Alastair Campbell Mon, 02 Nov 2015 13:37:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fantastic backing for #Equality4MentalHealth campaign. Please add your support here to help end historic injustice Mon, 02 Nov 2015 07:17:35 +0000 Around the time of Charles Kennedy’s death I spent a lot of time talking to his Lib Dem colleague, Norman Lamb. I didn’t know him very well but had always felt, when he was a health minister, that he and Nick Clegg got mental health on the coalition agenda in a way that would not have happened had the Tories been left to their own devices.

So once his unsuccessful leadership campaign was out of the way, we started a discussion which led, a few weeks ago, to the idea of a cross-party, cross-society campaign aimed at persuading the government to do more for mental health in the upcoming spending review. To make sure this was not easily dismissed as just another Lib-Lab call for more spending, we felt it important to have a Tory politician on board from the off. I had been aware that Andrew Mitchell has his own interest in and understanding of mental health, having at one point being treated for depression, and he agreed immediately to join us.

And that has been the story concerning pretty much everyone the three of us have since approached for support. In a matter of a few weeks we have gathered a pretty impressive collection of names lending their support to the call. Politicians of all parties, religious leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury, senior military figures, leaders in sport, business, arts and culture – the depth and breadth of the support has been remarkable.

I hope and believe it means that we are reaching a tipping point in terms of people’s interest in, awareness of, and desire to end the injustice of inferior treatment for mental illness. If we had been doing this campaign even a few years ago, I think we would have struggled to get the kind of names you can see below.

My worry is that though understanding and awareness are improving, services are not. There is a real danger that the Tories are allowing mental health to slip down the agenda and cuts are happening piecemeal all over the country. They talk the talk – David Cameron did so again at his party conference, and has also welcomed our campaign today  – but if they are serious there has to be more investment in mental health services. I think the reason so many business people and a clutch of former Tory health secretaries signed up so readily is because they realise that investment now can lead to improvements for NHS budgets and the economy down the track.

Five pleas if I may. Log on to Read the statement setting out the argument we are making and the ten areas of concern. Study the names who are supporting our call for more investment. Then  add your own. And spread the word, using the hashtag #Equality4MentalHealth where appropriate.

Mental health is an issue whose time has come. The public are ahead of most of the politicians on this. But the pressure has to be maintained.



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Brailsford cycling genius + Bloodwise great cause = fantastic night out. Sign up here Thu, 29 Oct 2015 11:30:30 +0000 Sir Dave Brailsford is a modern sporting genius. And Bloodwise is a great charity. So I hopefully won’t need to give too hard a sell to get some of you to come along to hear the former talk about his life and times, and raise money for the latter in the process. November 25, London. To be there sign up here.

I got involved with Bloodwise for the same reason most people who haven’t been diagnosed themselves get involved: someone close to me – in my case two people close to me – died from leukaemia. My best friend John Merritt died of the disease in 1992 and in the most horrible of coincidences, so did his beautiful nine-year-old daughter Ellie, just six years later.

As Bloodwise chairman of fundraising, I’ve been involved in “An Audience With…” since the very beginning and it’s one charity event not to be missed. It was the brainchild of my literary agent, leukaemia survivor Ed Victor. Plundering his, my and Alan Yentob’s contacts books, we have brought audiences a unique insight into the lives of some of the most impressive A-List people in entertainment, including starting with Mel Brooks, and including since then Kevin Spacey, Michael Palin, Stephen Fry, Billy Connolly, Miranda and Jo Brand. Nothing and nobody but the best, as befits a charity devoted to standards of excellence in all it does.

So far this event has been a resounding success, adding a useful new fundraising stream. Simply by selling tickets to members of the public who want to hear people they are interested in, we have raised over £180,000 for Bloodwise, or Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research as it was known when we started out on this journey,

This year, a slight change in tack, moving from arts to our first audience with a top sports figure. Dave Brailsford is the man who took British cycling from also rans to best in the world, and who built the team to deliver the first ever British winner of a Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins, and the second, Chris Froome, who has now won it twice.

I have known Dave since the early days of this extraordinary transformation, and have spent many hours listening to him explain just how he did it. He is one of the big contributors to my book on the subject of winning, WINNERS AND HOW THEY SUCCEED. He is a remarkable man with a remarkable story to tell. From a young man struggling to make it as a cyclist in France to a world-renowned and respected leader and innovator in sport, associated forever now with the concept of ‘marginal gains’, Dave has become a British success story all of his own. And I am thrilled that he has agreed to share that story in front of a live audience, and help Bloodwise in the process.

Even without realising it perhaps, Dave has helped us already. The success on the track and on the roads has been one of the factors behind the surge in cycling as a participation sport, which has led to a similar surge in demand for places on our own bike events, like the annual London to Paris ride, or our London and Birmingham Bikeathons.

But I also know that Dave’s success with British Cycling and Team Sky has within it lessons for other walks of life, business for example, culture, and, dare I suggest, politics too. His success has been built on answering the simple question – how can we make people ride a bike faster? But the answers have relevance that go well beyond the velodrome or the mountain stages of the Tour de France.

The Royal Institution in London, home of the Christmas Lectures, will provide a beautiful and historic auditorium for the evening where first I, and then you, will have the chance to ask him anything you like. Knowing him as I do, I can promise you will be both entertained and inspired.

So don’t miss this one-off chance to meet one of British sport’s  greats on November 25. Here is a reminder of how

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If only ministers were as wise as these three young people: a little investment can lead to savings down the track. Tue, 27 Oct 2015 10:59:17 +0000 While the government was busy trying to cut tax credits for some of our poorest families, and while millions were watching Panorama’s documentary on the calamitous impact of cuts to mental health services, I was at an inspiring event which showed how a little investment in mental health can lead to savings as well as improved lives.

It was a presentation cum fundraiser for Kidstime, a charity which supports the children of mentally ill parents, and in particular for their ‘Who Cares?’ project to help young carers.

The stars of the show were the young people who spoke of how this tiny charity, operating in a tiny number of schools, had helped them. A young man from Plymouth, Joel, who said quite simply ‘Kidstime saved my life,’ helping not just him to understand the nature of his father’s illness, but helping his teachers and fellow pupils too. A film showed the impact that an open group discussion had on his classmates. A teacher spoke of how the whole culture of the school had been improved.

Then there was a young woman called Kirsty, one of Kidstime’s earliest success stories, the daughter of two parents with severe mental health issues, now on her way to getting a degree, and full of confidence and inspiration as she spoke, family members watching on proudly.

But the quote of the night for me came from a young girl called Cacharel, aged ten or eleven, who lives at home with her often profoundly depressed mother and younger siblings. As her Mum told me later, Cacharel is a carer of an adult and two children.

Cacharel said to the audience something that really moved me. ‘I love talking about mental illness.’ When I talked to her later she said what she meant was that Kidstime had given her permission to be open and frank about what she felt about her mother’s illness, and also to understand that just as she needed to give support to her family, she also knew there was support for her too.

Kidstime operates in eight schools, just eight, in the whole country. NHS England provides some of the funding, which is great, but if only every young carer could have access to the kind of support that Cacharel, Kirsty and Joel have had, then down the track we would be making big savings. What we saw last night were young people who, given a little support, now have the confidence and the resilience they need to make something of their lives; not to have to repeat patterns of behaviour generation to generation; and in all three the ability to lead and to make change.

When I spoke to close the meeting, I said the reason Cacharel’s words so inspired me was because at most meetings I do on mental health, far from people ‘loving’ talking about mental illness, at the end I am always approached by a little gaggle of what I call ‘the whisperers.’ These are people who feel they can talk to me about mental health problems, because I have been open about mine, but don’t feel they can open up in front of strangers.

What Cacharel showed is the confidence that comes from feeling there need be no shame attached to being open about mental illness. Her generation, Joel and Kirsty’s generation, are the ones who will change this debate for good. If only the government could see that investing just a little now would lead to huge savings in the future.

Instead, as Panorama viewers saw, mental health service providers are running to stand still. The ‘least unwell patient’ is being discharged early to make way for the emergency. The understanding that there must always be some spare capacity both to cater for emergencies but also to create a therapeutic environment is being eroded.

The good news is that awareness and understanding are improving. The bad news is that as that continues to happen, the demand for services will grow, and they won’t be properly met. This can only be turned around if, instead of looking to cut further on mental health spending, ministers realise they need to invest more to save more in future. Kidstime shows it can be done.


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Cameron, Osborne, Hunt should watch tonight’s Panorama to see the gap between their words and their country Sat, 24 Oct 2015 15:01:21 +0000 I had my run-ins with Panorama when working for Tony Blair, usually because they tended to take a grain of truth from somewhere and flam it up into something worthier of a right-wing tabloid than the BBC.

But tonight’s version is all the stronger for being somewhat understated, telling the story rather than shouting it or ramming it down throats. I know our government leaders are busy (almost all) men, but I hope they find time to watch it. Because while they talk the talk on mental health, as the Prime Minister did in his party conference speech, the documentary shows the reality of mental health services on the frontline.

What is clear, as so many working in mental health care already know, is that demand for services is growing, partly I hope through greater awareness and the lessening of taboos, but more because of austerity, social security and other service cuts; but at the same time as demand is growing, the supply of services needed is being cut.

When I protested that a mental health emergency facility in Camden was being closed down, I was told that the reason was that ‘it never runs at full capacity.’ That is surely the point, that those who are in a facility get the care they need, but there is at least some capacity for emergency admissions, given that is the purpose of such a place.

The consequence of that twisted logic is clear in Panorama’s portrayal of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey mental health trust, which documents the very real human consequences of the phrase ‘pressure on beds.’ We see staff constantly on telephone conference calls trying to find beds for patients often being brought to their attention by police under the Mental Health Act. With the system operating at ‘over 100 per cent capacity,’ for each new patient that must get a bed, the clinicians and administrators have to make a decision about who should go out. They must nominate ‘the least unwell patient,’ regardless of how unwell that patient may be.

Imagine if this were to happen in a cancer ward, that the ‘least cancerous patient’ had to make way for a new diagnosis. It is because it is mental health, which has gone back to being a cinderella service under this government, that this is allowed to happen, and that barely a peep is heard.

Cuts to mental health services have been 20percent higher than cuts to other health services. The trust being examined by Panorama has lost a third of beds in five years, and this has happened at the same time as a surge of sectionings under the Mental Health Act of people thought to be a danger to themselves, others or society.

Cameron and Osborne could probably do with a quiet night in front of the telly after their busy week being nice to the Chinese. They should spend it watching Panorama, and witness the massive gap between the caring rhetoric of understanding, and the calamitous reality of their policies, and the impact on some of our sickest fellow citizens.

  • Panorama on BBC1 8.30pm Monday, Britain’s Mental Health Crisis
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Good luck to the pro-UK-in-EU campaign. Even having this damned referendum is bad for Britain Mon, 12 Oct 2015 10:34:25 +0000 So the pro-Britain in Europe campaign moves into a different phase today, with M and S former boss Stuart Rose fronting up a collection of business people and politicians who have the considerable task of challenging the tons of anti-European propaganda that has been thrown our way for years.

I wish them luck. Unless David Cameron completely screws up his negotiations, I will be voting Yes, because I have no doubt whatever that Britain’s future is best secured as a strong member of the European Union. Equally for us to come out of the EU will be to reduce us further as a political and economic force in the world.

But I confess to being somewhat worried about the debate, not least because it is Cameron who is in charge of those negotiations, and because he only agreed to the referendum in the first place to get himself out of a hole of UKIP and the Tory Right’s making. There is nothing he can gain from Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Jean-Claude Juncker or or anyone else that will satisfy these people.

So the aim for Rose et al has to be to focus on those in the middle ground – not people like me who fail to foresee the circumstances in which I would vote to come out, nor people like Nigel Farage and the sizeable number of Tory MPs who will vote to get out, come what may.

Here we have to trust the good judgement of people to see and hear their way through the wall of noise that this debate will generate. Most of the print media is stacked against Europe and they will continue with their lies and distortions which will be picked up by anti-MPs as fact and which will also frame much of the way the broadcast media cover the referendum when it comes.

Indeed, even the fact of having the debate is already harming Britain’s strength and standing in the world. I have been travelling a fair bit of late, and usually try to see senior political figures wherever I go. And it is frankly alarming the extent to which in Europe in particular, Cameron is now seen as something of an irrelevance when it comes to the really big issues like Syria, the migration crisis, or Ukraine. One EU leader told me ‘all he cares about is his referendum, and he doesn’t care if everyone knows it.’

It was similar in America last week. His conference speech got a bit of coverage on the inside pages of the major broadsheets, but for many Americans, there was Thatcher and there was Blair and they are not terribly sure who is there now.

This matters. One of the jobs of world leaders is to be inside the heads of other world leaders when they are making decisions or formulating their foreign policy. ‘What will Angela think?’ tends to pass through the minds of most of them. ‘What will Putin do?’ is these days asked more than ever. ‘What will Cameron think?’ … this comes some way down the list, and that is bad for Britain.

Of course if he bows out on the back of a winning referendum, having won a Commons majority most expected him not to win, he will be able to say he has succeeded, politically. But Britain is not the force it was, and Cameron’s relative disinterest in the world outside, matched to this referendum now absorbing most of the energy he can devote to ‘abroad’, is likely to accelerate that trend.

The sensible people who want to keep us in Europe must guard against complacency. Referendums can often go wrong for reasons which have nothing to do with the issue in hand. The propaganda campaign will be relentless. Also, I am not sure I trust Cameron not to slither to the wrong side of the argument if he feels it is heading that way.

I was worried when I read a few months ago that he wanted business to hold fire on the pro side until he had his negotiation ducks in a row. Well, he doesn’t, and yet the campaign is under way. The first is a bad sign. The second is a good sign. The campaign must be fought as hard as the other side intend to, which is very hard indeed.


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Charles Kennedy would have loved both the debate and the outcome of last night’s Europe vote Sat, 26 Sep 2015 13:08:10 +0000 Charles Kennedy would have enjoyed last night’s debate on Europe at the Glasgow University Union where he honed his own great debating skills.

The debate, set to become an annual event, was in his memory, and the result – overwhelming support for continuing membership of the EU – would no doubt have pleased him.

The place was full to the rafters, Scotland’s and the university’s great and good packed into the lower sections in their black tie finery, chairman Ming Campbell in splendid Campbell tartan trews, and most of students up top, standing room only.

I was there both to help judge the best speaker of the night and later to pay tribute to Charles at a dinner.

Although she did not win best speaker, SNP minister Fiona Hyslop won best moment of the night by a mile, a slip of the tongue under the heat of the pressure cooker atmosphere pushing her to say ‘to achieve all this we must stay in the U.K.’ instead of ‘we must stay in the EU.’ I found my impartial judging instincts desert me to lead a standing ovation for this conversion to Unionism. And she took it in good heart when speaker after speaker laid on her embarrassment with a trowel, including myself at the dinner, where I announced that as a result of my relentless tweeting about her I was ‘trending in Glasgow.’

Given the background to the event – Charles’ death to alcoholism – I also decided that the planned prize for the best speaker – a bottle of Scotch for Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton – should instead be a note from Fiona writing out the guilty words. Later I checked and she actually wrote a ‘well done’ and a heart shape to Alex. Can’t have it all I guess.

As for the rest of the debate, when I say above that the result was overwhelmingly in favour of staying in, I mean overwhelming. When Ming asked for voices in favour of the motion – staying in – there was a cacophony of Ayes and Yeses. When he called for votes for the OUT OF EUROPE side of the argument, not a single voice was raised – not even those who spoke for it.

Now this was Scotland, more pro-EU than the rest of the U.K. perhaps, and a university too. But a 100percent vote for staying in. Fair to say the referendum will be closer.

But over the dinner, seated with pro-EU Alistair Darling and anti John Mills, the businessman and Labour donor, I suggested there was a reason that would benefit the STAY IN side come the day. And that is that the high watermark of anti-Europeanism may have passed. Here the biased anti European press may actually have played into the hands of those whose arguments they seek to destroy. The Murdoch papers, the Mail, the Telegraph and Co have been banging the anti-European drum so loudly and for so long that their negativity has been priced in. If people believed the welter of propaganda over the last couple of decades the 100percent would have been on the other side.

The referendum, like elections, will be decided not by those on the extremes, or even those who are strong and clear in their views on either side. It will be decided by people in the reasonable middle of the argument, eager to listen and to learn and then decide. And what the debate showed me was that the pro-EU side should be confident in the arguments, because they are stronger than the arguments coming from the other side.

Of course it also helped that the pro side had the better debaters. Labour MP Graham Stringer was no match for Alistair Darling. The anti side wasn’t helped either by the fact that John Mills put the business case for OUT followed by hard left sociology lecturer Neil Davidson putting the hard left case, which was all about taking every opportunity to destroy the American driven neoliberal project. He just about managed to stop himself jabbing his finger but as he spoke I understood why Jeremy Corbyn is struggling to come down firmly on the pro EU side of the argument.

Darling was excellent. Cole-Hamilton too. Scotland’s sole Tory MEP Ian Duncan spoke well and forcefully and despite her hilarious blip, so did Fiona Hyslop. And with UKIP holding their conference there was no Farage style rabble rouser to get the pulses racing for the antis. But I think one of the reasons the pro side won so convincingly was that whereas the arguments of the antis have been played out again and again, the pro case has never been made in a sustained, consistent way.

The debate gave me confidence that when the referendum happens, it will be and – almost regardless of the deal David Cameron brings back – Yes will win.

As for my speech, in addition to a tribute to Charles, I confided that occasionally I imagine calling him in the beyond to tell him what is happening in UK politics.

‘Charles, guess what? Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party.’

‘Jeremy Corbyn? Jerrrrremy Corrrrbyn? Is leaderrrrr of the Labourrrr Parrrrty? That is very verry verrrrry interesting.’ (‘Charrrels’ was a great user of the rolled R)

Last night’s debate was part of Charles’ legacy for the university. But I called on the politicians in the room to ensure a greater legacy – the understanding that alcoholism is a disease not a choice, and not for the first time I praised the SNP government for taking a lead in some of the measures they are taking to address the problem.

My final reflection from the debate though is how much we are going to miss Charles when the referendum comes. But at least the arguments should give his side of the argument real confidence.

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VW could become a far bigger crisis for Merkel than Pig-Gate or Coke-Gate are for Cameron Wed, 23 Sep 2015 14:33:17 +0000 I am not really a car person but I drive a Volkswagen. It is a strong brand. It says reliable. It says German. Which emphasises reliable. And, translated, it means People’s Car, which is kind of nice.

That brand has taken many years to build, the reputation decades to cement. Now all of that is at risk. VW is in crisis, and that has implications for the broader German and therefore European economy as well as for the broader automotive industry.

My book WINNERS has a chapter on crisis management and spells out that the first rule of crisis management is that most of the things that we call crises are not crises at all. They are problems, setbacks, challenges. My definition of crisis is ‘an event or situation that threatens to overwhelm you unless the right decisions are taken.’ It is why in ten years in Downing Street with Tony Blair I reckon we had five maybe six full blown crises, no more.

The second part of the definition is important – it can remain a ‘potential’ crisis ‘provided the right decisions are taken’. But it may be the only decision that matters in this is the one that has already been taken – the one to deceive about diesel emissions. The US having been the first country clearly to establish the veracity of long-running rumours of dirty dealing, other governments are bound to follow suit with the kind of investigations and punishments that could present the company with an existential threat. This is big stuff.

In a crisis people look to leaders, both for leadership – obvious – and also for blame. CEO Martin Winterkorn is resisting any pressure to quit. But if he is shown to have been close to the decision making process himself, and known what was being done, he will have no choice. Leaders can only lead in a crisis if there is both internal and external trust. It is far from clear Mr Winterkorn can command it.

If he feels deep down that there is a good chance of him being forced out, he would do well to go now. And even if he did not know about the ‘defeat devices’ there will be a strong argument that he should have done. [VERY PRESCIENT IF I SAY SO MYSELF! AN HOUR AFTER I POSTED THIS, AS I WAS WATCHING SCOTLAND HAMMER JAPAN IN THE RUGBY, A BBC NEWSFLASH TOLD ME THAT HERR WINTERKORN HAD INDEED RESIGNED.]

Other automotive company leaders are drawn into this crisis whether they like it or not. In the modern suspicious world, where small campaigns and small complaints can be quickly ventilated on social and 24/7 media, they are all going to have to go through that horrible process of proving a negative. ‘No, we did not do a Volkswagen, and here is all the evidence we can provide.’

Angela Merkel is another leader who is almost certain to have to take a role in this, because of the damage it does to the German economy and the – currently incredibly strong – German national brand. She will be furious at what has been exposed. But she is also a pragmatist and she knows there will come a point where she has to step in both to deal with consequences and also help restore the strength of a sector that is hugely important to the German economy.

Her British counterpart is currently having to contend with something far more embarrassing, but far less serious. The fall-out from Piggate, Michael Ashcroft’s brutal act of literary revenge, will reduce David Cameron’s standing a little, make him the butt of more jokes than his thin skin will be able to enjoy. But it will blow over. It is not a crisis and will only become one if it is mishandled, or if the Prime Minister or his office says anything untrue in response to the allegations.

Of course having your PM as something of a global laughing stock is not good for a country’s reputation. But the lasting impact on Germany of VW’s act of deception will be far greater than anything David Cameron did or did not put up his nose, or did or did not put inside a dead pig’s mouth.

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An ancient city of hatred with romance at its heart Tue, 22 Sep 2015 08:37:58 +0000 A guest blog from my son Calum, fellow football fanatic and fellow football romantic.

Anyone who has ever driven into Marseille from the North side of town should have an inkling of what the city is all about. Its high rise estates, such as Le Castellane (the biggest council estate in Europe) dominate the Northern section of the city’s landscape. The political and gangland graffiti messages dominate the artistry as you get closer and closer to the city centre. The City’s football club dominates the city’s attire, with every street adorned by posters of the club’s heroes, virtually every cafe or bar displaying posters, pictures and scarves from Olympique De Marseille.

The football ground, the Stade Velodrome, recently re-developed, is one of the central hotbeds for community activism and integration. Every two weeks during the season, Marseille play here. The two stands behind each goal sum up the culture of this city, famous for its organised crime as much as its tourism. This is where the Ultras take their place. The Commandos Ultras of 1984 in the South Stand, the “Fanatics” in the North Stand. This is where the real people of Marseille can be found. And at no time was this more relevant or obvious than on Sunday night. Lyon the visitors. A big game every season, but today more than ever.

I came out of a meeting at 8.54pm. Looked at my phone. Checked the score (Marseille are my second club). Saw they were losing 1-0 and down to 10 men. I walked past a pub, saw they had the game on and walked straight in. The second half had started and I could see something incredible was happening. The camera kept panning to Matthieu Valbuena, the ex Marseille midfielder now playing for Lyon but planning to sue Marseille. And then the objects began to fall down, one by one. Every time he went towards the corner of the pitch, he was hit by an object. Every time he touched the ball, the roar of a region came out. Every time Marseille moved up the pitch, one man down, the stadium rocked with anticipation.

Then the incredibly ineffective and weak referee took the players off, citing the dangerous fans – the people who make any football club what it really is. That was when the magic really started. There was no game anymore. No overpaid, overhyped superstars taking up the TV screens. Just a stadium of 60,000 passionate Marseillais bouncing up and down whilst the BT Sport cameras had nothing to do but show them having fun and venting their anger. As the corporate TV channel waited, they got louder. The feeling of injustice (caused by Valbuena, the club’s owners, the referee, the first half Lyon penalty that should never have been one, the sending off that was not a red card) had inspired a show of defiance against what is wrong with the world, rather than in defence of what is right.

Many clubs would not have fans with the power to do such things. Marseille is a unique city and a unique club where the most hardcore, ardent fans part control club decisions in a way not seen anywhere else. But why shouldn’t they have that power? These are the people who care about the club more than anyone else. In Marseille, the place that lit the flames to the French Revolution, they do things differently. And that was shown again on Sunday more than ever.

Why have I written this? Because it reminded me of what football and life in general are really all about. It’s not about rich owners, rich players, who wins the game or who has the best looking wag. It’s about the people who go and pay their money through rain, storm and sleet, following their team until the end. And on Sunday, for the first time in my adult life, I saw fans re-assert some control. Take back their club. Tell the authorities, owners, players and officials, enough is enough. This is our club and we do things our way here. That’s what I believe in as the footballing model.

The old city has many faults, many deficiencies, many problems. But it’s a city I fell in love with young and will always love. Hardship can create something special, a true community spirit. And Marseille has that and much more. The most proud, loyal and complicated city in France, possibly the whole of Europe. I will support its football team through everything and I will support its people through much more.

Why? Because it all goes back to that most important moment in French history. Who caused the flame? This city of Marseille did help win the French revolution, which is why the war song of the hundreds who travelled north to fight, La Mareillaise, is now the country’s national anthem. I hope after Sunday night, they may start a footballing one too.

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Fifteen observations, sporting and political, from the opening game of the Rugby World Cup Sat, 19 Sep 2015 09:43:34 +0000 Fifteen (see what I did there – not eleven, not thirteen, but fifteen – because this is rugby union we’re talking now)

1. It confirmed the genius of Danny Boyle. The RWC opening ceremony was fine set against the standards of most sporting opening ceremonies. But in scope, scale and creativity – and cost of course – I doubt we will see anything quite as brilliant as Boyle’s London 2012 ceremony in our lifetime.

2. Jeremy Corbyn remains the talk of the town. But when the town is Twickenham, and the crowd a rugby union one, fair to say this is not natural Corbyn territory. On the long walk up the ramp to my seat in the top tier, comments passed my way varied from amused (at my expense it should be said – eg ‘well you lot are the past not the future now’ – to fascinated to bemused to some who were angry and scandalised.

Which brings me to 3. Corbyn’s non singing of the national anthem was a major cut through moment. Everyone knew about it and many were still talking about it. And if you try to defend it on the grounds that it would have been hypocritical for a Republican like Corbyn to sing it, it cuts little ice. People see leader of the Opposition as an Establishment leadership position whether leaders like it or not.

4, yes, though a lifelong Republican who nonetheless made the Queen one of my WINNERS (NB rugby fans – alongside Clive Woodward, Jonny Wilkinson and Sam Warburton) I sang the national anthem. Not least because one or two people were looking to see if I would! I didn’t sing as loud as most of the others though.

5. England rugby fans need new songs. They only have one – ‘swing low sweet chariot’ -and it wears very thin very quickly. Football can teach rugby a lot in this area. Pete Boyle where were you? (Look it up)

6. Prince Harry’s popularity is real and deep among the rugby crowd. I would say only Martin Johnson and the teams taking the field got near it in terms of public reaction, first when he appeared in a pre-match video and again when he spoke. The man next to me (a former Labour voter under Tony Blair now worried he might ‘have to go somewhere else’) said ‘this is good, did you help write it?’ which, as well as giving my fragile ego a little boost in these troubled times, brings me more importantly to

7. I do seem to get a lot of people – including my Row D neighbour from Brighton last night – asking why TB has ended up being hated by so many of those who elected Corbyn. This is doubtless a multifaceted question but until we come to terms with his legacy, and understand why he won three elections, it will not be easy for Labour re regroup and rebuild. And there is a real danger those who voted for Corbyn in the leadership feel they represent the millions who didn’t have a vote but do have one in a general election. The gap between parties and public seems rather wide at the moment.

8. Talking of legacy, there was something of a cut through moment for BBC Question Time this week. It always gets a good audience but I sense this week was bigger than usual. I didn’t see it but Alex Salmond – Twickenham is also not his natural territory – seems to have ‘won’ it. John McDonnell seems to have done better than people expected but he needs a more convincing line about his pro-IRA statements of the past than trying to take credit for the Good Friday Agreement, as a couple of Irish fans suggested to me he had. His contribution was not that evident at the time.

9. I am not sure the RWC and the RFU are properly seizing the opportunities this World Cup offers. The crowd felt very samey, there were not as many youngsters as I expected, and though the branding was strong and the organisation good, with terrific volunteers as per 2012, it didn’t have the epic feel of the Games. That might sound obvious given the Olympics are truly global and cover most major sports. But I had hoped to feel a little more a sense of intense national excitement that went beyond the fact it was an important match.

10. The referee had a shocker. I wonder if he suffered from the same kind of nerves that the players showed in the early stages – notably Fiji’s fly half with a dropped ball and a fluffed kick before things had really got going. The upsides of TV technology are clear, and cricket uses it brilliantly. The downsides were on show last night – officials so scared of their own shadow they referred upstairs too often and sometimes when the need not to do so was obvious to 80,000 pairs of eyes in the stadium and 450million worldwide (or so the advertisers get told).

11. Jose Mourinho is a massive rugby fan. Not a lot of people know that (or that he is very religious). I learned these facts from my latest interview with him for this month’s GQ (the first was for WINNERS and could he kindly buck up in the Premier League given his is the biggest sporting name on the cover?) He says he loves the fact the players don’t complain or argue with the referee (not a hint of irony by the way) and thinks football should have higher paid refs and be miked up a la rugby.

12. Oh – as it’s Chelsea v Arsenal today – Mourinho is very funny about Arsene Wenger and his description of their touch line spats. WINNERS and GQ plugs over.

13. At the risk of offending the many who couldn’t get tickets last night I still prefer rugby league to rugby union by a mile. I loved my time on the Lions tour in 2005, met some fantastic characters, and top rugby union can be exhilarating. But league is more consistently so, and it is possible to go lower down the ladder of the game and still get high quality sport. Burnley midfielder Joey Barton (I love that phrase) was tweeting merrily for the rugby league camp last night.

14. Hobby horse time. The links between alcohol and sport are too close. This is a cultural issue and one political leaders have to address. Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have talked often about the fact that we all too often associate alcohol with having a good time or a bad time. My son and I were seated right next to the entrance to our section where dozens of people were taking their ‘I was there’ photos. I reckon seven or eight out of ten felt they had to give a bottle of beer head high prominence.

15. No matter how hard you try to teach people, some will alas never get sport. They include my partner Fiona, who has in her time asked Roger Bannister ‘what was your distance when you were a runner?’; asked me at a Burnley game in our courtship ‘when is the interval?’; and who was sure this morning that England had beaten Fiji by 45 points to 27. As she insisted on this, despite the evidence all over the papers in front of her, I eventually worked out that at the one moment she accidentally channel hopped to ITV, they had been playing for 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

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Nice guy, good MP, making the weather: but it has to be ABC – Anyone But Corbyn. Labour could be finished if he wins Mon, 10 Aug 2015 11:33:21 +0000 I have thought long and hard, having said two months ago I didn’t intend to get involved in the Labour leadership debate, about whether to publish this piece. I am also aware that there is a risk that it will have precisely the opposite of the effect I hope it has – namely to make people think twice about backing Jeremy Corbyn – as his supporters take to social media to tell each other that if Blair’s spinmeister is against him, he must be alright. I am aware too that I may be helping a right-wing press I despise more than most by enabling them to throw me into the mix of a Labour summer mayhem story; and that having in part given up frontline politics because I was fed up of family holidays being constantly interrupted by ringing telephones, I may be provoking a few calls as I head out on a bike ride up a mountain.

But just as if out on that ride I saw a car crash about to happen I would do what I could to alert the drivers to the danger, so I think I have to say something about what appears to be happening to Labour right now. Car crash, and more.

Apologies in advance for the length, but I guess I have been doing what Marilyn Monroe used to call ‘thinking in ink,’ and I hope that those yet to be caught up in so-called Corbynmania, and who feel maybe they ought to be, will read and think through with me to the end.

Now the last time I saw Jeremy Corbyn, we surprised ourselves by agreeing on something. It was the day after the general election, and we were sharing our disappointment in a makeshift tented BBC studio on Westminster’s College Green as the British people absorbed the reality that they had decided to send David Cameron back to Downing Street with a majority. And we both made the point to Five Live’s Peter Allen that it would be better for Labour to have a real debate about the Party’s future, really analyse and learn lessons from such a terrible defeat, rather than plunge straight into a leadership election that would become a personality contest taking the place of such a debate.

At that stage, Corbyn had not even considered standing, and neither of us imagined for a moment that within a few months he would be the candidate making the weather in the leadership debate, sufficient to be thought of as a possible winner. There was also plenty we disagreed upon, as you would expect when putting together a New Labour ‘control freak’ who feared the country was never going to elect Ed Miliband’s brand of soft leftism, and a 500-plus times rebel against the whip of successive Labour leaders. But the biggest disagreement related to the position he was beginning immediately to stake out, that Labour lost because we were not left wing enough. It is the argument that has been put forward by some in the Party all my political lifetime, and the ultimate beneficiaries have always been the Tories not Labour.

What I will say about that encounter, and the few others I have had with Jeremy Corbyn, is that he is likeable, sincere, a good local MP, and millions of miles away from the detestability of a George Galloway or other lesser known figures on the far left who have done so much more to damage Labour than help it.

Also, it is good that Corbyn is inspiring hitherto disenchanted young people to get involved in politics, and that he is seeking to fire them up with positive messages about change. But it is also important that those who see him as some kind of cross between Russell Brand, Nicola Sturgeon and their favourite uncle take a little bit of time to look at the recent history of the Party they are joining so they can help him to become leader, and weigh it all up in the balance.

That history is made up of all too few spells in government – albeit often making the most important changes to our national life, from the NHS to a Scottish Parliament, from the welfare state to the minimum wage – and long, long periods in Opposition. Tony Blair, whom it has become all too fashionable to despise on the left, was the first Prime Minister to deliver TWO full consecutive terms in office for Labour, let alone the three he won. And Alan Johnson did a very good job last week in reminding the Corbyn-supporting union leader Dave Ward, who had spoken of Blair as a ‘virus’, and New Labour as being too obsessed with winning, that the Blair governments did a lot more good for working people than the Cameron government Labour failed so miserably to defeat on May 7.

If you have already read Alan’s piece, you can skip the italicised bits here, but I thought this section was worth reprinting.

I can understand why the “virus” drivel should emanate from our political opponents, including those in the various far-left sects who last tried to bring their finger-jabbing intolerance into our party 35 years ago. What I’m puzzled by is why it should come from trade union leaders whose members benefited so much under the last Labour government.

Leave aside the transformation in health and education (plus additional jobs and extra pay for nurses and teachers), the 3,000 Sure Start centres, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Act, civil partnerships, rescuing 1.2 million children from absolute poverty and 1.8 million from relative poverty, pension credit (which made the single biggest contribution to the fact that for the first time in recorded history being old is no longer associated with being poor), the Pension Protection Fund, the resuscitation of apprenticeships and the world’s first legally enforceable carbon reduction targets. Is it accurate to suggest that trade unionists fared badly in the Blair years?

Hardie’s vision of a national minimum wage wasn’t enacted by MacDonald or Attlee, Wilson or Callaghan; it was introduced by the Blair government along with the right to paid holidays (later extended by law to be in addition to bank holidays). Every single worker was given the right to be accompanied at a disciplinary or grievance hearing by a trade union official, regardless of whether the union was recognised and irrespective of whether the individual was a member. During the “virus” years, a woman’s right to paid maternity leave rose from 16 weeks to nine months. Paternity leave was introduced for the first time.

The ban on trade union representation at GCHQ was lifted along with the pernicious “check-off” legislation, which forced unions to re-recruit their members every three years. The Public Disclosures Act gave protection to whistleblowers, new rights were enacted to protect part-time and temporary workers, agency workers and those subjected to control by gangmasters. Legislation on union recognition insisted that if 50% plus one of the workforce was recruited, the union was automatically recognised. Prior to 1997 it had always been the case that an employer could sack striking workers en masse on day one of a dispute. The Blair government changed the law to prevent that happening.

Far from being a period when trade unions were betrayed, it was the most benign period in their history and, if I may gently point out to Ward, the importance of winning elections can be summed up in four words – the trade union bill.

In short: Labour governments do more good for working people than Tory governments. But first you have to win power. To many who have recently joined the Corbyn campaign, they have only ever known Blair as PM, Gordon Brown for a short time, and David Cameron, first without a majority, now with one. Labour having been so dominant during their childhood and youth, they can be forgiven for thinking there is a kind of pendulum in our politics that goes Labour – the Blair-Brown era – then Tory – the Cameron-Osborne era – and then it will go back to Labour, and step forward Jeremy with his anti-politics look and his anti-establishment talk and his ability late in his career to get people queueing round the block to hear him.

Well here is an interesting historical fact upon which to reflect. Eton College, alma mater of our current PM and current London Mayor, has produced more Prime Ministers than the Labour Party. Now my reaction to that – I suspect this too I have in common with Corbyn – is to say that it shows the extent to which our class-based establishment has long dominated Britain, its politics and society, and Labour is the party that has to change that. But it is also a reflection of what the left is up against when it comes to winning power at the highest level.

I am beginning to fear that Mr Cameron, surely the least strategic Prime Minister of our lifetime, is beginning to pass Napoleon’s test for generals by being the luckiest. He told his wife on the morning after the 2010 election that he feared they would not after all be moving into Downing Street. Five days later, helped by Nick Clegg, he was there. Five years on, he left Downing Street staff in little doubt that he thought they would be having a new boss after the election. But the fear among the non-committed, who ultimately decide elections, that a Miliband-led minority coalition propped up by the SNP would not represent stable or effective government, allied to the Tories winning the politics of the economy because of what the Guardian’s Larry Elliot today rightly called the ‘catastrophic misjudgement’ of failing to rebut the idea Labour caused the crash, was enough to get Cameron over the line.

Clegg has talked of it being ‘an accidental majority,’ in that the result reflected what the country did not want, rather than what it did. The country did not particularly want Cameron back in Number 10. But the desire not to have that Labour/SNP government was, alas, much stronger.

The views of the general – and generally not politically-obsessed – public are not insignificant in all this. The two main parties, when choosing a leader, are picking the person they intend thereafter to try to persuade the people of the UK ‘this is who should be your Prime Minister.’ And yet the Labour Party, if it elects Jeremy Corbyn as leader, is selecting someone that every piece of political intelligence, experience and analysis tells you will never be elected Prime Minister. Just as Margaret Thatcher loved it when Neil Kinnock was having to expend more energy dealing with the hard left than he did with her – all the time being attacked as a sell-out by the Corbynites of the day – so the Tories cannot believe their luck at the turn Labour’s election is taking. That too is an important factor. Our job is not to help them do theirs. They have enough advantages already.

I don’t know how many of Corbyn’s new fans are aware of Derek Hatton and Tony Mulhearn, who ran and almost ruined Liverpool (a great city hammered by the Tories and which did well under a Labour government by the way), but these were Labour people who helped keep Neil Kinnock out of Downing Street, and Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street. Back then, though the unions have often been a cause of difficulty for the Labour leadership, there was enough common sense among union leaderships and executive committees to know that the hard left route, if adopted by the Party as a whole, was a march over the end of a cliff.

But it is not just today’s wannabe Hattons and Mulhearns, but also many of today’s major unions and their general secretaries, as we have seen, who are pushing hardest for Corbyn to be Labour leader. Whatever the niceness and the current warm glow, Corbyn will be a leader of the hard left, for the hard left, and espousing both general politics and specific positions that the public just are not going to accept in many of the seats that Labour is going to have to win to get back in power.

I am not talking about safe seats like Islington North, where Corbyn has done a very good job in driving up his majority. I am talking about marginal seats whose defeated candidates contributed to the Fabian Society review of the election, who are pretty clear that Labour did not lose for being ‘not left wing enough,’ but because the leader wasn’t popular or seen as a credible PM, we weren’t trusted on the economy, we were seen as anti-business, and though we were ok at saying what we were against, we did not have the most compelling or convincing vision of what we were for, and how we would make it happen.

I campaigned in several of the seats covered in that review. It was indeed hard work trying to win people over to some of the policy arguments we were putting forward, or trying to persuade sceptics in Bury with Jamie Frith or in Darwen with Will Straw that Ed Miliband got aspiration, supported business, or would know how to stand up to Vladimir Putin or ISIS. But once you add in some of Corbyn’s fixed positions, then frankly Labour is moving from difficult conversation with the undecided voter to not being allowed over the doorstep. Some of the positions winning him the loudest applause in his packed meetings are those that will be met with the most deafening silence when campaigners get out on the doorsteps of the undecided come election time. His long career has laid a plentiful minefield for currently quiet Tory researchers and campaigners. The past, he will discover, is not another country.

The voices of those who fought and lost those marginal seats in the recent election, as well as those who fought and won, and therefore have the right to stand for election to succeed Ed Miliband, are every bit as important as the voices dominating the debate now. More so in fact, if we are serious about Labour being a party of power, rather than just a party of protest that marches, campaigns, backs strikes, calls for ministerial resignations, more money for every cause going, shouts and bawls and fingerjabs but is ultimately powerless in the face of changes the government is now making, freed from the constraints of coalition, loving the chaos that Labour’s election has unleashed.

And whilst I accept that I cannot survey the post electoral scene and say with any certainty  that a Labour Party led by Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall will win the next election, I think I can say with absolute certainty that a Corbyn-Tom Watson led Labour Party will not. For that reason alone, I agree with Alan Johnson that what he called the madness of flirting with the idea of Corbyn as leader has to stop. That means no first preferences, no second preferences, no any preferences. It frankly means ABC, Anyone But Corbyn.

Nor should anyone imagine that once he is there, it will be easy to replace him, no matter how low we fall in the polls. On the contrary, if he fails to win, many of those who helped him get close to it will feel they can just keep on playing the politics of opposition against whoever beats him, and use their new found influence in the party to take that person out.  If Corbyn wins, no matter how inclusive and emollient he might try to be, then stand by for his supporters and backers bringing back the politics Kinnock and others fought so hard to beat. I doubt that the deselection processes will spare those MPs who nominated him to get him on the ballot paper and now say they regret it. In short, stand by for chaos, in the PLP and in the party in the country. To those of his supporters who will say this is alarmism, I say just look back and see how this story has unfolded before.

All of us who have been part of the Labour Party these last few decades know plenty of people for whom the internal politics is more important and more exciting than what politics can do for those who frankly often don’t give much of a damn even if they should. At a nomination meeting in one of Corbyn’s neighbouring seats in North London, a woman hitherto unseen at party meetings, arguing against another woman urging support for Yvette Cooper, proclaimed that Corbyn was the only choice because ‘I care more about  socialism than power.’ I am sure David Cameron says amen to that. To hear people say ‘it doesn’t matter if we win’ is to see people for whom political choice is about what makes them as individuals feel better, not what might make the country a better place. The sincerity of the belief in great causes, and the desire for change, is clear among the Corbyn crowds. But none of that change can come from Opposition.

I remain of the view that Labour would have done better to have had debate first, leadership election second, but that horse has gone. I also said at the outset that the reason I did not intend to back any candidate publicly was that if nearer a general election the Party feels we have little chance of winning, we should become a lot more ruthless about changing leader mid-term. I stand by that. I said then, almost two months ago now, ‘I am a big believer in unity but not in collective denial dressed up as unity.’

Of course unity would not be easy for Corbyn to inspire or manage, given his track record, and he would need to rely on others showing discipline he has never shown himself. But the collective denial is already in danger of beginning, among those deluding themselves that a country that decided against electing Gordon Brown, Neil Kinnock, Ed Miliband or Michael Foot is going to elect someone who at various points felt all four were frankly too right-wing. I’m sorry, but it just isn’t going to happen. I do not believe the Party would  split. I just think we would be telling the country we have have decided to open an even bigger gulf than the one that became clear on May 7, and given up on being a serious party of government.

Corbyn is indeed an OK guy, a good MP, and his stance clearly chimes with many people’s views of anti-austerity in particular. He is also successfully tapping into some people’s disappointment both at New Labour, whether on Iraq, tuition fees or simply not changing the country as much as they wanted it be changed; and also at Ed Miliband’s failure to defeat a government doing so many bad things especially to the very poor who have had to pay the price for a global economic crash caused largely by the very wealthy.

But everything I have seen both of leadership, and of Labour, tells me Corbyn’s ability to lead and hold the Party together is likely to be low; his ability to reach those parts of the country we have been losing, whether to the Tories, to UKIP or the SNP, will be even lower. This will sound like madness to those flocking to hear him speak, and doubtless be dismissed by them as just another old New Labour figure bleating on about the glory days of three wins in a row. I love their idealism just as they probably deride my pragmatism and my obsession with winning. But they bring to my mind Michael Foot’s exchange with  MP John Golding who tried to warn the then Labour leader that he was heading for a huge defeat against Margaret Thatcher, and Foot’s response was to say no, because a thousand passionate people were turning out every night to hear him speak. It brings to mind too the more recent conversations of the converted on twitter when we managed to convince ourselves that Ed Miliband was heading to Number 10.

If he wins, Corbynmania will evaporate even more quickly than Cleggmania did, once the pressures of real, difficult decisions and the day to day leadership of the main Opposition kick in. I fear that activists currently cashing in on perceived ‘betrayal’ by past Labour leaders are going to end up feeling very badly let down.

One of the worst aspects of the so-called Corbynmania is that it is obscuring the solid decent abilities of the other candidates, who are each one of them better than most of the media will acknowledge, and far better equipped for the hard graft of detailed policy-making that has a chance of actually happening, so that we can make more of the kind of change Alan Johnson wrote about. The right-wing press has a dream template for this contest,  ‘loony left’ (sic) v mediocre careerists (sic). That portrayal of Corbyn may be unfair to him (though understand the media has not even got started 0n him as actually most of our enemies want him to win because of the chaos they know will follow). But the portrayal of the other three is just as unfair to them. Of this I am certain however: if the Tories are ever to be defeated by progressive forces in the system we have (and which we cannot change unless we have power) then the hard work that needs to be done is going to have to be done on the centre left represented by those three, not through policy prescriptions of the past and a sudden love-in with someone speaking up for those prescriptions, but who knows in his heart he will not be able to make them happen.

Burnham, Cooper and Kendall need to show now that they understand they are in a fight not just to be Labour leader, but to save the Party. That is a big challenge and one of them needs to demonstrate they can step up to it by showing that they too know how to make the weather in a campaign. And anyone who wants to see another Labour government one day should do what people who want a Corbyn leadership are doing – namely sign up as registered supporters for three quid in the next few days; but then I would hope they  vote ABC. With those three, I could see possible routes both to defeat and also to victory in the country. With Corbyn, I’m afraid I can see only the route to defeat, and much, much worse. I wish it wasn’t so. But it is. And it is horrible to watch, unless you’re David Cameron, or George Osborne, as things stand his likeliest successor in Number 10.



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