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.

Ends

(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!

 

 

 

 

Exit Poll & Loughborough Count

10.30pm Whilst not quite ‘live blogging’ I will try to add a few thoughts as the night unfolds. I still had the Tories on a 40 majority based on the polls and gut instinct earlier today. Therefore I was as pleasantly surprised at the Exit poll as anybody else. At this stage a massive caveat. The Polls are within a margin of error of 20 seats either way.May *could* have a majority or it could be worse for her. Either way as I have said throughout this campaign – it has been awful for the Tories and May has been woeful. They threw it away. By the end this election was there to be won for Labour…

 

Postscript – 13th June…

The night turned out to be more exciting than I could imagine even at the Loughborough count and so the evening turned into a 5.30am journey home to Quorn still trying to take in what had just happened. This meant I didn’t get chance to add much on here but hopefully many of you caught up with tweets from the Count!

 

Polling Day Nerves

Polling day for #ge2017 has finally arrived. It does seem an age since May stood outside Downing Street and called the snap election for today. All the speculation over the last 6 weeks comes to an end over the next 24 hours as we finally understand what voters have been saying to pollsters over this election and we count real votes!

At the start of the election I had hoped to write a lot more. However, my election agent from the 2010 election campaign was selected to fight the Loughborough seat and he asked me to act as his Agent. As I agreed to help my thoughts on the performance of the various campaigns had added pressure not to rock the boat, so I felt it was worth holding off for a few weeks and starting to write again after the election. Given the polls and likely outcome it seems there will be plenty of twists and turns ahead in national politics to keep me busy. I think for all parties there will be some rethinking to be done…!

I have found over time that those less involved in politics (the vast majority of my friends) have appreciated a little bit of insight into politics from an insiders point of view. If this election is anything to go by that appetite has not diminished and it has equally been fun replying to questions on social media and emails on what is happening and what various claims from the Parties mean. There are plenty of people who do this far better than I could ever achieve and I have been happy to point people to Matt Singh for example if you want to understand how polling works and why there are such variations in their figures. However, I have also found social media unpleasant at times. Its only a narrow band of ‘friends’ who find it difficult to accept that not everybody loves Corbyn & so every post looking at the nuances of the election have been greeted with claims of betrayal! It has meant that I have toned down my thoughts for the election period but I will not be holding back when the final result is known and the new government formed next week. There will be plenty to say about the future of our country. My appetite for intelligent, clam political  discourse has not diminished… despite the role of social media in reducing the debate to 140 characters or a meme!

At the start of the election I did say this campaign was too hard to call. Even today I am feeling a little bit the same. I have in mind a set of % and seat predictions but I am less certain than I have ever been in confidently predicting the outcome. I did warn that events might overtake the strategy and plans of the Tories campaign. It certainly seems this has happened. Their robotic May and the awful campaign has not stood up well to the spotlight of 6 weeks of campaigning. Much of this has been self inflicted damage – a robotic May, hiding from the debates and a chaotic manifesto launch. The Terrorist attacks shifted the debate from BREXIT to police numbers for example and the PMS record in the Home Office. So quite rightly I didn’t set out any percentage or seat predictions. I didn’t quite believe the opinion polls in April so until doors were being knocked in large numbers it would be difficult to verify the national picture. After a week or so it started to settle until the wheels came off the Tory campaign and the election became a different beast. I have had to readjust my estimation about the Labour performance slightly upwards in light of the campaign period.  I am still going roughly on what I said 2-3 weeks into the campaign. The fundamentals hadn’t changed that much on leadership, and economic competence ie the true measures of how people will vote.

I have kept a record of my election thoughts and diary and will publish most of this after polling day – as a record for myself and exposing my election predictions skills.

Our local Labour candidate Jewel Miah has fought an energetic campaign and the feedback has been far more positive than I expected at the start – thanks to his daily campaigning. We have had to fight the election with few resources and nowhere near the number of volunteers we have had in the past as a Key Seat but we have certainly put everything into the campaign to give people a reason to vote labour locally.

But on election day even the most confident candidate has the odd moment of panic. By now you have done as much preparation as possible and all the leaflets, emails and door knocking mean nothing if people don’t turn out to vote. So with one big last push the job today is to encourage your own voters to turn out in greater proportion to your opponents. This is probably especially true in this election where age and turnout differentials could easily decide the outcome – just as it may have done with BREXT if young people had turned out to vote in the same numbers as the over 65s.

So don’t put off voting today. We take it for granted but should cherish the ability to choose our government. Whatever you feel of the calibre of our politicians they have given up their time and effort to make a difference. You only need 10 mins of your life today to give your verdict.. even if it is to say None of the Above. Exercise the hard fought democratic right you have been given.