call’ from number still makes the heart thump. However, these days across social media mean that we can all watch the reshuffle almost taken place live on Twitter. So much so that today we even had an announcement of Chris Grayling being announced as Party chair even though minutes later we realise he hadn’t been appointed to that post at all. This was all part of the narrative of the day – it was all a bit shambolic. I assume most reshuffles were mostly a bit botched from memory. It’s just that we didn’t have 24 hour news and social media watching every second. Today if you are going to choreograph a reshuffle that you have already spun, you need slick execution. We didn’t see much of that yesterday did we?

Reshuffles. It really is one of the most bizarre ways of running the country. Can you imagine about every year or 18 months if your CEO walks in and suggests they are going to move all the people around into different departments and not because of any perceived faliure or success (however that is measured in government which is often not the same as being a competent department minister) but instead promotions and demotions will be based on the particular geographic location of your constituency, which side of particular ideological divide you sit and increasingly these days whether you  voted remain or leave. It  also depends who your friends are in the higher ranks of the party and how close they are to having the ear of the Prime Minister and his or her colleagues. Most parliamentarians just shrug their shoulder when they hear some of the  announcements from number 10. Anybody involved in Politics will know there is very little of the process based on meritocracy about who gets promoted and who gets demoted. It’s amazing that such important jobs are won and  lost on the basis of Westminster gossip. No Minister ever has an appraisal. Very few insiders believe the best people for the job are actually doing the job! Indeed knowledge of a subject area seems the last reason to appoint a Minister!

One of the reasons I believe our Country suffers from poor decision-making is both the short-term nature of the first past the post but Parliamentary system that leads to short term political fixes, and this messy way at a reshuffle, replacing a departmental Secretary of State every couple of years. It does mean that even within a five year Parliament its possible to make deep changes in policy direction simply by the change of the Secretary of State. No minister arrives at a department just thinking I’ll keep things ticking over nicely for the next couple of years.

Instead they will arrive thinking they going to ‘make a mark’ on the department & bring along with them or their ideological baggage and ideas formed -usually through anecdote and virtually none of  them from evidence-based policy-making. It really does make for a heady mix poor government. But strong Ministers can be good. They can also be a Disaster. Look at the damage Gove has done in every department he has touched. Powerful ministers can do a lot of damage in 2 years!

Today the Prime Minister seemed even weaker than usual. Clearly the reshuffle was necessitated because of the resignation of a number of her senior colleagues. But it did give her the opportunity to make some major changes at the top but it appears from the first days activity very little radical change has taken place. Indeed Ministers refusing to leave or be sacked is not a good look for a Strong and Stable PM. It perhaps signifies the lack of room she has to manoeuvre. She did look very weak by the end of the first day.

Tomorrow, plenty of junior ministers will be part of moving  the deckchairs and these will be mainly people even the most hardy political nerds have ever heard of. After I lost in 2010 I did keep a close eye on what was going on in parliament but by 2015 there were many new names and of course in 2017 your necessary election has led to a whole series of other new New batch of MPs. I haven’t heard of most of them and I take an interest! Surprisingly some of these have already been touted for ministerial positions. I Guess that most haven’t even really found all the ways around the Parliamentary estate or know exactly how Parliament works.

What is it is only a reshuffle today just to signify again the weakness of the skip and it’s preoccupation with Brexit and just how out of touch with major issues facing the country they government is today. I have always argued that governments can multitask and they  can deal with Brexit and the whole series of the major issues that face the country but increasingly this government does give the impression of a being  completely hapless out of touch quite incompetent. May has managed to destroy all of her credibility in just over a year.

There is unlikely to be an election any time soon so there will be plenty more of this to come over the next 2 to 3 years. What a depressing thought. Where are the big beasts to take on high office in this country? we need them now more than ever. Good luck everybody. We are on our own.

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(Please excuse the typos this was dictated and will be amended later this evening)

PS Just seen that Corbyn told the PLP we won’t be in the Single Market.. I am even more depressed by the state of politics tonight!

What does 2018 hold

It would be brave for anybody to predict what will happen politically in 2018 given all of the turmoil over the last two years. But over the course of this week I will be picking on some themes and what I think may happen.

I’d like to talk about Brexit, the Labour Party, Theresa May, the possibility of a General Election for a start, but I’d love questions too. Submit a sensible question on anything politically interesting and I’ll have a go at answering in a blog or two over the year ahead!

As you can imagine #brexit will look large over all politics in 2018 and the above is my starting point. Labour needs to stop waiting and taking a lead on brexit before it’s too late. By the time of the next election we will have left the EU and probably the SM and CU if the hard brexiteers get their way. 2018 is genuinely the time the fight has to happen.

Of course whilst most of this will be about UK domestic politics I won’t be able to resist mentioning the genius that is Donald Trump!

Please do drop a question to me.. on Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn or here on WordPress

I largely stopped blogging about politics in the summer.

To be frank social media means it’s pretty unpleasant speaking out on some of the big issues of the day and I didn’t need all the flak! However, I guess as part of an early New Years resolution I have decided not to sit back and let fear of speaking up be the cause of this country sliding out of the EU, SM and EEA because my party was playing a short term political game. So 2018 will be a time for speaking up a little more specifically here on this ‘political site’

As you can see from this Guardian article below and the polling it contains (yes I know it’s the MSM!) but I know it reflects the conversations I am having all the time. There are many Labour voters like me who are ‘angry & disappointed’ at the lack of fight from our party on the biggest peacetime issue for a generation.

Time to make our voices heard across the country and not leave this to a few in parliament across the political divide. They need our support to face down the hard right brexiteers.

Guardian Article – Labour voters could abandon Party over Brexit

From Hubris to Crisis for Tories – But Labour Must learn lessons of another defeat

A week is a long time in politics and no more so than this last week. Last Monday from all accounts of Tory CCHQ there was still a quiet confidence that come election day voters would still back ‘Strong and stable’ May.

Whilst it is easy to mock May for the decision to call a snap election and then spend most of it hiding away from voters and then effectively throw away her existing majority in this vanity project -it is us as a country who will suffer the consequences.

Things have been moving so fast that everything has changed once again – so twitter remains the main way of keeping up to date.. blogging takes too long before things change again.

To save a few paragraphs the quote below about sums up where we have got to!!

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I did mean to blog on the evening of the election. I thought that there would be time during the Loughborough count to add a few words to my initial reaction to the exit poll. As the results rolled in my initial caution at the accuracy of the poll diminished but I had stuck out my neck with the BBC journalist covering the election and predicted a Tory majority of around 5,000 still in Loughborough. We eventually lost by 4,300 in what was a reasonable result. For us in Loughborough battling against a 9300 Morgan win in 2015 it was always going to be too much to do in one effort.

One of the reasons I write down my thought is to show what life is like in a Midlands marginal seat. And this time it is even more important that we remember we still lost here and lost by over 4,300 votes… more than the 3,700 we lost by in 2010.

Before I dive into the reasons to be cautious it is worth joining in the excitement of denying the Tories their desired majority and certainly their landslide. One of the most enjoyable sights at the count was watching Tory smug looks slowly disappearing as the night went on. The progressive Alliance in Loughborough was well and truly alive at the count as we, the Greens and Lib Dems equally cheered each others victories against the Tories as their seats fell.

I did say that if Corbyn won the election I would be the first to offer him an apology and say I had been wrong to suggest he couldn’t win over seats like Loughborough where we need more than the progressive alliance… we need switchers. Whilst I wasn’t wrong I am also big enough to accept that he did better than I thought was going to be the case.

One of my worries is that in all the excitement of not doing as badly as we thought is that many friends have been celebrating as though we actually won! I am sure I don’t have to remind anybody that we actually lost the election. It was a our third defeat in a row. There are some positives to take from the result but pretending a 318 – 262 is a win isn’t good enough. I don’t know if it’s my sporting competitive edge but I am not that keen on glorious defeats. If the Lions come back from NZ with 0-3 loss I won’t be cheering if we played well but lost. In sport at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, but losing in Politics means non of our manifesto can be put into action. We shouldn’t lose sight of this.

At the weekend we saw the worst of May being repeated in the handling of the result. The robotic repetition of a new mantra. As Osborne observed she is a dead man walking. She is now a prisoner of her own party. They will decide when she leaves, not her!

The Tory Party are ruthless at hanging onto power and will do what it takes to keep control. Short in 2010 they get into bed with the LiB Dems. Scrape home in 2015 and create a Tory government in fear of UKIP and throw it all away in a referendum. In 2017 they will cling onto power with the DUP. There has been plenty written about them over the weekend. They will not be the monsters we are trying to create on Social media. They are smart enough to make this work for the next few years. They too will enjoy the sense of power being IN government brings. Neither of them will want another election soon. They will do all they can to stay in post.

So I know many of my friends are excited at the prospects of power soon. I have revised my expectation of an Autumn election. The Tories will do whatever it takes to avoid it at the moment. The marginal seats exist to make a Tory loss possible.

There is a long way to go in this saga. There will be drama every week. There will be votes that need to be won that will require EVERY Tory to be present. It will be an uncomfortable time for Tory backbenchers and they will wield power over controversial issues where it will only take a handful of them to prepare to rebel to defeat the government. Ironically it may lead to better policy making and government… where there needs to be much more consensual politics within the party.

It is also true that the Lords will feel even more powerful in the new parliament. The Tories won’t be able to overturn the anti-tory majority and the usual caveats about not overturning manifesto commitments won’t apply in the same way. The Tories will be ditching their manifesto anyway!

Once we have more detailed analysis of turnout and more details from the exit polls it will be possible to see what really happened last Thursday. Did UKIP voters split and nto simply return to the Tories as first appeared and did younger people turn out in greater numbers at last to boost the Labour vote. If they did this was a victory for democracy as a whole. For too long politicians have had to chase the grey vote at – I would argue – the cost of young people. Baby boomers – apparently being born in 1964 I am one of them – are generally having it good. It is true I had a free education, got a reasonable final salary pension and was able to afford to buy a house and get on the housing ladder. The hope for many young  people is a life of debt and hard work paying for our pensions! Perhaps at last there will be a rebalance.. as long as young people keep voting!

Returning to the loss in Loughborough I have looked through the patterns of voting for the period we have had the current make up of the seat. In 1992 it was a very different seat with many of the villages like Rothley, Mountsorrel and Birstall included. The 1997 result where we were fighting against a notion 3500 Tory majority was the first to be fought on the new boundaries (changed again slightly in 2010 making it a notional 500 Labour majority)

The seat was lost to the Tories because of the rise of the Lib Dem vote from 2005-2010. In 2010 the Clegg promise to scrap tuition fees cost us the seat as their vote went up to 9600. It has now returned to a squeezed 1900. Most of this has switched back to Labour – giving us the boost. The other parties have been squeezed too. UkIP have disappeared to 1500 from their highpoint of 5700 in 2015. The Greens too were squeezed as Corbyn probably appeals well amongst this group. They went down from 1850 to 971. Fortunately in tight races in the past the Greens didn’t stand in Loughborough, something I will return to in future. I had some interesting discussions across the Progressive Alliance in the last few weeks… I am sure this is a discussion point for the future.

When you look at the shifts in votes it’s obvious the squeeze has taken Labour as far as it can go. Put simply we now need people who still voted Tory last week to consider voting Labour whenever the election comes. Whilst we were celebrating the reduction in the majority for Nicky Morgan she will be pleased that she still got a slightly higher % of the vote (up ,04% to 49.9%) and got even more votes (25, 762) up from 25,762 in 2015 and on a slightly lower turnout. You can see why you need to look at the figures from all angles. This was a vote for the Tories locally against a backdrop of the worst Tory PM I have ever witnessed and the worst campaign we will ever see. They had a manifesto that declared war on its own voters. And they still won. Again coming back to my sporting expertise, we would not take a defeat like this and not analyse every piece of data we have and get the feedback from everybody concerned. You just don’t shrug your shoulders or pat yourself on the back in defeat when there is so much at stake.

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I started doing this as you can imagine over the weekend.. and I believe there is a way to win Tory voters over. The ones I spoke to in the focus group I have created made that clear that many had held their noses and voted Tory and if we had a different leader & especially Chancellor they would have voted Labour. Now I know I am going to be abused for even reporting back what I am hearing. But this is the task for Labour still. We can’t just cover over the things we don’t want to hear. How do we maintain the enthusiasm and excitement, but create a level of reassurance about our credibility to win over Tory voters in seats like Loughborough. I have some ideas but I fear in the false self praise amongst the party we will not learn the lessons of this defeat. Whilst I doubt I will ever return to front line politics I will continue to offer my support and experience of switching Tories into Labour voters!   You learn more from defeat and failure. I hope somebody does this analysis as if we lost, not as though we won!