Alastair Campbell Thu, 21 Jan 2016 06:47:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 There will always be a need for good journalism, and BBC is an important part of that Thu, 21 Jan 2016 06:47:50 +0000 I am in Holland today, speaking at an event for the Dutch media organised by the national broadcaster, NOS. The speech is below. Some of it will be familiar to regular readers, some of it less so, as they asked me to give an assessment of the media today and where it might be heading. Given they were the national broadcaster, I found myself thinking about our own, the BBC, and the current debate around its future. Despite my run-ins and differences at the time, I found myself coming out strongly in support of it, and also more confident than I thought I would be about the future of journalism once the changes driven by the next generation have come through. Hope you enjoy it.

The media is a fascinating landscape right now. On the one hand some of the biggest industrial, social, commercial, cultural success stories are in media – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google, Netflix; Apple even can be seen as media in that it is partly the new media landscape that has created the need and the drive for its products, and vice versa.

So the media consumption most of us grew up with – a daily paper, a weekly paper, a monthly magazine, a nightly look at the TV news – has changed beyond recognition. The pace of change is such that even the wisest futurologists would struggle to predict how the media landscape will look in five, ten, let alone fifty years.

A student said to me the other day, ‘you like a good fight, you must have loved Twitter as a Downing Street spokesman.’ Twitter didn’t exist when I LEFT Downing Street, let alone when I started. Another extraordinary stat – Youtube has more video content uploaded every month than the three main US Networks combined broadcast in their first sixty years of existence.

And how is this for something to indicate the pace of change…?

It took the telephone 75 years to go from invention to use by 50 million people.

It took the radio 38 years to reach 50 million.

It took the web four years.

It took the Angry Birds Space App 35 days.

No wonder then that the so-called traditional parts of the so-called mainstream media are feeling at times troubled, overwhelmed, in a state of crisis even.

My definition of crisis is an event or situation which threatens to destroy you unless the right decisions are taken. And of course in a world changing so fast, we do not have the same control we used to over all the decisions that affect us.

So for a lot of traditional mainstream media outlets, it does feel like crisis. Because it feels, and to some extent it is, existential.

In the Netherlands you have seven national newspapers with paid subscriptions: Volkskrant, Telegraaf, Trouw, Parool, NRC Handelsblad, Algemeen Dagblad, Financieel Dagblad; about two dozen regional newspapers and a few local newspapers. In 2007 seven out of ten Dutch people were still reading a newspaper, and half of you had a paid subscription. In 2000 63% had a paid subscription, in 2014 only 36%. On that trend, the figure will be zero in the year 2023. Some of these titles will go, but will they all? I don’t think so.

In a crisis, what is the thing that will best get you through it? What is the rock you cling to? It is not enough to say, we have always been good at what we do, we can keep doing it, and we will be fine. Because when the waves of change lap around so fast, eventually they wash over you so often they can wipe you away.

So the rock has to be built not just on what you do, but on the values and the fundamentals, all allied to an understanding of the change, and an ability to adapt, and to devise a strategy that will help guide you through.

Last year I published a book, Winners and How They Succeed, looking at winners in sport, politics and business, what those three fields can learn from each other and what all of us can learn from the winners within them. It covered the media only briefly. But the lessons can apply to the themes of your anniversary conference.

For me, strategy is key. And understanding that strategy does not operate in a vacuum. You must control the weather where you can, but adapt where you cannot. And the media world today is changing so fast that the marriage of strategy and adaptability is one of the toughest challenges to meet. Strategy, all about clarity and consistency. Adaptability, all about change.

You are the BBC of Holland. And like the BBC, probably feeling a little nervous about where you fit in this landscape, what the future holds, how a younger generation’s news and media consumption habits may force you to change your broadcasting habits. Because in this world of change, no organisations or institutions will be exempt.

Growing up in the UK, I could point to things like the National Health Service, the BBC, the Church of England, the Monarchy, the Football League, as bodies so entrenched in our national life, they would always be there.

Indeed they are still there. But there is a difference: back then I would have said they would be with us forever, no question. Now I cannot be so sure. The NHS is changing fast amid demographic and political change. I fear for its future as a service where all can get good treatment regardless of ability to pay. The Churches are in decline, just two per cent now regularly attend a Church of England service, and in any event we are like you a much more multiracial, multicultural nation than we were. Football has changed so much too, not least because of the media exposure, and with it a control in the game for TV and for agents, and vast fortunes for top players, beyond anything we knew or ever imagined likely when growing up wanting to be footballers.

My first ever letter of complaint to the BBC was as a child living in the North, asking why they only ever showed Queen’s Park Rangers on the Saturday night news bulletins. The answer was that the QPR ground was near the BBC TV Centre in Shepherd’s Bush. They could film the first half, bike it round to the station, put a clip on the news. Today, on Sky Sports, there is a programme called Goals Express which shows you every goal in every game in the top four divisions of England within just over an hour of the games being over. Fantastic TV, but what a change. And also, our print media, far from vanishing because of this challenge, now does more on football than ever, every game getting some kind of coverage in the tabloids.

As for the Monarchy, I hope nobody takes offence given the Royal presence later on, but I am something of a Republican, though one who profiled the Queen in my book as an enduring British winner, someone who has navigated these waves of change remarkably well. The Monarchy has had its moments in recent decades, but is in good shape.

But the BBC is in less good shape, and feels less unassailable than Her Maj.

I had some pretty big run-ins with the BBC, the most high profile of which was a dispute over a single radio report about the build up to the war in Iraq, a controversy which led to a man’s suicide, a public inquiry, and the resignations of the BBC’s chairman and director general. It was a crisis of sorts for them, and also a point at which I really knew for sure I had had enough of the job of being the meat in the sandwich between government and media which is a fascinating place to be, but exhausting, and a job that requires 24/7 attention. I was always amazed – I don’t know if it is still the case today – that my Dutch opposite number did the job both for the PM and for the Queen. I am not sure, even with my flattering profile of her, if our Queen would have had me!

But though the emotions at the time were very real, and my anger at the BBC reporting and the way they handled our complaint was intense, I am far from being an enemy of the BBC. I still think, as I did when a journalist, that it is one of the best things about Britain, and that it is a big part of our remarkable cultural heft as a country. Very few countries have a brand that is quite so strong and quite so trusted around the world. And that has happened because it has applied, blips like the one that led to the crisis of 2003 notwithstanding, real and enduring values but in a world of change. Back to my basic point about how to strategise and adapt simultaneously.

Of course any organization as big and as important, with so many different moving parts, will never be perfect. It will attract bad journalists amid the many good. It will have faults. It will make mistakes. But the BBC is a positive force. Its reputation and its future are worth defending and protecting. And I find it odd that our current government seems so determined to undermine it and turn it into something very different to what it is.

A global icon in a global race. The creative envy of the world. The World Service an authority the world over. The iPlayer one of the UK’s most loved brands. The first place millions go for news when we need it.

There will be those in the UK who, given the background of that particularly bitter dispute, will explode onto twitter with the usual abuse if they hear I am standing here setting myself up as a defender of the BBC, but I am.

I suspect the Government senses an opportunity to weaken the BBC by attacking it at a strategic level in a way they never would have done when I was there with Tony Blair, or even when Margaret Thatcher was not averse to occasional scare tactics about their future. And I cannot for the life of me work out why they are so determined to change the BBC so much. Although I could guess.

I suspect, though, that the Government will realise, almost certainly at the last minute (no strategy, all tactics is their byword), that the public will defend one of their greatest institutions to any threat to its independence or its future. But it is a lesson to you that the future needs protecting through strategy and constant adaptation.

I mentioned trust. And of course trust is something that all organisations are struggling with. But here too, it is not all doom and gloom.

A friend of mine works in film and showbiz PR. He says that in the old days, a few years ago, a film with a big promotion budget, and a couple of mega-names doing the chat shows, would be guaranteed three big pay days, first Friday, first Saturday, first Sunday. But now… the film lives or dies on the first Friday, on the social media reaction as people leave the cinemas, get on their phones, and tell their ‘friends.’

To me, the success of Facebook is the concept of the friend. In an era where deference has gone, where trust in institutions has diminished, be that governments and parties, banks and brands, the church, the media, people still need to have someone or something to trust. So who? For most, it is friends and family. Think how many conversations we have had throughout our lives, about films and books or places or restaurants we liked or disliked. But whereas once we might tell a handful of friends in the pub or at the school gates, now we can tell hundreds, thousands, between us we tell millions.

This is like a huge, uncontrollable modern technological equivalent of old word of mouth village squares where people went to socialize, find out who was well, who was ill, who liked what, who liked whom, who’d had a baby, who was getting married, who had died. So now, as people pour out of the cinemas on that first Friday, the film’s backers scour the social networks, and know immediately if they have a hit or a flop on their hands. If it’s the latter, they don’t even get a decent first Saturday.

So for media organisations, and especially for you, the national broadcaster, what does all this mean, for your brand? First, I would say, you should think of yourself as a brand. Do not be ashamed of that as a word or as a concept. Reputation is the most important currency of all, and whether a national organization, a country, a town, a public service, a supermarket, a rock band, a well-known individual within a given community, reputation depends on what instinctive feeling the majority may have about you, not in one given moment necessarily, but over time.

The BBC is more trusted than other media, other forms of media at home, most other broadcasters overseas. Why? Because of history, reputation, standards over time. Some newspaper brands are more trusted than others. I mentioned those Dutch papers earlier. If we sat down now and all wrote down the three or four words each title prompted in us, we would very quickly get a sense of how they are seen as brands, reputations good or bad, trust levels high or low.

Trust can be won slowly, lost easily. Rupert Murdoch thinks he is through the worst of phone hacking and to some extent he is. Nobody else is going to jail, it would seem. He is still powerful, wealthy, influential across many countries, adding to the gaiety of the nation by following in the footsteps of Mick Jagger of all people in his love life. But his reputation is not in a strong place at all. I regularly ask audiences, does he have a good or bad reputation, and the answer is always overwhelmingly bad.

A man with more control of print and airwave than anyone else – with the exception of Putin perhaps! – and he has lost control of his reputation.

One of my favourite quotes in my book is this. I am going to read it in full and ask you to guess who said it.

‘We have gone from a vertical society to a horizontal society where everybody has an opinion about every decision you make, everybody has an opinion on the Internet straight away. Basically the respect for people who make decisions is gone because every decision is questioned. So one of the most important qualities of a good leader now is massive resistance to stress. Under stress you become smaller and smaller until you cannot give out a message any more and that, of course, is something that is vital. Many people underestimate this challenge.’

Congratulations if you said Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal Football Club.

What he is saying, and he is right about this, is that in this world of constant chatter, everyone has a view, all of us are bombarded day and night with messages and messengers fighting for our attention. For the newsmaker, or in your case the news organization, you can only control what you do, and what you say about what you do. You have to trust people to get to the reality of who you are, what you do, what your purpose is. Back to strategy.

You have a good brand. As with the BBC, you have developed with certain advantages having been around so long, and with a role so central to the national life. But you know you have to adapt and develop your brand for the modern world.

In researching the future of television one of the golden nuggets that dropped out is that under 18’s in the UK have almost no idea that BBC1 is actually Channel No1 on the remote control. Instead they know channel names and website addresses, not buttons and numbers. Think about that and what that means. Our children do not consume media in the same way we did. They have more brands competing for their attention, they have more devices on which to access them. They are less likely to differentiate between something that we define as news and that they might see as entertainment, or documentary, or just something that happens to be going viral at that time. Media today means anything that anyone out there finds interesting and that they can access in any way they want.

They know what The Times is. They know what the Daily Mirror is. But they are unlikely to read them, not like I did. But they know where to find them if others, not least their ‘friends’ tell them there is something in there worth seeing, and send it to them. They know what ‘a news bulletin’ is, but they will never, as my parents did, settle down at a specific time in the evening, turn on a knob, and watch a man come on to tell them in 28 minutes everything that man from the BBC thought they and everyone else needed to know about everywhere in the country and in the world that day.

And if you think about it, it is extraordinary that we ever really thought that was a sustainable or sensible way of communicating the news anyway. Likewise, if I tell my children that when I was their age, the last thing on TV at night was a band playing the national anthem, and a voice saying programmes would resume in the morning, and then for the next few hours there would be a picture of a test card on the screen, which would emit a strange high-pitched noise to wake up the sleeping viewer, it sounds to them like something from the dark ages. The world turns 24 hours a day, so why should the media ever be silent?

The definition of journalist is changing too. Amid the recent weather chaos in different parts of the world, some of the most dramatic coverage was just stuff being filmed by Mr Man or Mrs Woman on a phone. The same with the terror attacks in Paris. These are not journalists. But it is media.

Where I would have hope for a brand like yours is that amid all the different challenges facing the world, yes, our attention spans are shortening; yes, you have to get a message clear in 140 characters or fewer, but more and more I see the need and the demand for more long form journalism.

I quickly tire of seeing a bombardment of dramatic videos of the floods – though I loved the one of the man who turned his kitchen into a swimming pool. But when I want to think about climate change, I need something more than a tweet or a GIF or even an e-petition asking me to change the world. And it might come from a Guardian Long Read, or a FT magazine article, or a BBC documentary, or a film that some kid has made in his bedroom, or an Al Gore movie, or a book, or an event. You are in all of that world. You can no longer just think of news as bulletins and reports and packages. It is a cornerstone of your brand and you must take the message of your brand everywhere. Strategically, so that every time the NOS brand is on whatever platform, it is landing a dot, and over time the dots are joining together to paint a picture of who and what you are, on your terms.

That Wenger quote is basically confirming that we can no longer control as much as we could. You have to go with that. What does ‘news on demand’ mean? It means the audience is more and more in control of what they want to see, when, and how. Live with it, adapt to it.

I think my kids are better informed about the world than I was at their age. But usually, if they are telling me things from media that have informed their views, it is likely the original source was social media. But so much of the best of social media now is, when you source beyond that, from the bigger mainstream media brands.

And when big stuff happens in the world, just as you reach for a friend in times of crisis, you reach for a brand you trust.

At the time of the Paris terror attacks, I was watching a sports event on TV with my sons. Like a lot of people, I watch sport and I follow twitter on the event at the same time, which is why during a big match often nine or even ten of the top trending topics will be about that game. So I tweeted something inconsequential about the match we were watching. Someone tweeted straight back ‘people are getting killed on the streets of Paris and all you can talk about is football. Get a life.’ I put in the word ‘Paris’ on twitter and of course there followed an avalanche of tweets about the news coverage of what was happening. I said to my son, who had the remote control, ‘there is a terrorism thing going on in Paris. Switch to one of the news channels.’ And he switched to the BBC News Channel.

What interests me about that is that if I had just been sitting there and bored with the match, and said ‘switch to a news channel,’ he would have gone to Sky or Sky Sports News, because that is what he might normally have on as background noise.

Something similar happens with politicians. Of course we live, alas, in an anti-politics era, and it is fashionable to say they are all the same, uniformly terrible. But when stuff happens, people want to hear from their leaders. And at that time, there is actually a bond of trust, an expectation of dialogue and explanation.

So for the political leader who is having to respond to the terror attack, or deliver a Budget, or set out how plans to deal with the consequences of terrible flooding, it doesn’t matter whether the people see him or her on a TV screen, on a tablet, on a phone, on a twitter feed, or on Facebook. What matters is that the message gets through.

For business, it’s the same thing: the pressures are to be tactical, so be strategic. In the new landscape, we are seeing the convergence of corporate reputation and consumer behaviour. If customers suffer a bad experience, their stories can be shared and amplified online and picked up by the mainstream media, policy-makers and regulators. In turn, if brands are seen to behave poorly as a corporate entity, people now have the ability to connect and create mass movements against them. Google, Apple, Starbucks, Nestlé, Vodafone, Facebook. People may love what they do and give, but they also want to know whether they respect their customers, pay their taxes, use slave labour, cut down forests. The only way to avoid this is to tackle the reality that can give the bad consumer experience or the bad reputation. Brand management.

So for you, at this stage in your history, the challenge is to decide your message about who you are and what you do and why? And how do you intend to build upon the strengths that history and your unique role have given you?

Do not be complacent. But do not be fearful either. The day after Gerard asked me to do this speech, he sent me a note on TV ratings from that evening.

Number 1, 1.469m viewers. The NOS eight o’clock journal. That is even with all the changes of how people consume media. That is pretty good. Number 2 was a human interest show, No 3 Ajax v Fenerbace; there were soaps and the usual stuff of TV, but 8 and 10 were also news programmes. Not a bad looking landscape for people who see not just a past in news journalism, but a future too.

Aha, said Gerard, but there is a problem. The average age of the Eight O’clock news viewer is 57. Four years ago that was 53. So what happens after twenty, thirty years? They – we, given I am now 58 – are all dead.

He explained then that some 60% of Dutch people between 14 and 21 watch online video. They look for clips on social media like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or SnapChat. 85% of these youngsters have a laptop and smartphone. This has a major impact on how they consume media. Facebook is for 23% of young people the main channel to keep abreast of daily news.

Do not underestimate their media savviness. The challenge is to make yourself relevant to it.

Because young people often find themselves on the Internet and publish photos and videos to each other, they have a good eye for quality content. Young people are also willing to pay for it – sometimes. A half said they pay for digital content such as games, music and movies.

So he sent me the research. And there was something fascinating in there. Guess which is the most trusted news medium, the one to watch in times of crisis or big news? NOS. So they trust you, but don’t watch you in the way their parents and grandparents did.

The trust is the rock. The core to your strategy. But you must now build the links between the values and the fundamentals that make you trusted, and the changing ways that younger generations want to consume and create their own media landscape.

I don’t know what all the answers are. But that is where your challenge lies.

And again, a lot of the answers are in your own research on public opinion. What the research shows is that people are not simply newspaper-readers, or only online-viewers or only viewers of the main bulletin on TV. They do all kinds of stuff at all kinds of moments of the day. In the morning they behave differently than they do in the afternoon, and they may use different devices. Short news in the morning, long reads in the evening. Different consumption on the move to what they want on the sofa.

So yes a world of change. But amid all the threats, opportunities too. People want to get their news, no matter how; broadly, they want to be informed and democratic governments have an interest in supplying that information via non-suspicious sources such as independent media organizations.

And where are the opportunities to be found? New ways of marketing? Merge with other news organizations to merge audiences, like national news organizations do with regional or local? Combine different platforms and throw away some of the old ones? Probably, all of these and more.

News on demand indicates people decide for themselves when, what or how they consume, and journalists need to adapt. Show why real journalism is not the same as civic journalism.

If a helicopter flies over my house, I can usually find the reason within 5 minutes on Twitter. But it doesn’t tell me if the crime rate in my city has increased or if life has become safer thanks to all these helicopters.

So: is there a future for the traditional generic news organizations or are you doomed to die and be overtaken by smaller, flexible and mobile news sources? That depends how you handle it.

Netflix boss Reed Hastings, asked whether Netflix would ever create a live evening newscast, said: “You don’t want to invest in things that are dying”. He also said that he did not see a day when the site would offer live sporting events.

Let’s see. Back in the day I could never have imagined a time when the BBC was NOT dominant in the sports market. Now it barely gets a look in alongside new channels which have emerged just for that purpose. And if newsprint is dying, why did Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, one of the symbols of our changed consumer world, decide to buy the Washington Post? Because the brand matters, and he will want to try to adapt it to the modern world.

At the time Reed Hastings ruled out a Netflix news bulletin, his brand was making waves because of the brilliance and the global success of House of Cards, and the innovation of allowing viewers to watch however much they wanted, at their own convenience, once the series was made. Today the buzz around Netflix is all about Making A Murderer. Can anyone remember from their childhood twelve hour documentaries? It is journalism, but of a different sort to what we knew, and certainly not confined to 140 characters. So let’s not pretend there is no demand for in depth work any more.

Some individual brands will go, for sure. But journalism won’t, and nor will the need for it. It will just change. In the UK, because of the dominant figures in the industry, a lot of change has been for the worse, and it will take a new generation to repair the damage they have done. But I think that will happen.

One of the media figures I did interview for my book was Arianna Huffington, in the section on innovation. Her online news service the Huffington Post, founded in 2005, was an idea emerging from a profound understanding of the limitations of existing organisations and their approaches in dealing with powerful waves of change. I have to confess that when she asked me to speak at the launch of the UK version of the Huffington Post I was sceptical, despite the success she was having in the US, of Arianna’s bold ambitions for the first global online ‘paper’. But she had grasped that while many media outlets back in 2005 had an online presence, it tended to be tacked onto everything else they were doing rather than being thought through in the context of how the Internet actually operates. ‘The gap I saw,’ she says, ‘was the fact that you had the online world developing and you had the papers and TV not sure how to adapt and react, and the new idea was that it was possible to be both the platform and the journalist. The journalism had to be good, but the platform, the fact there were no deadlines, limitless space, this was where the innovation at the basic level could come from. Anyone who had an idea, anyone who had something interesting to say, they could say it. One of our early taglines was “The world’s first Internet newspaper” so we definitely saw ourselves as a newspaper in many ways, but without paper, and without all the restrictions.’ In other words the Huffington Post established from the outset a flexibility to its operation that perfectly meshed with the Internet age and the changing reading habits of people around the world. When I interviewed Arianna, the Post was receiving 95 million unique monthly visitors, had editorial HQs in eleven countries and more on the way, and she had secured a $315 million deal with AOL. Another media success story, another new contour on the landscape.

Last week, when I was thinking about what to say here, I took my daughter Grace, who is 21 and wants to be a documentary maker, to see Attacking the Devil, a film about former Sunday Times editor Harry Evans, and his brilliant campaign to get justice for the victims of the thalidomide scandal, perhaps the finest example of campaigning journalism of my lifetime.

Grace was fascinated by it. She had no idea that newspapers used to be carved out of hot metal, and then rolled off gigantic presses. But what the story did was excite in her, a new generation, a belief in journalism and what it could achieve. She doesn’t want to work for newspapers, though she writes for magazines. But she asked me to give her a list of great examples of investigative journalism. Why? Because she was inspired to write a piece for a new website many of you have probably never heard of, but which many of her friends almost certainly read, about what real investigative journalism is, and why it matters.

Titles will come and go. But the need for what you do will always be with us. That alone should give you confidence for the future. Thank you.

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For heaven’s sake bring back standing at football – an issue no longer being decided by logic Sat, 16 Jan 2016 11:50:37 +0000 It was not just the third away win in a week that made Burnley’s trip to Brentford so enjoyable last night. Nor was it merely that the 3-1 victory was secured by first half goals from Scott Arfield, Joey Barton and George Boyd that would not have looked out of place had the venue been the Nou Camp Barcelona rather than Griffin Park Brentford, and their names Neymar, Suarez and Messi.

A big part of the pleasure came from Burnley fans having a choice about whether to sit or stand to enjoy it all, and I am pretty sure the ones who stood enjoyed it more than the ones who sat. On the rare occasions we get that chance, we always do. Though it was a Friday night, and the match live on Sky Sports 1, the away end was packed not least because supporters knew they could for once have that experience.

Given all-seater stadia have been compulsory in the higher echelons for some time, it is something of an anomaly that Brentford have terraced sections behind each goal; and whilst I understand the club has to conform, and want to increase capacity, it is something of a sadness that they too are moving to what could easily become yet another purpose-built, modern, all-seater, antiseptic stadium that strips matches of atmosphere. There are enough of those already.

Non-football fans tend not to understand why this issue of safe standing matters to some people, me included, as much as it does. I guess for my generation there is a nostalgia element to it all, the feeling of a link to the kind of experience we used to have when first falling in love with going to away games (provided it didn’t involve getting your head kicked in). But for those who have grown up with all-seater stadia, the reasoning cannot be the same. For them it is the straight forward fact that the match experience is so much better.

Atmosphere matters in sport. Noise matters in football. It is part of the event. Even if fans do not directly effect the outcome – and I think sometimes they do, though there is no way of measuring it – they are certainly a big part of the quality of the spectacle. I know that myself when channel hopping European games and being more likely to watch the one in the loud, full stadium than the one with banks of empty plastic seats and the shouts of players audible above the sound of the crowd.

There is no scientific reason why fans should make more noise, and show more wit, standing than seated, but they do. Of course supporters always love to see their teams score a goal, but take a look at some of the crowd videos I put on and on twitter last night. The joy is all the greater if you can run about hugging complete strangers standing several yards away rather than just applaud and make a knowing happy nod to the season ticket holder in the next seat.

In the second half, though the quality of our football dipped a bit, and Brentford dominated, the fans sang one chant non-stop for about half an hour. ‘We are the Longside, Burnley, we are the Longside, Burnley,’ repeated again and again and again until the final whistle went. At which point nearly everyone stayed and sang their praises to the team until Barton and Arfield, the last two to leave after doing their after match interviews for Sky on the pitch, had disappeared down the tunnel. Again, those who don’t speak football – and I live with one such – do not understand why any of this matters to anyone. But it does. And though our fans sing that chant every game home and away, it had a very special resonance last night, because the Longside is the name for the old terraces that many of us knew, now a modern stand in what is nonetheless still one of the best old grounds in the country.

Just as emotion exists in sport, so it exists in politics and decision making about political issues, and in my view it is only emotion that prevents Parliament from reversing its stance on all-seater stadia and giving clubs and fans the right to have terraces if they want them. I tried at the last election to get Labour to commit to this but Andy Burnham, who played a big part in the campaign for justice for victims of the Hillsborough disaster, was among those adamant that the feelings of people in Liverpool made this impossible.

Yet watch any Liverpool match and, as we shall see against Manchester United tomorrow, the whole of the Kop tends to stand and ignore the seats behind them other than at half time. It is the same at many grounds. What that underlines is that Hillsborough was less about whether fans stood or sat than how many people were crammed into the same limited space, and what quality of policing, stewarding and security existed to make sure the numbers matched the space.

I was a journalist at the time of Hillsborough, the Bradford City fire, the riots at various grounds which led the Thatcher government to respond to the ‘something must be done’ pressures, and the Big Something became all-seater stadia.

Mrs Thatcher knew little about football, and cared less. David Cameron, who can’t make out his Aston Villa from his West Ham, is not much different. That doesn’t matter. No politician can be expected to share all the passions of those who elect them. What does matter is that politicians should be able to make judgements about the issues they deal with based on a proper, rational assessment of today, not merely emotion understandably aroused by events in the past.

I do understand, given the culture of the 80s, and the awfulness of the rampant hooliganism and that succession of tragedies and scandals, why change had to come. I can even see why, back then, they came to the view they did. When a culture needs to change sometimes it takes big symbolic acts to make that happen. But as many of us were saying to each other coming out of the ground last night, guided by friendly stewards and a reasonably low key police presence, it makes no sense today when a barcode will be sufficient to decide whether you can get through a turnstile that would otherwise require physical force no human possesses.

Hooliganism still exists though thankfully not on the scale it did. But I was never convinced football violence was directly linked to the existence of terracing, any more than I am convinced that its relative decline was directly caused by the move to all seater stadia. Better police intelligence, more professional stewarding, CCTV and other technological advances on ticketing and entrance, have played a far bigger role.

The Germans, a footballing nation superior to us in so many ways, cannot understand either why we are even having to campaign on this, let alone why football has become so expensive. Their commitment to cheap standing has helped get more people into the same space and their understanding of the role of the fan in the spectacle has created the environment for much cheaper access to the top matches. And for all that the Sky Sports/Premier League propaganda machine likes us to think our League is the best in the world, and the fans the most passionate, I think I side with the German view to the contrary.

Later this month Burnley fans will be heading to London again for a Cup tie at Arsenal. Win or lose it will be a good day out for the few thousand who will travel. But it won’t be as good as last night. Yes, the seats at the Emirates are comfortable and there is plenty of legroom even for someone as tall as I am. But there is much less noise than there used to be at Highbury, and there is something sad and soulless about watching the first ten minutes of the second half confronted by banks of empty seats as the corporate sections amble back from their half time nosh.

Both the government and Labour have bigger challenges right now than deciding policy on football stadia. But I do hope that when they get round to it, they understand that the issue is being decided according to the emotions aroused by scandals and tragedies in a world that was, not the reality of a world that is. That is not a good basis for policy making. Both the policy, and the way we think about it, needs to change.


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A bit of nostalgia on the town where I was born Tue, 12 Jan 2016 09:07:53 +0000 I do like writing, and usually I am the one deciding what to write, and enjoying the oddness of where ideas come from and why they strike me as being interesting at that time. But every now and then someone else comes along and provokes the idea. So it was over Christmas when the Yorkshire Post asked me to write a piece for a series they are running on ‘the town that made me.’ Being the Yorkshire Post they wanted it to be a Yorkshire town, and as I was born in Keighley, I qualified.

They ran the piece last week, and gave it a good show, but given I had rambled on a fair bit, and as any newspaper article has to come to an end at some point, they had to make a few cuts. So, not least for those who sent nice messages about what they read, here is the full piece as drafted, complete with a few more names, not least Charlie Hurley, the former Sunderland player – how random that he should have popped into my head? – my first teachers, and some of the many friends my parents had in Yorkshire.

One of the paper’s writers, Jayne Dowle, in an article on my article, seemed to think there might have been a political purpose to my reminiscences, contrasting my northern upbringing with the metropolitan bent of Labour under its current leader. Not so. It was a piece of pure nostalgia which allowed me to reflect on a broadly happy childhood in a place I often wish I had never had to leave. 

Here goes with the full piece.

So Keighley, the town that made me. Technically this is beyond dispute. I was born in Keighley Victoria hospital, May 25 1957, and almost certainly conceived – too much information? – in Oakworth nine months or so earlier. At the time we were living there but as the family grew – I was the third of four – we moved to Laurel Grove, a stone’s throw from Cliffe Castle in the town itself.

I like to play up my tough northern roots to my own London born and bred children, telling them all manner of Monty Pythonesque hard luck (and tall) stories but in fact we lived in a big house with a nice garden and – the place I spent a lot of my time – a back yard out by the garage.

It was where I could let my sporting fantasies run riot. I grew up wanting to play football for Burnley and Scotland (my parents were both Scots and my dad taught me and my older brother Donald the bagpipes from an early age), cricket for Yorkshire and England (my birthplace allowed both) and rugby league for Keighley and Great Britain. Indeed, out in that back yard, with or without Donald and my other brother Graeme, I did just that.

I had an old cricket scoring book and recorded every ball. I regularly opened the batting with Geoff Boycott and despite his slow approach we would cruise past 100 before he would be out and then Phil Sharpe would come in. I enjoyed great partnerships with Jackie Hampshire and Brian Close and when I was bowling, (opening with Freddie Trueman), I took a lot of wickets thanks to Jimmy Binks taking world class catches behind the stumps.

I get asked ‘why Burnley? given I grew up in Yorkshire. But we were pretty much equidistant between Leeds and Burnley, and would watch them both, but I liked Burnley’s colours. Also, they were reigning league champions when I first saw them. And before you say ‘glory hunter’ I have followed them all the way down through the leagues and now most of the way back up again.

I went to most home games as a kid and when my dad couldn’t take me I went with a girl called Jane Davis and her family or Peter Loughlin, the son of one of my dad’s best mates. I still see a lot of Pete because he goes to every game home and away from his home in Riddlesden.

As for the Cougars, I went back to see them a few years ago and did a piece for the Times. Great blokes, tough and dedicated to a sport for love more than money. I told them the story about Pete’s dad Paddy Loughlin, a GP who was the team doctor on match days. He and my dad liked a drink at the weekend and one morning before a game at Lawkholme Lane against Dewsbury Paddy called saying he had a massive hangover and would my dad stand in? ‘Paddy, I’m a vet,’ my dad protested. ‘Ah don’t worry they won’t know the difference,’ came the unconcerned reply.

I went to Utley Primary School and if memory serves me right my first teachers were Mrs Feather and Miss Gill. Or was that Mrs Gill and Miss Feather! I liked school and was eager to learn. It was a walk of a few miles to get there and I ran part of it because Donald told me one of the houses we passed was haunted. I went back to the school a few years ago and it had changed in so many ways. The outside toilets were gone – I used to hate those. And whereas when I was there I think all the kids were white now nearly all of them were non white.

I have always been passionately anti racist and I think growing up in Keighley, and walking through a very Pakistani area whenever I walked into town, or to the swimming pool, or to my dad’s surgery, the back of which was bang opposite the pool in Spencer Street, made me so. I actually liked living so close to people from different cultures.

My best friend at school was called John Bailey. We lost touch but one of the upsides of me becoming well known through politics is that he tracked me down and we have met up since and keep in touch. I had a great friend called David Shuttleworth at Eastburn and used to go fishing with him. I also had fishing lessons from an old man called – I think it was Mr Staines – possibly at Hebden Bridge. Or was it Oxenhope?

My mum and dad threw themselves into their social life and I can remember some pretty good parties at home. My parents had some stellar friends, the Hamiltons, the Bransfields, the McNaes, (all doctors) Pat and John Lees, (he was a Tory lawyer) many many more, and of course his vet practice partners at Campbell, Crabtree and Green.

Dad was president of the Keighley show one year. I got invited back to talk at the show a few years ago and it was a nice point of connection with my dad, who had died not long before. I took my mum and she loved it. Sadly she died last year but she and my dad often said the Keighley years were the happiest years of their lives. His ashes are scattered over the fields where he spent so many years tending animals. At my mum’s funeral last year the Yorkshire contingent almost outnumbered the Scots. She was always brilliant at keeping in touch with people.

Dad had a surgery in Bingley in addition to the Keighley one but though he did his small animal duties there his big love was farm animals and especially horses. He Showjumper Harvey Smith was one of his clients and years later when I was a student in the south of France I met up with Harvey and he got me an in to be interpreter for the GB team. Unpaid.

I have a lifelong love of beautiful scenery and I think that was inspired by going out with my dad on his rounds. The town itself may not be the prettiest, though parts of it are nice and Keighley and Worth Valley Railway is a jewel, but the area around Keighley takes some beating.

My dad had a horse and trap and used to love taking us out in that. It was probably safer than the car. I once let the handbrake off the car while we were waiting for dad at a farm and we ended up careering down a hill.

I was quite accident prone. I had a few broken bones down the years. One of my daftest moments came when I accepted a dare to walk across a neighbour’s glass-roofed garage. Unsurprisingly the glass broke and I fell through the roof. My sister Liz reminds me of that a lot, whenever she thinks I am getting above myself.

The neighbours were called the Bairstows and they were away on holiday but my parents made me apologise in person when they got back. They were very moral like that. There was a sweet shop round the corner and I once stole some sweets, just a few aniseed ball and a handful of mints. My dad found out and marched me round there to admit to being a thief and apologise and promise to pay back with interest.

We went to Sunday school every weekend at the Presbyterian church in Bradford and then Harry Ramsden’s for lunch which I liked more than the Sunday school.

We had to leave Keighley when I was eleven and for all of us, it was pretty traumatic. We certainly didn’t want to leave. But my dad had had a bad accident when a sow attacked him while he was injecting her piglets. She was tethered but broke free and battered him up against a wall. He was in hospital for what seemed like ages and visiting times were very strict so I used to send letters to him with my mum every day. I think that is when I basically started to keep a diary which has come in handy in more recent years! It was just telling him basic stuff like what I ate and did at school and how Burnley played. I remember drawing a picture of Charlie Hurley who played for Sunderland. How random is that?

He tried to get back to his practice but the 24/7 nature of it was beyond him really and so he sold up and joined the Ministry of Agriculture as a vet for a quieter life, and he was moved to Leicester.

I was at Bradford Grammar then. I went back to the school to do a talk just before Christmas and it was so different to how I remembered it. I really didn’t want to leave Keighley. It was the last day before the Christmas term and I said good bye to my friends at lunchtime and left. It was the day Oxford were playing Cambridge at rugby, I remember that because it was on the telly when we went to the house of the Davidsons, family friends in Bradford where I was meeting my siblings before getting driven south by a family friend, our parents having gone ahead. I’d only been at Bradford for a term and started at a new school in Leicester in the new year.

Because we never had any relatives in Keighley we didn’t go back that much though by an amazing coincidence years later I went out with one of the girls from the family who bought our house in Laurel Grove when we left Keighley. She was studying in Leicester and lodging with my mum when I was at Cambridge University. She was actually the first big love of my life, Maxine.

These days when I go north it is usually to Burnley though I have been back to Keighley a few times, including to campaign for the Labour Party. And when someone did a big portrait of me for a charity project recently I donated it to Cliffe Castle.

I often wonder how my life might have been if we had never left. My accent would be different because I was pretty broad Yorkshire but was young enough for it to change when I moved away. I also think that one of the reasons I became fairly tough mentally – and I have needed that at times – was because leaving Keighley was a big blow at a difficult age but I just had to get on with it.

I did well at my new school but I never ever took my Burnley scarf off. It was my way of saying I wasn’t really one of them and never would be. I left Keighley almost half a century ago now but still feel more emotional attachment to it than many of the other places I have lived.

– Alastair Campbell’s latest book, WINNERS AND HOW THEY SUCCEED, is out now £20 hardback Hutchinson books. The paperback will be published in the spring

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Flood damage is a cruel metaphor for Tory failure to see that cuts have consequences. It is defining Britain Wed, 30 Dec 2015 14:35:25 +0000 Here is a piece I have done this morning for International Business Times.

I sometimes think David Cameron lives his life as his own Action Man doll, dressing himself up according to the various demeanours he wishes to display.

For Parliament it is the classic dark blue suit, white shirt and (always, as if he needed to remind us he was a Conservative) a blue tie.

But he is never happier than when able to rip himself free of the tie and dress to say to the world ‘Action Man needs to dress according to the actions he is busy taking.’

He rarely wears a tie when campaigning, adores a good old jacket off, all the better to pump his clenched fist when he is delivering the clip he wants the news to carry on the bulletins in the evening.

NHS visits have the sleeves rolled up, sending out the message that if only he wasn’t so busy being Prime Minister he could actually do the operations more and more people are waiting longer and longer to have.

Cameron loves waking to the news that he is to chair a meeting of COBRA, the dramatic- sounding name given to the Cabinet Office Briefing Room A which is as far removed from a White House Situation Room as can be imagined. But not in Cameron’s head. COBRA says ‘I am busy, I am being kept up to date with developments, I am instructing the arms of the State in which direction they should wave aimlessly.’ Terror attacks, military strikes, public health scares, transport chaos and now floods, COBRA has been giving plenty of succour to his Action Man tendencies.

So off he went in his wellies, made all the right noises, struck all the right poses, then back into his helicopter, and home in time for tea.

The problem was… we had seen him play this tune before… the last time he donned the wellies, made all the right noises, struck all the right poses, then got back into the helicopter and home in time for tea.

So this week he didn’t get quite as good a reception as the last time because the flood victims had heard it all before – the noises about doing everything it takes, stopping at nothing, making sure they get the resources they need, looking at what went wrong, then learning the lessons and making sure… blah blah blah.

Of course he relies on the fact that before too long the world’s attention moves on to another situation which requires another Cobra, another look and another Action Man outfit. It is only when he keeps needing to get out the repeated looks that we get reminded he keeps promising to sort things out, and then doesn’t.

At the heart of all this, however good he is at turning on the style, are two points of real substance which get to the heart of why this government spends so much time dealing with and reacting to events. The first is that he is endlessly tactical in an era that requires strategic leaders more than ever.

The second is that the floods are a horrible metaphor for the Cameron-Osborne view of the State and how money should, or more likely should not, be spent.

One of the tragedies of the past decade is that the Tories successfully played, and won, a political game over ‘the mess we inherited from Labour.’ They were helped in this by Labour unfortunately colluding with it, by failing adequately to rebut the attack.

The purpose from the Tories’ perspective was to pin on Labour the principal blame for the consequences of the global financial crisis, and subsequently the blame for the crash itself, as a way of reducing trust of Labour on the economy. It was a ludicrous attack which should never have succeeded but it did, thanks to Tory discipline of message delivery and Labour failure of rebuttal and lack of confidence about defending our own very good record.

This had the deeper consequence of identifying within the political debate the idea that public spending is per se a bad thing. This was deliberate from the Tories. To justify an assault on the State they always wanted to mount they had to win an argument that State spending is profligate and that in any event it doesn’t deliver the value for money that it should.

It meant that when George Osborne was going through the spending bids of departments – particularly once freed of a Lib Dem around his neck – he was demanding cuts to all budgets to meet very dramatic State-shrinking targets that even Margaret Thatcher didn’t dare try.

So something like flood defences, when the purpose is to cut all budgets as low as they will go, is not an essential part of infrastructure in an era of changing climate, but a number that has to be cut. Any argument that proper investment might lead to savings in the future is swept to one side.

Yet that is the best argument for public spending in the first place and it is one Labour should have made with more vigour, and should do so with more vigour now.

What we are seeing with floods is the inevitable consequence of a mindset that sees virtue in cuts today without regard to the consequences tomorrow. The cost of dealing with these floods now and in the future will dwarf anything saved by scrimping on the costs of proper flood defences. Similarly, cuts to police will see a rise in crime which will end up costing us more. Failure to invest in defence will see a rise in the threats we face which will end up costing us more.

Thanks to the investment which the Tories managed to turn into a negative post, a crash caused by forces of ultra-conservative ultra-capitalism in the US, Labour ended winter crises in the NHS. They are back. Thanks to the same investment we put a virtual end to rough sleeping. Now there is barely a town or city in the country where you won’t see people living on the streets. And the costs to the State will be felt further down the track in police time, court time, prisons, hospital services.

The same investment saw Sure Start giving poorer families the kind of start and support they needed. We are already seeing the consequences of the ideological cuts.

Spending on schools rose by around 5% a year under Labour and hundreds of secondaries were rebuilt. In this Parliament schools are facing cuts of between 9% and 12% percent according to the IFS, which will undoubtedly impact on the education of our most disadvantaged pupils. Cameron somewhat implausibly says he wants all children to have the kind of opportunities he had. But by his very actions he is making it not just implausible but impossible.

David Cameron is very good at looking the part. He is very good at finding the right clothes and the right words for the moment. But he is very bad at understanding that many of the problems he vows so passionately post-Cobra to solve are problems which he and his ideological approach to public spending have created.

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Five thousand words or so on how today’s challenges for leaders are tougher than 1997, and lots of other stuff. Happy Christmas Sun, 20 Dec 2015 13:27:16 +0000 I’ve not done a big blog for a while, so as I penned this speech for a conference in France today, and I saw it was getting close to the 5,000 word mark, I thought ‘why not? Get it up there.’

The conference is in Montpellier in southern France and they asked me to reflect on the changes in the challenges politics faced when I set out with Tony Blair, and the challenges for world leaders 20 years on. Some of the themes will be familiar to you; others I have enjoyed thinking about.

The speech, to a multinational audience hosted by Altrad, a global construction firm, starts in French (with apologies for my computer’s occasional inability to do accents) so scroll down to the non italic bits if you want to go straight to English (though you will miss a couple of funny stories en route). Hope you enjoy it and have a good Christmas.

Bonjour et merci de m’avoir invite. Je dois d’abord dire aux interprètes que pour le contenu politique de mon discours je vais parler en anglais mais pour commencer, et peut être aussi quand on me pose des questions, je me sers de ma langue préférée, la langue de Zola, Voltaire et de mon chanteur favori  de tous les temps et toutes les langues, Jacques Brel.

 Et être ici me rappelle des souvenirs très intéressants. La dernière fois que j’étais à Montpellier, j’étais étudiant et assistant d’anglais dans une école a Nice et je venais la un week-end pour m’amuser avec un ami.

J’étais aussi un musicien de rue, avec ma cornemuse. Normalement quand on dit qu’on joue de la cornemuse on te dit ‘ah bon et ils ont payé pour que tu arrêtes de jouer?’ Mais non — je gagnais beaucoup et je trouvais aussi que ça attirait des jeunes femmes. Et ce weekend à Montpellier, ayant trop bu et étant avec trop de jeunes femmes dans ma chambre avec mon ami, on faisait tant de bruit que l’hôtelier nous a demandé de partir. Ça nous a fait tant rire qu’il est devenu fou de colère et est revenu avec un pistolet en annoncant  qu’il avait appelle la police. Alors là on est parti. C’est pour ca qu’en arrivant a Montpellier ce matin j’ai visité la gare pour voir si le banc en bois ou j’ai dormi est toujours la. Hélas non. C’était en plastique. Huh. Et on parle du progrès.

 C’est un grand plaisir d’être la. J’ai fait mes recherches et ça me plait beaucoup d’être la avec une société qui partage ma passion pour le sport, et qui comprend l’importance du sport. J’ai vu sur votre site qu’en étant sponsor de l’équipe de rugby de Montpellier, vous parlez de ce que le business peut apprendre du sport et vice versa. Et moi qui suis maintenant aussi écrivain et conseiller en stratégie, mon livre le plus récent – Winners and How They Succeed – c’est à dire les gagnants et comment ils réussissent  – examine les grands dans le sport, le business et la politique pour analyser ce qu’ils peuvent apprendre l’un de l’autre.

 Et M Altrad, je ne sais pas si vous le savez, et cela intéressera Jake White qui est la;  mais quand j’ai quitté Downing Street en 2003 un des premiers  projets que j’ai accepte était avec the British and Irish Lions pour leur série de test match contre les All Blacks en Nouvelle Zélande. Quand l’entraîneur celebre, gangeur du championnat du monde avec l’Anglettere, Clive Woodward, m’a téléphoné et m’a dit ´est-ce  que vous voulez venir en Nouvelle Zélande avec the Lions?’ j’ai répondu ‘mais Clive, mon dernier match, j’avais dix-sept ans!’  Mais non il me dit, ‘c’est pour faire la communication et pour m’aider avec la préparation. Vous qui avez créé des équipes politiques gagnantes – est ce que cela peut m’aider dans le sport ?’ Pour moi c’est un reve. Le sport c’est la passion toute ma vie.

 A l’epoque j’étais toujours conseilleur de Tony Blair mais pas full-time. Je faisais les deux boulots au meme temps. Et quand j’ai regardé vos films, les movies d’Altrad, et les messages de vos valeurs, de l’importance de l’individu mais dans le contexte de l’équipe, cela m’a fait penser au travail que j’ai fait avec the Lions

Surtout je me rappelle quand on avait un ‘leadership and teamship coach’ qui avant le depart pour la Nouvelle Zelande nous a rassemblé, les joueurs, l’administration, tout le monde, presque une centaine, et il nous a dit de mettre des costumes blancs comme portent des policiers scientifiques quand ils font des enquêtes apres un meurtre. Et puis il nous a posé des questions de quiz générales  très difficiles. Et tout de suite tout le monde s’est rendu compte que pour avoir toutes les réponses il fallait partager ce qu’on savait. On commençait donc à former des petites groupes, min-equipes.

Et puis quand on avait les réponses cela nous a donné le droit d’avoir des pots de peinture et des brosses et pinceaux; ensuite il nous donne des grandes toiles avec des instructions où il fallait peindre avec des couleurs qu’on avait gagne. Et tout le monde, surtout ces joueurs qui n’avaient envie que de jouer et se battre, on commençait à se plaindre. ‘Mais qu’est ce que c’est chiant. À quoi ça sert? On va pas battre les All Blacks avec l’art.’ Mais bon, on continue. On finit. Il nous dit d’aller dans la salle à cote pour boire un the, un café, et revenir après une heure. Et quand on revient on est stupéfait par ce qu’on a fait. Sans le savoir on avait créé une peinture énorme de l’insigne, l’embleme de l’équipe, unifiant les quatres symboles, toutes les couleurs des quatre pays qui representent the Lions. Tout le monde adore. On signe tous. On se met devant pour une photo. C’était vraiment la formation d’une equipe.

 Le lendemain j’étais a Downing Street pour un meeting avec Tony Blair pour discuter les preparations pour sa troisième élection générale. Je lui ai raconté cette histoire. Je lui ai dit qu’avec tous les problèmes de personnalité qu’on avait entre lui et Gordon Brown, entre d’autres dans le gouvernement, on devrait faire une chose pareille avec notre equipe. Il me regarde comme si je suis fou. ‘Tu imagines ce qu’ils vont dire nos collègues. Et la presse. N’en parlons pas.’

 Mais à mon avis le business et la politique ne comprennent  pas suffisament que les grandes équipes sportives ne sont pas des accidents. Ce sont des constructions. On les crée.

 Et j’ai l’impression que vous comprenez cela. Ca se voit sur vos sites, et dans vos films. Vous comprenez ce qu’on peut apprendre du sport. Mieux, helas, que le monde politique.

Donc, c’est un grand plaisir d’être parmi vous et maintenant, puisque je sais que vous venez de beaucoup de pays différents, et que l’anglais, malgré tous les efforts de l’Académie Francaise, est la langue do monde,  je change de langue mais pas trop de thème.

 I want to talk about politics and the nature of political challenges in the modern era.

Politics has always been tough. But I wonder if it is today a lot tougher than when I started out with TB.

Thinking back to 1994 when he became leader of the Opposition, we wanted to win and we knew we had to make changes to our party. We drew on the insight best summed up by a famous athletics coach Colm O’Connell. ‘The winner is the loser who evaluates defeat properly.’ We learned lessons of previous defeats for Labour. Changed some policies. Changed positioning. Campaigned hard and won.

So as TB settled in to his new job: – We had to deal with the biggest negative that had seen us lose so often. Trust on the economy. We gave the Bank of England independence to set interest rates –  a big bold move. It assured the markets. Showed the public we were serious about major change. It defined the politics of the economy for one, two, even three parliaments right up to the global financial crisis.

We were bold on jobs too.  What we called the New deal – a tax on excess profits of privatised utility companies to fund a jobs programme for young people – was similarly defining in showing we were changing the way the state thinks about job creation. And a minimum wage for the first time ever was a way of showing we did not see the UK’s future as a low wage, low skill economy.

Likewise having won with the argument that the Health Service was in decline we had to rescue and rebuild it. Education was a big priority so we wanted to sort public finances to be able to do more for schools.  Crime was on the agenda, tough on crime and tough on causes of crime the message. Social cohesion a growing issue after years of Thatcherism.

Power had to be devolved. Scotland in particular wanted a new settlement and we were determined to bring it about. We did. Though not with the consequences that followed more recently with the campaign for independence ever stronger.

We also wanted to shape a new approach on Europe after the years of negativity and half heartedness under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

So – economy, jobs, education, health, crime, devolution and Europe, modernization across all fronts, and if we got the basics right then we would go also for peace in Ireland.

These were all difficult problems. But all expectable for a progressive left of centre party. I think today’s leaders are confronted by more and bigger problems. And I wonder if we give them the support and space and the slack they need. Indeed one of the points I want to make today is that democracies operate at something of a disadvantage to non-democracies and even to terrorist organisations.

So what is in the in-tray of today’s leaders?

Always the economy, stupid. Still picking up the pieces of the global financial crisis. Inequality within and between nations is growing. So is the anger about it. Though unemployment is falling in some parts of some countries, in many others it rises  and governments seem less and less able to address it in a world defined by technological change and global corporate power which slips seemingly effortlessly across borders.

Globalisation. There have been huge benefits, but also a feeling that the elites benefited disproportionately. As the good times rolled we didn’t do enough to explain that alongside the upsides of globalisation – more and cheaper travel and goods, more jobs in different places, capital swilling round the planet in a vast free for all – there would be downsides too. We see them now in that inequality. And in the waves of immigration that are here to stay as some parts of the world are defined by war and poverty and others by growth and prosperity.

Then post-crash a feeling that those who caused it carry on much the same; whereas those paying the price have been the poor and people on middle incomes who for the first time feel we are facing a world in which the next generation may be worse off than the last; in which the concept of a job for life has gone and that is seen as a massive threat rather than an opportunity for lifelong learning and career development to mean something defining and important.

And of course it is this which is helping to fuel the popularity of previously fringe parties and candidates and causes. An economically challenged and struggling population is one open either to rising to the challenge or – history suggests – to the appeal of simple  and simplistic arguments that say ‘If Only…’ If only there were no immigrants. If only we could protect our borders. If only we could come out of Europe we wouldn’t have these problems.

The same sort of forces in America are fuelling the remarkable and frankly terrifying rise of Donald Trump who most non Americans view as an international joke. He makes me at least thank God for Hillary Clinton. The same forces fuelled too the rise of someone on the fringe of the Labour Party in Britain for most of my life to become our leader.

So strange things are happening. Spain today trying to make sense of an election which has thrown their politics into a period of uncertainty despite the government thinking it had a good economic story to tell. Here in France, one of the great drivers of the EU, and a fiercely out of Europe party at the first round of regional elections did better than ever and it took a big response by the main parties and the tactical votes of the people to halt them; but the FN is not going away, and now there are the developments of the nationalist surge in Corsica to attend to. Did anyone see that one coming? Any more than we saw the surge of the SNP in Scotland?

Meanwhile in the UK we have a referendum due in which though I think we will vote to stay in the EU I cannot be sure, and I am a lot less confident than I was. One thing I am sure of is that if we do vote to come out Scotland will have another referendum and will leave the UK this time for sure. So Britain risks becoming hugely diminished in so many ways.

Now even when we left office let alone when we arrived in 1997 I would have said none of those prospects were realistic. Anti Europeans were on the fringe. There was a feel good feeling about Europe. Nations were clamouring to get in not out. If you had said to me then we might be out within twenty years I would have said no way. An EU which has helped ensure a Europe defined historically by war has been at relative peace for all our lifetime. An EU which has seen a Europe defined historically often by poverty now defined by rising prosperity. How could this happen?

Well it has. Conventional wisdoms are challenged everywhere. Even in the north, Scandinavian Europe, where welfare has been taken for granted and immigration seen as a force for good these are being challenged as never before. Even Angela Merkel, as impressive a leader as exists today, has to make speeches warning Germans of the danger of a rise in anti Semitism, as she also fights to persuade her party of the rightness of bringing in big numbers of Syrian refugees, and I for one worry about what happens when she goes.

So leadership is tough. Big issues. And I have not even mentioned climate change. Or the impact of the changing prices of raw materials, especially oil, down from 115 to 35 dollars a barrel in 18 months, with huge implications for some of the emerging economies as well as our own. Or of Russia’s new found confidence and geostrategic aggression through old style methods Putin learned in the KGB. ‘Nothing is true and anything is possible,’as Peter Pomerantesev’s book puts it. Ukraine. Syria. Cybersecurity. Or of China’s slowing economy which, its rise having contributed to growth elsewhere, has implications for all of us. Or terrorism. Or the cauldron of the Middle East and its ability to export its problems to all parts of the world.

On climate change, there was an argument when we were in power about whether the environment even was really a top order issue like the economy or security. No such doubts now – indeed it is both an economic and a security issue – and yet because of the GFC it slipped down the agenda again. The Paris talks showed how hard this issue is. Actually it was a remarkable achievement to get the agreement they did. One man’s existential threat is another man’s threat to perceived growth and prosperity. We look at pictures of Chinese smog and we say why can’t they deal with it? And they say why should we when we have been catching up with economic growth you lot have taken for granted through modern history. Or, they are meeting our demand for cheap goods which have to be made in their factories and exported on their boats and planes so that we can continue with our consumer obsession and, let’s be honest, as we watch our kids unwrap Christmas presents people don’t really care if it says ‘made in China’ or ‘made in Taiwan’ on the side; and feel even less concerned when it says that it was assembled in China but it has a French, British or American logo.

So Paris made the deal. Great. One of those issues where one Government alone, even the most powerful, could achieve little. It had to be done by the world. And the world is a mass of competing priorities and national interest. How often do we hear people say, as wars rage and crises grow, ‘why can’t the United Nations sort it out?’ But he United Nations is just a collection of the countries of the world with all our differences and our competing values and passions and priorities and ways of doing things. So do not underestimate how hard it was to get that Paris deal. But all around the world now governments and businesses and individuals are having to make real through action the words that were signed and sealed in the capital. Words set direction. Actions have to steer the world in that direction. And that really is the hard bit.

Technology – another issue that is not all upside. We want the speed and convenience and connection it gives us. We want the access to information and choices. But cyber security is a massive issue and again be honest – few have adapted to meet the threat.

We want jobs for our people. But what if the technology destroys them? I could get from London to here with little help from human beings. Book my flights. Pay for them. Change the booking. Change the seat. Book a hotel. Have algorithms bombarding me with adverts for things I might decide I need on arrival. No people. Ok I met someone going through security. But their job was to look at pictures recorded by machines without needing to look me in the eye. A pilot flew the plane. But he could spend most of the flight coming out for a chat and flirting with the stewardesses, while he let technology lift most of the load. And one day we won’t even need him, like we won’t need our own skills to drive. We won’t need the people at all until the machines decide we do. I was talking the other day to a Premier League football manager who was already foreseeing a time when sport becomes a battle between approaches to the use of artificial intelligence. Wow! I hope not.

Technology leads me to another of the massive challenges facing leaders. Terrorism. Ideological and religious hatred fuelling it. Humans with an agenda who know that sometimes violence can deliver change; know that when a bomb goes off and leaders go out to say ‘this will not change our way of life,’ in fact it does, or else why do we have so much security at airports now?’ September 11. I was there with TB. That event shaped the Bush presidency and the Blair premiership. They are still defined by it. Could be the same for President Hollande arising from the terrorist attacks a few weeks ago.

We thought we were up against a tough enemy in the IRA. They twice tried to kill the Cabinet, and almost succeeded. They killed our soldiers. They killed innocent civilians in Northern Ireland and in a bombing campaign on the British mainland. But there were big differences. They usually gave warnings about attacks. They had fairly clear political demands. There was someone for government to talk to even when we said we wouldn’t. ISIS, or Boko Haram, others among the new terrorist organisations, are of a different order entirely. The BBC last week ran a remarkable film on the survivors of the Bataclan attack. What happened there was beyond anything the IRA would have done, in my view. So how do you deal with a bunch of psychopathic fascists using religion as the justification for their pscychopathic fascism ?

And mixed up in this the waves of emigration as people flee the consequences of war and instability, emigration which is going to be with us for years.

Oh – and despite it all we are living longer so that – prepare to hear a troubling fact – for the first time in Japan, where people have longer life expectancy than most, last year more nappies were sold for use by adults than for children. Add demographic change, and the implications for health, welfare, social care, infrastructure, family policy, to the bulging in-tray of A Grade Problems for our leaders today and in the years ahead.

Now I am talking here mainly about democracies. It is harder running a democracy than running a dictatorship or running a pseudo democracy like Russia. Let alone terror organisations.

I saw this a lot in the Blair years whenever we were engaged in military conflict. Kosovo. Afghanistan. Iraq. Now Syria. So during the Kosovo crisis the Milosevic news agency announce NATO have dropped napalm on a primary school. We know we haven’t and say so. The media story is not that we haven’t. It is that they say we have and we say we haven’t, a sense of moral equivalence between democracies where leaders are scrutinised and held to high standards, and non democracies where they control media and institutions, conceal, intimidate. ‘Nothing is true and anything is possible.’

Bin Laden in a cave puts out a video. Dominates the agenda for days. Imagine if a western leader said he would only communicate through video but you cannot know where he is. Or he puts violent murderous videos online and instead of being challenged has commentators saying how well he uses social media. So while ISIS et al exploit all this the comms of democratic leaders are micro analysed and subject to intense scrutiny 24/7.

This truly is a media and technological age. It took the telephone 75 years to reach 50 million users.

It took radio 38 years.

It took TV 13 years.

It took the web 4 years.

It took the angry birds space app 35 days.

YouTube has more video content uploaded every month than the three main American networks broadcast in their first 60 years of existence.

150m tweets were sent during the London 2012 Olympics. Four trillion messages on WhatsApp last year – around a thousand for every person on the planet.

Facebook with a population of over a billion. FC Barcelona with over 100 million followers between Facebook and Twitter with Real Madrid close behind at 99 million. Apple with a capital market valuation twice as big as the second biggest firm in the world.

Indian PM Narendra Modi in the Guinness book of records for speaking live ‘face to face’ to the biggest audience ever reached in a single day in a campaign – 1.5million – through lifelike holograms at simultaneous rallies around his vast country.

Now, a friend of mine works in film and showbiz PR. I had no idea until he told me that The Oscars were so, dare I say it, spin-driven. Campaigns with all the money and sophistication of elections or product launches. And because the media loves a bit of glamour, even in these days of negativity, they go along with it, because how else do they get the A listers on? So anyone who tells you spin is dead, take a trip to Hollywood.

But, there is something else at work here. Because my friend said that in the old days, a few years ago, a film with a big promotion budget, and a couple of mega-names doing the chat shows, would be guaranteed three big pay days, first Friday, first Saturday, first Sunday. But now … the film lives or dies on the first Friday, on the social media reaction as people leave the cinemas, get on their phones, and tell their friends.’

To me, the genius of Facebook is the concept of the friend. In an era where deference has gone, where trust in institutions has diminished, be that international bodies, governments and parties, banks and brands, the church, the media; where we cannot even trust the people who run our favourite sports, especially not football, and not even the great Michel Platini mesdames et messieurs, let alone the awful Sepp Blatter; people still need to have someone or something to trust. So who? For most, it is friends and family. Think how many conversations we have had throughout our lives, about films and books or places or restaurants we liked or disliked. But whereas once we might tell a handful of friends at a dinner party or the school gates, now we can tell hundreds, thousands, between us we tell millions.

Like Modi’s, the Obama’s campaigns, 2008 in particular, were brilliant in the use of social media. A lot of the focus related to fundraising. But for me the real success was the ability to take topline performance and message and develop around them an ever growing team of support, not just passive but active. So Obama does a speech. People ‘like’ it. Great. But even greater when they then get a contact from a human being who says ‘do you fancy getting involved? Would you consider hosting a meeting for your friends? Do you think they might donate? Here are some campaign materials that might help…’ This is using technological networks to build human networks which, if big enough and strong enough, can overcome a mainstream hegemony set by small numbers of media owners.

But the changing media landscape has changed the world for all of us, but perhaps especially leaders.

Listen to this quote, then guess who said it. A clue. He is French. ‘We have gone from a vertical society to a horizontal society where everybody has an opinion about every decision you make, everybody has an opinion on the internet straight away. Basically the respect for people who make decisions is gone because every decision is questioned. So one of the most important qualities of a good leader now is massive resistance to stress. Under stress you become smaller and smaller until you cannot give out a message any more and that, of course, is something that is vital. Many people underestimate this challenge.’ Pat yourself on the back if you said Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal.

Or hear this from Bill Clinton: ‘Too many decision makers define their reality according to that day’s media. It is almost always a mistake.’

Yet so many make that mistake.

So how to deal with this new landscape? First, you ignore the noise and focus on the two things you can actually control: what you do and what you say? Second, you understand that Strategy is God.

In so far as my book on Winners has a central theory, it is that winning organisations must have the holy trinity of strategy, leadership and teamship working in harmony. Teams without strategy fail. Teams without good leaders fail. Leaders without strategy fail. Leaders without teamship operating at every level of the organisation fail. You can see why I like sport.

It is hard. The desire may be to be strategic. But the pressures are to be tactical. That is the nature of the speed of events and the horizontal world.

President Hollande goes to a football match, thinks he might get a few hours off – then he is immediately plunged into leading a country through a sense of global shock and crisis. He did it well. But then his party got hammered in regional elections. His instant but also strategic problems became someone else’s tactical opportunity. That is the reality of modern democracy, and we cannot always control the events which define us, and the events unfold so much faster, and so much more horizontally, with so much more intense scrutiny, than they did when Churchill and de Gaulle were our dominant figures.

I like Hollande. I like his resilience and his empathy. But France is one tough country to govern. Election after election, people say they want change and then when they elect change they rebel.

I think the UK is in a way easier. I was amazed how much scope the public gave our first Tory-Lib Dem Coalition in 2010. They kind of said ‘ok, we didn’t give any of you a majority, just get on with it.’ Germany of course is more used to coalition government, and Merkel the master of it (or should that be mistress? – somehow the word doesn’t feel right for Merkel).

Merkel and David Cameron offer two very contrasting styles and approaches. Merkel takes her time, really focuses on detail, focuses on big things, puts steadfastness and seriousness above all. She is strategic to Cameron’s tactical, he is very engergetic, always on the move, always, every night, on the news, usually talking about something different to the day before, and with the same passion, so we end up not really knowing what drives him at all.

It is tactics not strategy that have driven us to the mess we are in on Europe, and in Scotland, where winning the referendum to keep Scotland in the UK has somehow fuelled demands for independence, not least because of Cameron’s highly tactical response to the outcome in the immediate aftermath.

A foreign leader I do some work with asked me: ‘how do I do the right thing but stay popular?’ My answer was that ‘you do the right thing. But you do it within a clear strategic framework, you engage the public in a much more sustained way, so that OVER TIME your messages get through, OVER TIME your changes are understood and they deliver, and OVER TIME people become much more reasonable in their analysis. What you do is more important than what you say, but what you say about what you do will help you if you are doing the right thing. Every time you do or you say, you land a dot.’

In Wenger’s horizontal world, leaders must not just devise a strategy but execute it and narrate it too.

Too many people are learning the wrong lessons about the media age. Responding with tactics when strategy is needed more than ever.

So will the UK hold together? Will France? Will Europe? I don’t know.

Can governments actually control the destiny of their own countries? Yes, but less than they could, and they don’t like to admit it.

Are global corporations a force for good or bad? Both.

Are we more or less safe? We have more security but it may not be the same thing.

Is the planet going to be around forever? I hope so but who knows?

All we can say for sure is that the world is being defined by the pace of change. Some of it we can influence. Some we can’t.

Scary times. No easy answers. But we all of us have a responsibility to think things through. To understand that a tweet or a like or signing a petition may make us feel better. It may make us think that we are getting involved in important debates. But it is not the same as getting involved.

As Churchill said ‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.’

So we should defend it and fight for it, but understand that it is under attack from all sorts of obvious and less obvious forces, not least, often, ourselves without realizing it.

I hope that has got you thinking as we head into what could be a very scary year indeed, one that is certainly replete with challenge, perhaps the biggest set of challenges a single era  has produced at the same time. Let’s hope we find the global leadership and the global teamship to meet them. Thank you for listening, happy new year, and I now look forward to your questions, en anglais ou en franca is, comme vous voulez.




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‘European history will see this as the age of Merkel’ Fri, 11 Dec 2015 09:26:00 +0000

Angela Merkel having – rightly in my view – been named Time Magazine ‘Person of the Year’, I thought I would post the mini-profile of the German Chancellor I wrote in WINNERS AND HOW THEY SUCCEED. This was written before Ukraine, the continuing fallout from the Greek/Eurozone financial calamity, and the migration crisis were all added to Merkel’s in-tray. But though these are all substantial problems, and though she will be facing difficulties on migration at her upcoming party conference, her handling of all three in my view adds to the positive analysis rather than detracts from it.

She certainly stands as something of a contrast to our own dear leader, still dithering on Heathrow, making a mess of his EU negotiations and presiding over what appears to be the not so slow death of the NHS and the welfare state.

Angela Merkel seems, in some ways, an unlikely leader of the EU’s most powerful nation-state. The German Chancellor places pragmatism ahead of grand gestures, and values political and administrative competence above bold statements about changing the world. She lacks Obama’s soaring rhetoric or Clinton’s charisma. She doesn’t enjoy – hates, even – big set-piece speeches. She does not inspire outbursts of hysterical enthusiasm. Nor, at the opposite end of the spectrum, does she provoke the sense of apprehension or fear that Putin can produce when he enters a room, with or without the dog to unleash the canine phobia Merkel developed as a child. In other words, she resembles a competent manager rather than a great leader. One wouldn’t speak of her in the same breath as, say, an Abraham Lincoln or a Nelson Mandela.

But she is a winner, with three federal election victories behind her. She is also rare in modern politics in being both successful and widely respected by public opinion and by her peers. And when many of her character traits are examined closely, they turn out not to be dull or ordinary but carefully considered and brilliantly used. Let’s start with the seemingly trivial. For women leaders – to the irritation of someone serious like her – there is a greater focus than with men on how they look, how they dress. Yet when was the last time you saw a feature on Merkel’s fashion choices? You don’t. You may be surprised to know that she travels with a stylist, a key member of her fairly small and extraordinarily tight-knit entourage. But it is more to avoid comment on how she looks than to inspire it. The stylist’s task is to make sure the Merkel look is unchanging, same hair, same make-up, same style; it is a deliberate tactic that speaks to her strategic seriousness. She has a wardrobe of different-coloured jackets and trousers of the same design. Her look reinforces her political and strategic message – steadfast, serious, constant. It is also very hard to imagine her stylist recom- mending – or Merkel ever agreeing to – the cosmetic surgery or Botox use that some male politicians have indulged in, especially in the US, though Putin seems to get younger with age too.

A scientist by training, Merkel is also a gifted linguist, speaking fluent Russian and excellent English. This too surprises people, as she usually speaks German in public, which means that most people in the world know her through an interpreter. That approach, though, has served her well on the world stage: it has proclaimed that what she does is more important than what she says or how she says it, but what she says about a topic is more important than what others say about it.

Merkel is conscious of her strengths, and of her limitations. She will watch Barack Obama give a speech and be as moved as the next spectator by the power of his voice and the beauty of his lyricism. She doesn’t waste time wondering whether she could develop such oratorical powers, because she knows she can’t. But she has been known to reflect that, though she cannot orate like Obama, she is pretty sure she could get more through a seemingly gridlocked political system than the US president has done. And when she feels the CIA overstep the mark in spying on her, she does not hesitate to expel their Berlin station head, forcing a bigger power to face up to principles she appears to believe in more strongly.

Merkel, then, gives the lie to the generally accepted assumption that great leaders have to be clearly extrovert or compellingly charismatic. This fits with Jim Collins’s view of leadership in business. In Great by Choice, the renowned author on management describes as ‘an entrenched myth’ the idea that successful leaders are always risk-seeking visionaries. ‘Actually the best leaders we studied did not have a visionary ability to predict the future. They observed what worked, figured out why it worked, and built upon proven foundations.’ You only need to see the way Merkel behaved during the eurozone crisis, putting the long term ahead of the short term, whatever the criticism and unpopularity this approach provoked, to appreciate the thoughtful concentration that goes into her decision- making. Here, even allies like David Cameron and Barack Obama were urging her to speed up, think bigger, be bolder – classic leadership responses. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would have done the same. But she would not be rushed; nor would she lose sight of her own, and Germany’s, character and strategic priorities. If the price was deep unpopularity in some of the poorer countries of Europe, not to mention headlines, even in serious UK publications, denouncing her as ‘a threat to the world’, she would rather have the short-term opprobrium than live with – or let others live with – the long-term consequences of failing to do what she considered to be the right thing. She gives the impression of someone who is not going to be rushed. Whereas in Britain a coalition government was formed in five frantic days after the 2010 election, after the German elections of 2013 Merkel took a calm and orderly two months to form her ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD. Coalition government is, of course, a way of life in modern Germany and not in the UK, but that considered approach is telling. In this ever more frenetic world she sees the role of leadership as calming things down, focusing on the big things, taking the time needed to see them through, and – this part is not to be underestimated – to get her way.

Historian turned Labour MP Tristram Hunt says: ‘There is little doubt that this period of European history will become known as the Age of Merkel. There is a dignity to her. She regards the role as significant and gives it stature; she is capable of ruthless political management to public finances and strategy but she is also there at the World Cup Final and she knows how to mix it, the dignity and the person. There is nobody else quite like her. She has elevated herself beyond others. That is quite an achievement, as is her power, considering she actually runs a coalition government.’

There have, of course, been plenty of leaders from the charisma/ visionary camp who have won, from Gandhi to Clinton, but the fact that an Angela Merkel can be so successful – or for that matter, a geeky Bill Gates or a chilled Joachim Löw – shows that something else is at work in a successful leader that is more profound. Yes, they may well have that indefinable air of authority, or immense private charm, or even a slightly controlling manner that compels attention, but that’s not what sets them apart. What makes them remarkable is that they possess the ability to focus ferociously on the things that matter. Or as the American economist J. K. Galbraith put it: ‘All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.’

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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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