Alastair Campbell Wed, 20 Apr 2016 20:58:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Foreigners may not have a vote, but they can have a big say in EU referendum Wed, 20 Apr 2016 20:58:22 +0000 I am in Dublin today, speaking about Brexit to a conference of Ibec, the Irish equivalent of the CBI. Here is the text. 

There are three things I hope to do today. Tell you what I think is happening in the Brexit debate. Explain why I am so keen for REMAIN to win. And also, suggest how you, the Irish, can be a big part of the fight.

The title of your conference is Bold Ambitions. Do you remember Yes, Prime Minister? Of course you do. The hapless minister having rings run round him by the wily civil servant Sir Humphrey who would use the word ‘bold … such a bold idea Prime Minister’ to indicate his total disdain for something. Bold to him meant utterly devoid of any merit whatever.

Now, bold is actually a good thing, a good word, and some of the best advances ever made have come from bold ambitions. Like universal suffrage. Racial equality. Education for all. The NHS. Bringing peace to Northern Ireland. Or – here’s a good one – the countries of Europe defined historically by war coming together in a union of peace and prosperity.

But bold of the Sir Humphrey variety is exactly what I would call the plans – if we can call them that – of the mix of oddballs such as Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, George Galloway and the National Union of right wing tax-dodging media barons leading the LEAVE campaign.

People love to say politicians are all the same, it makes no difference who is in power. Nonsense. Who your MP or TD is matters. Who your or our PM is matters even more. But I would say this referendum matters the equivalent of several general elections. The historic significance, if we leave, is greater than any of the elections I was involved in. The consequences – for jobs, living standards, culture, national security and our standing in the world – are greater. This referendum is not about David Cameron’s future, it is about Britain’s future. It has an impact upon many other countries and peoples too, not least yours. A PwC study estimated total UK GDP could fall between 3 and 5.5percent under alternative trade models, which could equate to an estimated reduction in Ireland’s GDP of between 0.9 and 1.6percent in the medium term. Not to be sniffed at. Not to be so airily dismissed by the other side.

So, to the question you keep asking me – who is going to win? Remain or Leave? In or Out? The honest answer is I don’t know. If I had to put my life on it, right here, right now, I would say IN. But just as the Scottish independence vote was an emotional rollercoaster, so will this be.

I also believe there are a greater proportion of undecideds in this debate. In any campaign with a binary question, essentially you have three groups of people. People like me – frankly David Cameron could have come back from his negotiations with a LIDL plastic bag and I would still vote IN. You have people like Farage for whom, whatever Cameron secured, he would have said it was not enough and we must vote to leave. Then you have the people who are going to decide this … the undecided.

It was fantastic in Scotland to be walking down the street, heading to the Better Together office, hearing schoolkids arguing not about Instagram or Justin Bieber, but welfare reform and Trident.

The EU debate right now has neither that richness nor the informed opinion. The thing you hear time and again is that people feel confused, they don’t really understand either what is at stake or what the issues are. It is hard to know who to believe, they say. One man’s fact is another man’s scaremongering.

Here we have to take a look at what I occasionally refer to as Britain’s wretched media. Newspapers which have variously reported in the past that ‘Brussels’ is intending to ban kilts, curries, Caerphilly cheese, mushy peas, paper rounds, charity shops, bulldogs, the British Army, the passport crest, lollipop ladies, lorry drivers who wear glasses; which say Britain is going to unite as a single country with France, Church schools must hire atheist teachers, Scotch whisky is being classified as an inflammable liquid, new laws are being proposed on how to climb a ladder, it will be a criminal offence to criticise Brussels, Number 10 must fly the European flag, and – did you know this one? – Europe is insisting on one size fits all condoms. This from papers which dare to claim Europe is brainwashing our children with pro-European propaganda, and go potty when the government sends out a leaflet setting out a few facts.

Alongside the inventions, there is also lying by omission and distortion. On the economy, you have not just the Treasury this week but the OECD, the IMF, the World Bank, your sister organization the CBI, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Bank of England, Deutsche Bank, Shell, BMW, Rolls Royce, Morgan Stanley, Vauxhall, UBS, Centrica, and many many more setting out serious arguments against Brexit. All dismissed as poodles of ‘Project Fear.’ Had any one of them come out for LEAVE then how many front pages would have been cleared to tell us?

This week, we hear, Barack Obama will suggest it might be a good idea if we stay. Hypocrite, says Boris Johnson. Well, at least he has some understanding of that subject if not, given his contortions about this great Canada style trade deal we could do, about economics. Ah, but fear not, Obama may say IN, but Ian Botham says OUT. And on the economy, we should apparently heed, not all those organisations, but some bloke most of us had never heard of; John Longworth, from the British Chamber of Commerce, makes a few sceptic noises and is given instant hero status by the Brexit Lie Machine. Anyone who takes another view is an idiot, and anyone from the government who objects to what he said guilty of smears and dirty tricks.

When Mark Carney, a somewhat more significant figure in the UK economy than Mr Longworth, made a few blindingly obvious statements about the inevitable uncertainty Brexit would cause, he too was denounced as being part of Project Fear. As for The Queen … she was apparently calling for Brexit before the word even existed. Project Fantasy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is another whose views have been put through the Lie Machine mangler. He said two things, both right – the LEAVE side need to do more to explain what would happen if they won; and it is not racist to be concerned about immigration. The mangling machine largely ignored Point 1. Point 2 was spun to suggest that God was basically a fully fledged OUTer who takes his spiritual guidance from Farage and Galloway. Now with God and the Queen against you, this is a tough campaign.

I fear that Ibec are in the Project Fear naughty corner too. ‘Ibec strongly supports continued British membership of a strong, forward-looking and globally competitive EU.’ How dare you? And worse, you have published a rather good paper on the subject, with facts and reasonable arguments, and you have set out a compelling case against Brexit in those areas where you have genuine fears; the undermining of the all-island economy; trade disruption caused by years of uncertainty as the UK negotiates a new agreement with the EU, involving higher costs for business, new customs procedures, new regulation; sterling devaluation; investment uncertainty. I do hope you have sent a copy to Johnson and Farage so they can add it to their Project Fear bonfire.

There is something comical about the way the LEAVE campaign and their media cheerleaders rage constantly about Project Fear to rebut anything that dares to suggest there might be a single reason to want to stay inside a Union that has helped deliver peace, prosperity and power to our country over most of my adult lifetime. Because as I indicated earlier, their whole coverage, for years, has been based on scare stories, many with a Boris Johnson byline. Indeed, given the scale of the bias over the years, it is a miracle there is a single Mail or Sun, Star or Express reader left who is anything other than a fully fledged OUTer.

And in that reality lies a huge opportunity for the IN side. Because though people hear the noise of our newspapers, they know they cannot be trusted as once perhaps they were. If that is the good news, the bad news is that politicians are not trusted as they used to be either. It is not a happy scene for a healthy, informed debate.

Now, I wrote in the FT at the weekend that we are in the era of disbelief, where people of strong opinions tend to believe the things that fit the view they already hold, and dismiss everything else. The social media echo chamber has exacerbated this.

The danger for the Remain campaign is that the Leave true believers and their alliance of newspaper supporters manage through mood and momentum to persuade the undecideds to come their way. Or that they manage to sew so much confusion and cynicism that they depress the vote, as people say ‘I can’t decide’ or ‘I can’t be bothered.’

So the REMAIN side must always be putting the positive case for UK membership of the EU, for what it has given us in the past, and for what it can help us do in the future. But no matter how loudly the LEAVE campaign shout ‘Project Fear,’ we must not stop warning of the dangers of exit. They bleat in the hope that we do stop warning. But there is a lot to be scared about if we sleepwalk out of Europe.

Most importantly – and here is where you can help – we have to flip this issue of disbelief, turn it on its head, understand what it means for modern campaigning. If we don’t believe politicians, media or all the established economic authorities in the world, who the hell do we believe? For the answer, we need to understand the genius of Facebook – it is the simple concept of the friend. We believe each other, we believe our friends. If Mail or Sun readers believed those papers and all their lies and exaggerations, the polls would show them 100 percent for Out. They don’t. If a supporter of the Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, Green or Scottish Nationalist parties followed their leaders there would be a landslide for IN. That isn’t going to happen either.

I come here regularly. I like coming here. I have friends here. I enjoy the political debate here. The Northern Ireland peace process part of my time with Tony Blair was one of the things I look back on with warmest memories and also look forward with a real care, that we can stay on the path that was set.

And all of you, I am sure, have friends in the UK. There are 660,000 Southern Irish-born people living in Britain who will be entitled to vote, plus 1.5million who have varying degrees of Irishness in their identity. So to Irish friends who have been telling me of your concerns and saying how impotent you feel in not having a say, I say that you can have a say, and you must. You all have friends and connections. Many of you, probably all of you, know, are related to, some of those 660,000, some of those 1.5million people. I would urge you systematically to contact all your UK business colleagues, all your friends, all your relatives, and tell them why it matters and why – if this is your view – you want them to vote to REMAIN. Why you think it matters to them in the UK, and why it matters to you here in Ireland.

Obama and other high profile global figures can make a difference in terms of the general mood and message, whatever the Brexit Lie Machine may do to destroy or distort. But you can make a difference in the campaigning that really matters in the modern age, person to person, friend to friend. One of the late mood and momentum moments that halted the tide towards Scottish independence was a series of ‘please don’t go’ events outside Scotland. People who didn’t have a vote did have an influence.

Political leaders are going to command the air waves. But we are all opinion formers now, not just the politicians and commentariat. The real battle is going to be fought in millions of British homes and workplaces as people turn to friends and family and people we trust and respect, work with and for. And that includes people who do not have a vote, like you. Join the team. Get on the blower. Get on the social media networks. Get involved. Text and phone and email the people on whose business your business depends. Make them think.

I have set myself the not very bold target of persuading one undecided voter, face to face, to commit to REMAIN every day between now and June 23, and since I began I have beaten my target every day. It is a mindset that once you get into it, you find is good fun. Get into it. One a day. Minimum. Each of you. Get one Irish voter in the UK to shift from unsure to IN and you’ll be helping our country avoid a catastrophic mistake; get one UK business to urge its staff to vote IN, and you’ll be helping your country avoid the inevitable damaging consequences here too.

If we come out, on June 24 we will be waking up to confront a change way bigger than anything a change of government would represent. Yet where is the manifesto for what happens if OUT wins? Where are the detailed plans that public and media would expect from any party seeking to make a fundamental change to the way our country is run? They are not there. That is why it is such a leap in the dark.

Just one question that may be of concern to you: What will happen at the border with the North? What will happen to trade and security and energy arrangements with you as an EU member and your closest neighbour as a non EU member? As the Ibec report puts it, ‘if the UK vote to leave, then regardless of the type of new arrangement it reaches with the EU, Customs and other procedures are likely to become more onerous for exporters to UK. This could be particularly challenging for Ireland given our close trading linkages and we are also the only member state that shares a land border with the UK.’ I wonder if Bojo and Co have even thought about it.

This too from the Ibec report on Brexit – ‘Ireland and Northern Ireland’s relationship has been largely stable since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The peace process is now viewed internationally as one of the most successful peace agreements in history between two border countries. If the UK votes to leave the EU, this could potentially have consequences for the Northern Ireland peace process that has recently come under strain and may have a destabilising effect on the region. Northern Ireland also receives significant funding from the EU under a special PEACE programme. If the UK votes to leave the EU, this would undoubtedly be affected.’

And this … ‘The all-island electricity market is particularly important for Northern Ireland as it relies on electricity imports from Ireland to make up for insufficient local generation capacity.’

Have you heard a word on any of this from LEAVE? Nor have I. No doubt everything will continue as now, no difficulties whatever, like their fantasy that we can vote to come out and yet stay part of the single market.

It is nonsense. A market of 500 million people.
Producing and selling one third of the world’s goods and services.
Where British businesses do at least 50 per cent of their trade.
And we would be out of the decision-making process determining the rules. Can anyone tell me why, if we are out, other European countries will allow Britain to operate like some offshore centre, free from Europe’s responsibilities but participating fully in its opportunities. Even Norway doesn’t get that deal, and with their Sovereign Wealth Fund, they can call a lot of shots.

Firms come to Britain because we offer a gateway to high-income consumers who want high-value goods.
Because of the single market. If you really drill down on all the expert economic opinion, it is saying investors will pull out, firms relocate, jobs disappear – because we choose to leave this remarkable free trade area, and deliberately opt for a more restrictive trade relations with the world. So PWC has estimated almost 1m jobs will be lost if we come out of the single market. Every serious organization issues serious warnings and these are waved away as nonsense by Johnson and Farage. They’ll work it out. Those two. There’s one to tell your UK friends and relatives. That could be your government not long after June 23, those clowns.

No serious overseas player thinks we should leave, unless it suits their agenda. Putin probably. ISIS definitely. And, depending what mood he is in, Donald Trump. That’s about it on the international scene.

I do remain confident, and there are the beginnings of an amazing debate. It is going to get like it was in Scotland, even more so once the May 5 elections are out of the way.

The day the FT piece appeared I was on a train to a Burnley game and a load of Millwall fans came into my carriage. You may be aware Millwall fans have something of a reputation. But we not only had a very good laugh, but also an interesting discussion about the referendum.

You can read about my encounter with these Millwall fans, one nicknamed the Molekiller, another, I kid you not, Paddy the Arab, on my blog. The general mood, and I keep coming across it, was one of confusion. Our discussion started because Paddy the Arab – real name Samier by the way – asked me straight out ‘In or Out?’ IN, I said. And when he said he just didn’t feel he had the information, or understood the issues, luckily I had in my back pocket the government leaflet that has gone to every home, which had arrived at my home on Friday morning, and here was my first attempt to use it. He read it cover to cover and that, with a bit of discussion, and he was over the line. Even better the next day he tweeted that he had persuaded some of his mates over the line too.

Paddy the Arab, who is half Irish, half Egyptian, agreed to become the REMAIN Ambasador to supporters of Millwall FC. Like God and the Queen, Millwall fans are people you would rather have on your side in any big fight. I will be sending him the Ibec brochure to work on his fellow half Irishmen and women. And I hope you are sending it far and wide too.

What that train ride told me is that this debate is really going live right now. Politicians and media think they control the debate. I’m not so sure.

So I now urge all Brits I meet who want us to stay in to keep the leaflets and the arguments in their pockets, purses and handbags, and when they hear someone say ‘I don’t have the information,’ whip it out and get them to read it.

And I urge you the Irish with a legitimate interest in the outcome, and genuine concerns as I have been hearing in recent days, to get stuck in. Yes, only the British people will decide. But you can be influencers, and you must be. It is a legitimate and necessary thing to do. Please do it. My country needs you. And I think most of you agree that Europe needs Britain too. As the Ibec report on Brexit says ‘Ibec strongly believes UK membership of the EU is good for European, British, and Irish business.’ Ibec is absolutely right. Thank you.

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A train ride with Millwall fans – and the hope it gave me for the EU debate Sun, 17 Apr 2016 08:48:05 +0000 The usual reaction of most people, when a boisterous group of beer-laden Millwall fans get on board your mid-morning train carriage, is to do as I did yesterday – sink a little lower into your seat, and stare even more intently into your iphone.

This does not always work, however, if you have a face and a name that is known to people you don’t know at all. It was one of the older members of the group, who I later discovered was nicknamed the Molekiller, who first spotted me, and shouted out ‘Al-as-tair-Camp-bell’ – just in case anyone in the carriage hadn’t already spotted me. He and his friends then decided it would be worth joining me in a ten pound first class upgrade to have a bit of ‘banter’, as they headed off for their game at Coventry on the same train that was taking me to Burnley’s game at Birmingham.

Now even putting to one side Millwall fans’ reputation in the hooliganism stakes, I felt particularly on the at risk register as a few years ago I wrote a piece in The Times about racist abuse received by one of Burnley’s old players, Mo Camara, and the next time I went to The New Den got a lot of abuse myself and a bit of jostling for my troubles.

But an hour and a half later, as they got off to be met by an army of police waiting at Coventry station, underlining the point they had made about them being over-policed because of past reputation not current behaviour, we had not only had a very good laugh, but an interesting discussion about the EU referendum. They were well informed about all sorts of things. When the Molekiller offered me a beer, for example, the others hushed him, said ‘he’s had issues, where have you been?’ to which his response was ‘it’s not alcohol, it’s only Foster’s.’

Now fair to say none of them had read the piece I wrote in yesterday’s FT on the importance of face to face campaigning by all of us in the EU referendum, and of not leaving it all to politicians and media (though the one called Paddy the Arab said he would buy the paper as soon as he got off the train.) But the discussion did rather encourage me in thinking my assessment had some merit, and that Remain need to adapt their campaign tactics accordingly.

These guys rarely read newspapers, and when they did, they didn’t believe them. They thought Boris Johnson was a chancer and had come out for Leave for his own ambitions not Britain’s. One said he was ‘terrified’ of Donald Trump becoming US President. They didn’t (with one very enthusiastic exception) think much of Jeremy Corbyn, but they did want to hear what he thought, and were aware of the speech he had made last week. They didn’t like David Cameron much and they felt he was being too negative in his campaigning. They thought the immigration issue was more complicated than people realised, said it was less of an issue in London, but, as one put it well I thought ‘where it is a problem is in all these little towns we are going through that nobody has heard of.’

But the general mood, one I keep coming across, was one of confusion. They all wanted someone, anyone, they trusted to set out both sides of the arguments in a fair and neutral way, but they accepted that was unlikely to come from politicians who had already decided, or newspapers with a vested interest. They were frustrated at the ‘on the one hand, on the other, this side says this, the other side says that’ coverage on the TV.

Now as it happens, having said in the FT I would try to persuade at least one undecided voter to come over to IN every day between now and June 23, I had in my back pocket the government leaflet that has gone to every home, which had arrived at my home on Friday morning, and here was my first attempt to use it. My Millwall fellow travellers were aware of the row over the government funding of it, but fairly unmoved by the fuss, and broadly accepted the government had to make its case, and that was not easy when newspapers were putting out millions of pounds worth of propaganda the other way.

But two of them read through. Both said it had given them a lot to think about, and definitely made them more positive. I had the same reaction from an undecided Burnley fan on the train back to London later.

If you go down four or five tweets in this link, you will see some of my new Millwall friends, Left to Right Paddy the Arab (he started unsure but ended as IN, and agreed to become my ‘REMAIN Ambassador to Millwall fans’ ), the Molekiller, still unsure but making good IN noises, and then behind me a guy whose name I didn’t get, and to my left a man who works in something to do with asbestos,  was a big critic of neoliberalism, and scribbled the title of a book he wanted me to read by Michael Collins (not the Irish one) on the subject on the back of my ticket, and to his left the guy who likes Jeremy Corbyn and says it is not only because he has a beard.

Now maybe this was an unusual group of Millwall fans, though the language, the banter, the football chat, the annoyance with cops and stewards, all suggested not. Also there was another group at the next table and at one point I heard them having quite a heated argument about welfare reform and the economy.

But what it said to me was that this debate is really going live right now, and as I said in the FT, where it is going to matter is in the discussions between friends, families and workmates. And for all the criticism the £9m plus leaflet production attracted, it is a very effective piece of communication, and I urge the government to make sure there are plenty more to go around, and I urge all who want us to stay in to keep it in their pockets, purses and handbags, and when you hear someone say ‘I don’t have the information,’ whip it out and get them to read it.

I have also learned that such is the nature of the debate right now that it is perfectly OK to go up to complete strangers and say ‘In or Out?’ I recommend this too, especially if you have your leaflet and any other good arguments with you.

P.s. For the sake of completeness I should say that the train guard, Vishal, is definitely voting OUT, and so is the Spurs fan who was going to see his brother, and was complaining that first class was less comfortable than standard class.

Anyway I promised Paddy the Arab I would say something positive about Millwall fans, so I have kept my side of the bargain. Meanwhile Paddy (real name Samier), you get out there with your leaflet and your FT and convert a few of them Bushwackers.

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The joy that wildlife can bring Mon, 11 Apr 2016 06:16:12 +0000 Here is a piece I have done for this week’s Radio Times, about tonight’s In The Wild documentary on BBC 2 (630pm) in which expert Gordon Buchanan takes me on a tour of the Hebrides. I hope if you see it you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it.

‘Do what you love and love what you do, and everything else is detail.’ So said tennis legend Martina Navratilova, one of the WINNERS in my book of that name. Navratilova is among the lucky ones. As an elderly woman said to me at the Cheltenham book festival ‘I didn’t feel that many of your winners are very happy.’ It took me aback, reduced me to replying ‘this book is not about happiness; it’s about winning. They are not the same thing.’

Looking at my own career through the Navratilova prism, I do not score high. I thought I loved being a journalist. But if so, how come it led to an alcohol and stress induced breakdown that I feared had ended my career before I hit 30? As for my second career with Tony Blair, I am happy that I did the job. But was I happy when doing it? My depression-laden diaries would suggest the answer is, often, No.

Today, in a third career mixing consultancy, campaigns, writing, speaking, charity and sport, I cannot claim to be doing what I love, because what I do is too varied. Some days, I fear I am wasting my life, and should be back doing something full on, full time, in politics. Other days I feel enthused, motivated, making a difference, happy. It helps that the main relationships in my life, after ups and downs galore, are in good shape. It helps too that I earn more money for doing less, (someone once called the public speaking market ‘white collar crime’) which gives me more time to do things that feel like they matter (mental health campaigning is probably the thing I enjoy most, though I couldn’t do it all the time).


So where does the happiness come from in this mix? It comes from freedom. I feel free to make the choices I want to make, and that is a rare privilege. So when wildlife film-maker Gordon Buchanan asks me if I would like to explore wildlife in the Hebrides where my father was born and raised, I am able to say yes, and drop or postpone other pressures on time that may be in the diary.

Now Gordon truly is, so it seems to me, someone doing what he loves, loving what he does, and knows the detail inside out. I could look for wildlife on my own, but having an expert with me, one driven by such passion for his subject, meant I was more likely to see the creatures we were looking for. Otters, eagles, puffins, seals, and, as our boat headed for home at sunset, and we discussed how losing yourself in nature can help deal with anxiety and depression and the stresses of life, an unexpected shoal of dolphins; they put on a display of such beauty I would put it up there with having children, winning elections or playing football with Diego Maradona amid my all time lifetime highlights.


My freedom gave me the chance to see these creatures in the wild; their freedom made them the deliverer of the joy that I felt. To protect our freedom and potential happiness, we should think more about theirs, and try to give every man, woman and especially child the chance to enjoy getting close to them. Watching a sea eagle swoop to take a fish thrown from the back of our boat, I felt almost as free as she did. We helped her feed her nesting young. She helped us nourish our souls. That is a very good deal, and I think we get the better of it.



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My GQ interview with Sadiq Khan- the edited-(out) highlights! Mon, 04 Apr 2016 19:03:32 +0000 Mmm, I appear to be sharing the cover of next month’s GQ magazine with Charlize Theron, as you’ll see if you scroll down this this link. Whether the interview with her, or the interview with Sadiq Khan by me, attracts more readers to the news-stands, I couldn’t begin to imagine. But if you scroll down to the bottom of her legs (well, actually to the top of her legs, but you’ll see what I mean,) you’ll see the tagline … ‘Alastair Campbell interviews the next Mayor of London.)

Now, as it happens, I hope they are right. I will certainly be voting for him, and frankly think we have had enough Old Etonians in top political jobs for a while, thank you very much. The departing Etonian, Boris Johnson, has been a very good Mayor for one thing and one thing only – for Boris Johnson. He has been totally useless for London. Most of the good things he takes credit for were actually brought in by Ken Livingstone. But the one thing any campaigner knows is that you take nothing for granted, so Sadiq will know he has to fight every minute of every day to make sure he does everything possible to win as much support as he can.

If you have ever read my GQ interviews, you will know they are run as straight-forward Q and A, over several pages. I like to get at least an hour with the interviewee, because sometimes you need to run over a bit to get enough to fill the five or six pages allocated to them.

Sadiq is a fast talker and when I transcribed our conversation, I realised I was well over the kind of wordage the magazine would be able to run. For the highlights, you’ll have to go out and buy the mag. But by kind permission of the GQ editor, here are some of the off-cuts. Starting with Heathrow. As a lifelong asthmatic, I was interested in his answer here. What he had to say on Birmingham was interesting too.

AC: Why did you change your mind on Heathrow?

SK: I’ve accepted there is a case for more capacity, unlike my opponent. But last year almost ten thousand Londoners died because of poor air quality, kids are growing up with under developed lungs, the Supreme Court says we are in breach of air pollution rules. At 45, I have just been diagnosed with adult onset asthma. The idea of another runway at Heathrow is a joke. It will take decades to get legal obstacles out of the way, it certainly won’t help pollution. Gatwick is the solution. You get the jobs, you get the capacity, you get the growth …

AC: And the local residents don’t have a vote in the Mayoral election.

SK: It’s not that. It’s the practicality, and the pollution. A better Gatwick also means more competition for Heathrow who can hopefully raise their game.

AC: Why not take it right out of London, to the Midlands?

SK: I would revisit London City airport and yes, better regional airports. If HS2 was linking Birmingham to London, there could be a new runway there, that is what Birmingham MPs argue for. That is an argument against Heathrow.

AC: Where are you on HS2?

SK: Great idea. We need to do infrastructure better. It costs so much more here. Since Crossrail, Paris has done five [equivalents]. One worry I have is that Euston doesn’t work as a station for HS2 because there are no links with Crossrail and other systems. So yes to HS2, no to current plans for Euston.

 – In the section on Jeremy Corbyn, on which GQ runs a fair chunk, this exchange was cut.

AC: Are you finding people less willing to come out and campaign though, in case it helps him if you win?

SK: On the contrary. I am getting lots of help. Hilary Benn the other day, peers coming to the phone bank yesterday, Margaret Hodge and Oona King backing me then on the other wing if you like, Ken Livingstone. I have Tories, Lib Dems, Greens, Kippers, all coming over. Sure, I could win on a core vote strategy, we have 45 out of 72 MPs in London, that is not the Mayor I want to be. I want to be Mayor for all Londoners.

-In the section on housing, this.

AC: But do you have power there, or only influence?

SK: The Plan for London gives me that power. I am also going to set up a London wide not for profit letting agent to stop some of the worst rip offs, provide cheaper alternatives. We need a Mayor who understands the powers and how to use them. Now, the London Plan is the Bible

AC: Not the Koran?

SK: … I do do God, Alastair, but if I said Koran not Bible I might provoke another “radical and divisive” Zac leaflet. So the London Plan is the Bible and (this next bit is part of the published interview …the next things the Mayor and local authorities should have are skills, further education, planning of education places, commuter trains to London, more powers on housing, the ability to borrow to build, issue bonds.)

AC: Why has London not really been part of the debate about next steps for devolution?

SK: Because nobody is batting for London. Boris is disinterested. All he wanted was to prove he could be a winner. There is one school of thought that says Mayors should cut ribbons, be funny and be a buffoon. The other school of thought is that we can do more. Scotland is getting more powers. Wales is getting more powers. Greater Manchester. London needs more powers.

AC: Like?

SK: Like powers on skills. [New York Mayor] Bill de Blasio realized New York was a world leader on tech. He set up a tech talent pipeline, to train up New Yorkers for the skills of tomorrow. I want to do it for London, for tech, fashion, the creative industries, say to business, come to Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Harrow, Croyon, speak to our young people, inspire them, help me train them up.

– He said he was loving the campaign, and added this.

The only thing I would love more is being Mayor because I can do stuff, fix the housing crisis, get employers to skill up, pay a living wage, freeze fares for four years, sort transport. If the Mayor says to top companies to come together to discuss skills, they’ll come. I can persuade people.

-He was keen to emphasise his pro-business credentials.

Most employers I speak to, they want to create jobs and give decent salaries. Some small and medium companies say to me they cannot afford to pay the living wage. I say “what about if I gave you a business rate cut?” and they say, yes, ok. We want companies which are skilled up, generating more profit, more corporation tax – we should not be embarrassed at success, as long as they pay their taxes. London has always been open to trade, people, ideas. We have to keep that. I want to compete not just with New York, Paris, Berlin … the ten fastest growing cities in the world are in China. How do we compete with them? We have to attract investment and we have to compete on skills.

AC: Do you not feel that London is becoming almost like a separate country from the rest of the UK?

SK: London had always been different. There is the old saying that Britain is ten years behind America, and the country as a whole is ten years behind London. If you have a Mayor of London working for jobs and growth and strong businesses, that is going to create opportunities for businesses and people in Burnley or Hull and places all over the UK.

-Keen too to stress support for the arts.

SK: We cannot compete with China or Taiwan on price; we compete on skills, on arts and culture. On arts this is the world’s leader. Adele. James Bond. JK Rowling. Royal Opera House. Barbican. O2. Four out of five people who come here say they come for our cultural arts.

AC: How are you going to get more kids from poorer backgrounds into that?

SK: You know the European city of culture? London will have a borough of culture. Could be Redbridge, Havering, Croydon. The Royal Opera House will go to them. Imagine great art and sculpture in squares in Brixton or Tooting. Then we get the kids into the theatres and the concerts. In Newham, already, every child gets to play an instrument. Let’s spread that. London has lost thirty percent of live music venues since 2007. Never mind mourning David Bowie, some of the halls he first played in have closed down. Developers put up buildings, then complain about the noise and the venues can’t afford soundproofing. I say flip it around so the developers have to do the soundproofing on the new developments. The Mayor has the power to do that.

-We talked a fair bit about homelessness and mental health.

SK: I was out with St Mungo’s Broadway and Crisis at Christmas and what is needed is faster intervention. A simple thing like duty solicitors at court when people are being made homeless. Making sure local authorities are better connected with data, so that when someone from one area is homeless in another one, nobody is able to say “nothing to do with us.” More alcohol dependency centres. Fewer silos. More joined up interventions – the Mayor can do that, bring together housing, education, children’s centres, prisons. St Mungo’s do this great thing – and fair dues, Boris played a part in this – “no second night out.” If you are out for the second night, they find emergency digs. But then the problem is lack of continuity of care. Hardly surprising when local authorities have lost 60percent of funding. But you cannot live in the best city in the world and have people living on the streets.

-And a fair bit about his and other people’s sense of identity.

SK: Or think back to the Olympics, I was at home with twelve people, there were 80,000 in the stadium, tens of millions watching TV, cheering on an African, an asylum seeker, a Muslim, a black guy, a refugee, Mo, Mohammed, Farah. That was the best ever. And the Mo Farah story is this: he goes to his local state school, a PE teacher spots his talent, he goes to the track, he starts to get noticed, then Paula Radcliffe pays for his driving lessons so he can pass his test to drive elsewhere to train and compete and and fulfil his potential. He got a helping hand. Too many in London today, who could make it in sport, arts, media, the law, they are missing out, can’t get decent homes, not enough apprenticeships, not enough access to the best unis and colleges.

-Insights on TB-GB, and Ed Miliband.

AC: Why are we so low on talent in politics?

SK: There are talented people. It’s all relative. Part of it is that a generation of Labour politicians became MPs in the time of a Labour government. The ability to be themselves and develop was inhibited by control freakery at the centre …

AC: We call it “necessary discipline.”

SK: I am not criticizing you. It was necessary. We won elections, did amazing things. But all that Blair-Brown camp stuff, or express an opinion and it makes you a rebel… The generation elected in Opposition spent a lot of time thinking, planning. Tony and Gordon went off to America to look for ideas. But was there enough succession planning? Did the generation elected when we were in government think ahead enough? No, so 2010 and 2015 were not so exciting.

AC: You ran Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign. Do you still think he was the right guy?

SK: Yes. He won fair and square in 2010.

AC: But the public never saw him as a PM. That was a real problem.

SK: Hindsight tells us that.

AC: You don’t think it was clear at the time?

SK: It was far better for him to have stood, rather than have a re-run of 1994 and all it led to, the TBGBs.

AC: But we did win three elections despite it all.

SK: Ok. But if Ed thought he should be leader, then he was right to go for it. Don’t keep your hands in your pockets, go for it. There are lots of things to say in hindsight, because we lost the election.

 -We discussed compromise, his various positions, and I suggested it was all a bit too neat.

AC: Yeah, but is that compromise? It all fits the strategy. Pro-business because Corbyn is seen as anti. Positive message on immigration because the backstory fits. It is all very nicely packaged.

SK: Thank you! (laughs) I am not sure I am that clever. I have to be myself.

-On the police, he says there is lingering racism, but …

My kids would approach the police in a way that I would never have done when I was younger. But also remember a lot of the cases I did, which I won and became a successful lawyer, were police misconduct cases, wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution, or helping black police officers subject to racism.

-He wasn’t going to fall into a Royal trap.

AC: Are you a Monarchist?

 SK: I like the Queen.

 AC: I didn’t ask that. I asked if you are a Monarchist.

 SK: I could paraphrase the Churchill quote about democracy being the worst system apart from all the others …

 AC: The Monarchy is not democratic.

 SK: She is doing a good job. If it ain’t broke …

– Emphatic about this next one.

AC: Could you be PM? If this goes well, and you serve two terms, you could be well placed to be leader.

 SK: No. I am not interested. I want to be Mayor of London.

-We both did some decent name-dropping in this final edited-out highlight.

AC: This is GQ, and you once said you were cool. Define cool.

 SK: My kids said I was cool. I was GQ Man of the Month once, photographed by David Bailey.

 AC: He’s done me three times, that’s nothing. Define cool.

 SK: Somebody who doesn’t embarrass his children too much. Who is just at ease at a Kooks concert or taking his kids to see the Nutcracker. Oh, and John Boyega knows who I am.

 AC: Who’s he?

 SK: Who is John Boyega? Finn in Star Wars.

 AC: I’m not interested in Star Wars.

 SK: Well, I am and he knew who I was.

 AC: It’s hardly on a par with playing football with Maradona.

 SK: I played in a match against you. You were good, but very dirty.

— GQ, coming soon to a news-stand near you. Vote Sadiq. Vote Remain. And wish Burnley luck against Cardiff tonight.





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It is not unPC to worry that ISIS and Putin are more strategic than our leaders engaged in battle with them Fri, 25 Mar 2016 07:24:20 +0000  

Last week I was in Germany, speaking to a business team whose leader had read WINNERS and wanted me to talk about it to his colleagues, with a particular focus on OST.

As those who have read the book will know, as does anyone who has ever worked with me, OST means O for Objective, S for Strategy and T for Tactics. It is my simple but strongly held view that applying OST – in that order – to any endeavour is a good way of going about your business. Work out the Objective, then the Strategy, only then go Tactical.

Since the book, focused on winners in politics, business and sport, came out in hardback, I have had plenty of approaches like the one above. Interestingly, the biggest number has come from sport. Not far behind them comes business. There has been less of an interest from politicians, perhaps because there are fewer of them than sports and business people or organisations; or perhaps because too many governments, parties and politicians are trapped in old ways of doing things, whereas good leaders in sport and business are always looking for new ideas, new people, new ways of thinking.

It has been interesting to me that sport and business seem keen to learn from politics (good and bad) whereas politics seems less inclined to explore the sporting and business themes from which I learned so much. Yet of those three realms of life, which is doing best right now? Not politics.

On the sporting side I have done sessions in recent months for several top football clubs and sporting bodies including the FA, the SFA and UK Sport, and am particularly pleased that since I did a session with the Warrington Wolves rugby league squad, they have not lost a game. No, I am not taking all of the credit – just a little bit given coach Tony Smith says he has been applying OST to lots of different tasks.

At last week’s OST boot camp in Germany. I asked people to name companies,  organisations or people who they felt were strategic. One or two named Red Bull. Others mentioned Google and Apple; one man said ‘British Special Forces,’ and on the individual front, Michael Schumacher when dominating Formula One was mentioned, as was Richard Branson. Sadly, no politicians, governments or national brands sprang to the twenty or so minds in the room.

When I was asked to name one, I opted reluctantly for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whilst explaining that he is one of the three ‘winners’ I decided not to list on the book’s front cover – the other two, for very different reasons, are ex-cyclist Lance Armstrong and The Queen. Now Putin may well come a cropper in time, but he is the best political example to my mind of someone who has his O, S and T totally aligned.

O – reassertion of Russian power.

S – reassertion of Russian power.

T – anything, good or bad, which shows the reassertion of Russian power. That ‘anything’ could range from a war in Ukraine, to an unexpected military entrance into or seeming exit from the conflict in Syria, or a murder on the streets of London; from a picture of himself bareback on a horse, to the taking of a huge dog into a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a woman not scared of much but, following a childhood incident, very scared of dogs.

Such OST alignment across the piece is rare, though admittedly easier when as part of your S/T you have totally reshaped the media landscape in your favour, and used fear and even terror as tactical weapons home and abroad.

However, one of the people in the conference room in the Black Forest had an even more radical example of strategic power, admitting at the outset to his fears that his observation ‘might not be very PC.’

‘Go on then,’ I said. ‘Who is it?’

‘ISIS,’ he said.

This was a few days before the bombings in Brussels, but even so there were one or two sharp intakes around the room, suggesting it was indeed perhaps not something to be said in polite, PC company. But it did spark a really interesting discussion, at the end of which we had boiled down our understanding of ISIS’s OST to this.

O – create an Islamic State, a caliphate wholly based on the ISIS view of what Islamic law and values should be. Meanwhile spread terror and undermine the West. Which leads to …

S – Terror. But also the exploitation of social, political and ideological issues both in the region where they wish to form the caliphate, and all around the world…

T – hence the skilful use not just of poverty, unemployment, inequality within and between countries and regions, what they see as historical injustices, but also the skilful use of a media landscape beyond Putin-style control for most governments. Social media, we agreed, is a tactic rather than a strategy; their use of crime and intimidation is likewise a tactic but vital to the strategy. And of course the most dramatic and deadly tactics are the kind of suicide bombings we saw in Brussels, and which we will have to get used to seeing all over the world, just as we in the UK once had to be used to IRA bombs going off (though usually with warnings).

So here too it is possible to see some alignment across their OST. The terror part is embedded in all of it.

I feel the same loathing as most civilized people for what they are trying to do and the means by which they are trying to do it, not just the hatred and the indiscriminate killing, but the exploitation of young people, their use of criminal networks, and their perversion of the faith they claim to represent. But it is not enough merely to condemn, just as it is not enough simply to dismiss Putin as a very bad man. To devise your own strategy, you have to be clear about the strategy of those you are up against.

I do not for one moment minimize the difficulties of facing an enemy as vicious, well-funded and fascistic as ISIS. I feel nothing but sympathy for politicians and intelligence agencies in democracies who in good times are challenged to make more of civil liberties than securing safety on the streets, but who when terror strikes are the first in line for blame for not knowing what everyone was up to all of the time. But strategy has to be based on much more than contempt and loathing, let alone emoting and tweeting or thinking up lots of clever symbolic pictures on public buildings and social networks to show solidarity. All of that may make us feel better, but does it achieve much beyond that?

Nor am I convinced it helps anyone to dismiss suicide bombers as ‘cowardly’. These people are taking their own lives in the pursuit of hideous goals. There are many adjectives we can apply to them but I really don’t think cowardly is one of them. It suggests a long distance between what goes on in our heads and what we think goes on in theirs. We surely have to think a bit more like them in analysing them as enemies, even if we choose not to act like them.

One of the lessons from many of the sports coaches I have interviewed or worked with is that they spend as much time focusing on the weaknesses, strengths and systems of their opponents as they do on their own. I am not sure, listening to the leaders rightly lining up in verbal solidarity with Belgium this week, as with France last year, and the UK on July 7 2005, and doubtless other countries to come, that they are really anywhere close to getting inside the minds of those we are up against here.

Whether on this issue of jihadist terrorism, climate change, the possibility of a second Global Financial Crisis provoked by a slump in China, never has leadership been so needed, and seemingly so difficult in much of the democratic world. Donald Trump is clearly not the answer, but he may be a symptom of the difficulty of some of the questions. The good news about Trump is that whilst he is clear on his O – win – the S that may win him the nomination for the Republicans has within it most of the reasons why he will almost certainly lose the actual election.

But on the American elections, as on anything else right now, including the future of Europe and Britain’s place within it, certainty is somewhat lacking. And that, I fear, is because within the OST of democratic leadership, there are plenty of Os, lots of Ts, and insufficent S. Putin and ISIS are among those enjoying that sad reality, and exploiting it to the full.

I say in the book, written well over a year ago, before our election last May, that I believe in calling this referendum David Cameron put tactics ahead of strategy and without sufficient regard to his overall objective of making sure Britain does not make what he rightly views as the calamitous mistake of leaving the EU. The offer of a referendum was a tactic to deal with a rise in UKIP and internal Tory party problems. A proper strategic approach would have seen them off with argument and policy, much as mid-term highs of the SDP or their variants were often seen off in the past.

The referendum is very winnable for IN, but again we have to get better into the minds of those fighting for OUT. And no, I am not saying Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are as bad as ISIS. But I do think the threat of a Johnson Premiership – to which we could be sleepwalking in very quick order – is not one any serious person would wish to see added to the strategic jigsaw that is already making the world a very dangerous place.

– WINNERS was published in paperback yesterday, Penguin Random House, £9.99




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Time to call out the Union of Media barons’ Lie Machines and their anti-democratic role in the EU referendum Sat, 12 Mar 2016 16:59:57 +0000 This is a longer version of an article which appears in The Observer today, and a shorter version of a (draft) speech I am due to make next month on the nature of the media debate around the EU referendum. I do not read papers or listen to the broadcast media in the way I used to, but having been asked to do this speech, I have been reading more than usual for research purposes. And though I have long known there was something deeply rotten in the state of our press, the scale of the rottenness has been beyond shocking.

The Observer has published around 1200 words of this, but some of the real devil of the work being done by the OUT campaign and their media Lie Machines is in the detail, a lot of which had to be cut. So though I am still working on the speech, I thought I would post what I have done so far up here now, as I believe this is an issue that will begin to resonate as the campaign goes on. I have also had many TV and radio bids to talk about this issue, and would welcome the opportunity to debate it all with Paul Dacre or any of the other Lie Machine leaders. All the best, and remember: make your own minds up, and don’t believe a word you read about Europe in most of the papers. Here goes …

I am 58 years old, have worked in and around the media most of my adult life, on both sides of the press/politics fence; I have been both hunter and hunted, and know the game inside out. I thought I was no longer remotely shockable by anything that our wretched right-wing press could do.

But the coverage of the EU referendum so far, even by their standards of bias, deceit, misrepresentation, and lying, is taking them to fresh depths of dishonesty. In so many ways, it is as though Leveson never happened. Accuracy? Do me a favour; we have papers to sell, agendas to drive, scores to settle, personal interests to defend.

David Cameron has to take some responsibility for this. For his own political reasons – mainly the desire to see the papers hit Labour harder than they hit him in the 2010 and 2015 elections – he was dragged kicking and screaming into Leveson, and has failed to follow through on the Inquiry’s eminently sensible proposals for self-regulation, demonized and distorted as a vicious assault on press freedom by the same Union of right-wing, super-rich, partly foreign, largely tax-avoiding media barons driving the demonizing, distorting coverage of Europe now.

So part of me, the part that has seen Labour leaders get unfair treatment compared with their Tory counterparts for generations, looks at Cameron and thinks ‘you reap what you sow.’ But another part, the part that cares about Britain’s future long beyond the tenure of Cameron or any other individual Prime Minister, whether in office for one year or ten or twenty, feels this debate is far too important for Schadenfreude or party political tribalism. The result of the referendum is far more important than the outcome of a single general election. The historic significance is greater. The consequences – for jobs, living standards, culture, national security and our standing in the world – are greater.

I have written before about the strategic and tactical blunders that led Cameron into the referendum, and the situation he now finds himself in. But that too is all in the past; in the present, between now and June 23, we are confronted with this massive choice, and it is we the people, every one of us with a vote of equal weight, who will make it.

In those circumstances, we have a duty to inform ourselves, and both politicians and media have a duty, or at the least a role, to help in that process. The debate having so quickly become polarized among Tory politicians, with the focus having been as much on the personalities involved as on the issues, the role of the media is even more important.

However, more than in any such debate I can remember, large chunks of the press have totally given up on any commitment to that role of properly informing public debate. What little separation of news and comment may have existed before has now gone completely. The Mail, The Sun, The Express, and The Star in particular, to a lesser extent The Telegraph and on a bad day The Times, are more propaganda sheets for one side of the argument, than responsible contributors to a vital debate about the country’s future.

The Mail, whose evil (I use the word advisedly) cowardly and hypocritical editor Paul Dacre pockets vast EU grants on his vast Scottish estate, nonetheless allows barely a syllable in his paper that might reflect well on Europe, or anyone involved in the campaign to keep Britain in. Rupert Murdoch, through the worst of his ‘humbling’ (sic) appearances at Leveson and parliamentary committees, has refound his mojo in his business and private life and is now enjoying making sure every ounce of Sun ink is used to shape opinion in the direction he wants. Then the Barclays control the Telegraph from their Channel Island tax exile and Richard Desmond’s Express papers, amid scare stories about the weather and conspiracy theories about Princess Diana, feed a relentless diet of anti EU front page splashes as titillating and far-fetched as the stuff in the porn mags and films that helped create his fortune. By this bizarre collection of folk, or so they hope, ‘public opinion’ is formed.

Dacre has given up any pretence of being a journalist in the way most people understand the term. His staff have told the IN campaign not even to bother trying to place articles, stories or ideas, because they won’t get used unless they fit his OUT agenda. The Sun has dragged The Queen into the whole thing, taking something that was almost certainly never said, in a conversation that took place long before a referendum was even on the horizon, and the word ‘Brexit’ did not exist, to make a claim that she supported the OUT campaign. I had a fair bit to do with the Royals and the often crazy coverage of them in my time in Downing Street. Based on that experience, and her ability to shrug off without complaint so many false stories written about her, I can pretty much guarantee this – the fact the Palace has made a complaint to IPSO, the so-called independent press regulator, means the story is a load of cock.

It seems that Michael Gove and his rather odd collection of special advisors may be at the heart of the Queen story. But can you imagine the noise these right wing sceptic papers would be making if a pro-EU source had persuaded the Mirror or the Guardian to run a front page headline ‘QUEEN BACKS IN.’ We would never hear the end of it. Yet Gove has been given a free pass. (He was one of Murdoch’s guests at his wedding to Jerry Hall, an event sycophantically covered in the eurosceptic papers, The Express for example had a lovely front page smiling picture of the happy couple under a patsy headline alongside a splash claiming ‘Europe’ was going to be taking control of the British coastline. Boris Johnson has had similar free pass treatment; freed from collective responsibility by David Cameron to campaign for the OUT side, but keen to gag his own inner Cabinet from being anything other than an echo chamber. ‘It was a cock up,’ he says of the email that delivered this edict. ‘Oh that’s fine then,’ echo the Dacre/Murdoch/Barclay/Desmond Union against the Union.

Then there was the John Longworth saga. Some bloke most of us had never heard of, from the British Chamber of Commerce, makes a few sceptic noises (despite this being against the policy of the organization he leads) and is thereby elevated to instant hero by the Dacre/Murdoch/Barclay/Desmond papers. Anyone who takes another view is an idiot, a liar or a spiv, and anyone from the government who objects to what he said guilty of smears and dirty tricks.

Then Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, a somewhat more significant figure in the running of our economy than Longworth, makes a few blindingly obvious statements to MPs about the inevitable uncertainty Brexit would cause, and the need for business and the Bank to do some worst case scenario planning, and he is immediately denounced as being part of Project Fear. Worse, much of the broadcast media covers his Parliamentary committee appearance as being Carney under attack from the OUT campaign, rather than setting out in detail what this genuinely important voice in the debate had to say. (This is part of the game the Dacre/Murdoch axis has long played – try to bully the broadcasters into shaping a more sceptic agenda around their news coverage, not least by pretending the broadcasters are slavishly pro IN. Sadly, all too often, it works.)

The Archbishop of Canterbury is another senior establishment figure whose views have been put through the Dacre/Murdoch/Barclay/Desmond mangling machine. He made a long and thoughtful intervention. The press saw two main angles – the OUT side need to do more to explain what would happen if they won; and it is not racist to be concerned about immigration. The mangling machine largely ignored Point 1. Point 2 was spun to suggest he was basically a fully fledged OUTer who takes his spiritual guidance from Nigel Farage and George Galloway.

There were times in Downing Street when I felt parts of the media operated like a reverse Pravda. If a story fitted their agenda, it went in. If it didn’t it was spiked. It may have been hard for them to ignore Carney or the Archbishop, so they spun against them. But others who have come out in favour of IN – including the OECD, the IMF, Shell, BMW, Rolls Royce, Morgan Stanley, Vauxhall, UBS, Centrica, AA and many more – have been almost totally ignored. Had any one of them come out for OUT then front pages galore would have splashed it. There is literally no major employer calling for OUT, (apart from these papers) so their behaviour and tone is a symptom of their isolation which they want to hide from their readers. In addition to the invented stories, this is lying and misinformation by omission. Oh, and before any of you start bleating or tweeting ‘dodgy dossier’ the accusations against me of lying, deceit and misinformation in relation to Iraq have been thoroughly investigated by three inquiries (we await the fourth) and I have been cleared by all of them.

Now let me do something few of these right wing hacks who work for the Union of Lie Machines ever do and admit that I am biased. I am biased in favour of the UK staying in, partly because I have thought about it for longer than it takes to write yet another punning Sun headline or tweet that Boris should be PM ‘because he makes me laugh.’ But even if I take that bias into account, if I make a strategic analysis of the campaign so far, then the OUT team look like a rabble of kids running around a football pitch not quite sure where the ball has gone, while the IN team do at least seem to have a set of unified clear messages and a determination to get them across.

The IN team has forced everyone (including the OUTers) to accept there will be some kind of economic shock from leaving – but the media has barely followed up at all in questioning the cost of that to their readers and listeners. Likewise a combination of IN and broadcast media pushed Johnson into spluttering that we should do a deal with the EU like Canada’s. A proper media would have explored that further and quickly discovered plenty of stories revealing potential damage to our interests. Likewise Chris Grayling says we will get a new beneficial trade deal with India. Has anyone asked the Indians?

There is something comical about the way the OUT campaign and their media cheerleaders rage constantly about Project Fear, the label borrowed from the SNP in the Scottish referendum, to rebut anything that dares to suggest there might be a single reason to want to stay inside a Union that has helped deliver peace, prosperity and power to our country over most of my adult lifetime. Because their whole coverage, for years, has been based on scare stories, some with a Boris Johnson byline in the days when he used to write as much nonsense as today he spouts on his fantasy journey to becoming the next Winston Churchill.

In my time in Number 10, I can recall variously having to rebut stories from the right wing rags that bent bananas and cucumbers were going to be banned; the British Army was going to vanish; Cheddar cheese and Scotch whisky were going to have to be renamed; lollipop ladies were to be outlawed; we were going to have to drive on the right; Brussels was going to set all our tax levels; the British passport was to disappear; some Luxembourg or Belgian nonentity was going to replace the Queen.

In recent weeks, we have had plenty more of this, much of it peddled by Gove’s former sidekick Dominic Cummings. Perhaps most insidious, he and Nigel Farage both made the outrageous – and untrue – claim that those involved in the New Year sex attacks in Cologne would be free to come to the UK. (Well, they could if they had lived in Germany for eight years, had no criminal record, and renounced their own nationalities). We have also had the OUT campaign claiming we will have to have Arabic subtitles on our TVs. Sun readers have ‘learned’ that Christmas is going to be renamed ‘the Winter Festival’ by the EU. Several of the anti-EU axis managed to blame the floods a few months ago on ‘Brussels.’ Turkey’s desire to get in the EU has been ripe scaremongering territory. Clearly all Turks (Muslims don’t you know?) will move to Britain. Farage has managed to get some coverage for his false claim that Cameron’s negotiation means we will have an EU army in the UK, and the old (invented) EU Navy has had a few outings too. And I bet you didn’t know ‘Brussels’ was going to make you have more recycling bins, did you?

On and on and on they have gone, day after day, week after week, year after year, lie upon lie. It is a wonder there is a single Mail or Sun, Star or Express reader left who is anything other than a fully fledged OUTer.

And therein lies the opportunity for the IN side. People may be influenced at the margins by this incessant drumbeat against Britain’s membership of the EU. But the public have seen and heard enough about the press to know that their standards have fallen to base levels, that the word of many cannot be trusted, that they do not believe in giving two sides of a story, and that many of their stories are inventions.

David Cameron, who is not standing for a third term as PM, has nothing to lose from taking them head on, calling them out on the lies and the misrepresentations, making sure the public hear a message that their voices cannot remotely be trusted. The undecided are looking for two things above all – leadership and information. Cameron has to provide both.

The IN campaign more generally has to fill the gap that the public wants filled – the need for genuine information about the reality of Britain’s relations and what exit would mean. We need more of the kind of newsletter sent out by the IN campaign to 14million households a few weeks ago setting out basic information. The kind of basic information the Dacre-Murdoch axis does not want people to have.

Equally, the OUT side has to be put under much more pressure fully to explain what would happen if the country does vote to come out. If that were to happen, then on June 24 we will be waking up to confront a change way bigger than anything a change of government would represent. Yet where is the manifesto for what happens if OUT wins? Where are the detailed plans that public and media would expect from any government or party seeking to make a fundamental change to the way our country is run? They are not there. The media won’t force them out. The IN campaign has to do it.

IN is arguing for the status quo, and therefore has less to prove in terms of what happens afterwards. They should embrace the notion of Project Fear because frankly there is a lot to be afraid of, if we sleepwalk into this huge decision without actually having the informed debate we need.

In a real, healthy democracy with a vibrant free press, we would have that informed debate. But we do not have a vibrant free press. We have a press largely owned by a small group of men (at least one of whom doesn’t have a vote, several of whom don’t pay tax here) who believe their views and interests are more important than the tens of millions of people on whose behalf they claim to speak and whose views they claim to represent.

I am not a huge fan of David Cameron. But at least he is fighting for what he believes in, and at least he is telling the truth as he sees it. He is up against a collection of people and papers, Lie Machines, with a near total disregard of the truth in favour of propaganda that even Vladimir Putin might think was too one-sided to be credible.

The stakes are high for the country. But they are high for the media too. Because frankly if the country does vote to stay in it will expose Dacre and Murdoch and Co as impotent old men who can call the shots with all who work and write for them, but not with those who read what they write. That is going to be a very good day for democracy when it comes which, despite all of the above, I believe it will. Because in spite of decades of dumbing down, their readers are not as stupid as the media barons might imagine, thank God, and they are in the main more honest, decent and thoughtful too.


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Power, peace and prosperity – three reasons more important than Boris Johnson’s ego to stay in EU Tue, 23 Feb 2016 08:53:28 +0000 As I arrived at Hong Kong airport a few hours ago, there were three TV channels playing above our heads as we queued to go through immigration. On one, a Chinese presenter appeared to be explaining what was happening in world markets. On the second, pictures of a smiling Hillary Clinton to illustrate new polls suggesting she is well ahead of Bernie Sanders in South Carolina. And on the third, CNN, David Cameron above the headline ‘British MPs take sides on Europe.’ The EU referendum, to cite the language of comms, has had ‘global cut through.’

But just as most people outside the U.S view Donald Trump as a rather bad international joke, and ask ‘how on earth is this happening?’ so I think most people outside the UK are asking ‘why on earth is Britain thinking of coming out of the EU?’

In our personality obsessed political coverage, the hit on sterling yesterday was widely being put down to Boris Johnson’s open defiance of David Cameron, and the fear that the man the media keep telling us is ‘popular’ will be able to swing the vote against Britain’s membership of the EU.

The very fact of holding the referendum is creating the kind of uncertainty and instability about Britain’s future that cause concern among investors. So a hit was virtually inevitable once Cameron came back from Brussels, held his Cabinet meeting, and then announced the date. The Boris show, which is exactly what it is, doubtless added to the uncertainty, but it was already there.

This is a referendum we are having for the wrong reasons, and with a lot of the debate currently focused on the wrong things. The wrong reason in that it was announced by David Cameron partly because he lacked something to say at an important moment in the last Parliamentary calendar, and more so because he saw it as a tactic to halt the rise of UKIP and quell the noise of the Tory right. And the wrong things in that Cameron, tactical again, set up his negotiations for a new deal for the UK in Europe in grand, epoch-making terms when he knew that, no matter what he achieved, it would not be enough for UKIP and the veteran Eurosceptics in his party.

However we got to where we are though, here is exactly where we are, a few weeks away from a vote more important even than the one to choose a government or a Prime Minister.

Given its significance, hopefully it will move soon enough from a personality/process debate in which Boris Johnson’s ego and ambition are centre stage, and from Tory MPs dancing on pinheads about what David Cameron did or did not achieve in line 3 of paragraph 7 of the statement issued after yet another all-night EU summit. Once that happens, we are then into the real meat of the debate, and the only question that has ever really mattered – In or Out.

For all my criticisms of Cameron on the route to this point, I think that in his Downing Street statement on Saturday, his interview with Andrew Marr, and yesterday in the Commons, he has done well when getting the message focused on that big, fundamental question.

The ‘leap in the dark’ point is a phrase we can expect to hear again and again. Unlike many of the Cameron soundbites we hear again and again and again, it has the merit of truth, and nobody from the Out side has yet to explain how we will glide effortlessly from full EU membership one day to full membership of the Single Market the next, even though we are no longer in the EU.

I liked too his line on how Brexit would lead to ‘the illusion of sovereignty, but less power.’ Sitting here in Hong Kong, looking out at the venue of the ceremony at which the place was handed over to the Chinese, this is not a bad place to reflect on the fact that Britain is not the power it was. And a lot of the power we do have comes from the role we play in major international institutions. The EU is one of them. NATO is another. The Commonwealth is another. Our permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council is another.

Here is another leap in the dark point. If we leave the EU, we lose power anyway. Then we can expect a second referendum in Scotland, and this time I think the independence campaign will win. So UK out of EU, Scotland out of UK. I think at that point we can wave bye-bye to that Permanent Membership of the UNSC.

So power. Vote Out for less power. Two more Ps worth thinking about. Peace and Prosperity. The EU has helped deliver both for decades across a Continent historically defined by war and poverty. With a resurgent Russia and new depths of terroriusn being mined, we are going to need strength and solidarity to deal properly with both. We get that through the EU.

The prosperity, as business leaders are arguing today, will be put at risk if we are restricted, as we will be, in our access to the single market.

Power. Peace. Prosperity. All worth fighting for. All more important than whether Boris Johnson manages to swing a few more Tory constituencies his way in the battle to succeed David Cameron, and more important too than whether Cameron did or did not manage to get everything he wanted from his negotiations.




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A human, or rather inhuman, scandal about to be unleashed on our doorstep. France and UK must act Thu, 18 Feb 2016 18:47:34 +0000 A double plea. First, to the media – please get to Calais by Sunday morning latest and cover the situation I am about to describe. Second, to any well-heeled French people with land and property to spare, please consider providing it to stop hundreds of vulnerable unaccompanied children falling prey to people traffickers already hovering like vultures as what passes for these children’s homes are about to be bulldozed into oblivion.

Calais has somewhat disappeared from the headlines, and unless there is massive disruption to the return of half-term ski travellers, it would likely stay that way. It doesn’t mean the refugee camps and the inhumane conditions have gone however.

But on Sunday, what little hope these camps offer is about to be removed when, by order of the local prefecture, the south side of the so-called Jungle is to be bulldozed, and its residents evicted. Where they are all meant to go, nobody seems to know.

It is easy to understand why the locals feel they have drawn the shortest of very short straws in having these refugee problems right on their doorsteps, and why local politicians and officials feel they have to act. But this is a problem which is too big for a local authority which is why, as has happened before, the EU, the French and UK governments, must surely step in. Given the scale of the refugee crisis, and the convulsions they are bringing to European politics, a few thousand in Calais, and a few hundred kids, may seem small by comparison. But neither we nor France can truly claim to be civilised countries if we turn our eyes away from what is happening.

As David Cameron stumbles through his EU renegotiation, and tries to appease his Eurosceptics, he could do worse than make the case for Europe by visiting Calais and making clear this is a problem that cannot be solved by one country alone, but can be solved by the kind of collaboration and confrontation of big problems for which the EU was made.

Accurate data on just how many people are in the various refugee camps close to Calais and Dunkirk is not easy to find. The official statement signalling Sunday’s action suggests it will affect one thousand people. Those who are working on the ground, trying to offer some kind of support and advice to the refugees, say that is well short of the reality. Whatever the total, they believe there are four hundred children without an accompanying adult who risk having no shelter at all from Sunday. The youngest is two. Many are between six and nine, many more between twelve and sixteen. Easy pickings for the traffickers just waiting for the camp to be shut down.

In their way stand the charities, volunteers and helpers who have been doing their best to bring some kind of order to the place, and some kind of process that might give the children a better future. More than 200 of the 400 plus unaccompanied children have the right to claim asylum in the UK under family reunification. Others do not, but they are still surely entitled to safety and security until their longer term fate is resolved.

As many as ten thousand child refugees have disappeared in Europe in recent months. It is incredible that there has not been more of a fuss about it. That there hasn’t suggests we are becoming immune to the suffering of children. The lawyers from Citizens UK helping to process the claims of children who hope to come to the UK fear that in the chaos of closure of the camp, these children will lose contact with the volunteers who have been looking after them, and lose forever the chance of being reunited with family in the UK.

In an ideal world, the Calais authorities would be subject to such public and political pressure that they would reverse their decision. Short of that, the volunteers at the camp are appealing for temporary accommodation for a few weeks for the unaccompanied children. There has been some pretty amazing fundraising going on and they have the funds to be able to transport the children further afield if need be. They just need either privately owned land, where they could erect marquee tents to house, feed and shelter the children till their claims are heard, or a Church, a derelict warehouse, an old school, anything that allows them to keep the kids and the volunteers (who are essentially acting as guardians) together.

They reckon they will need three or four weeks of shelter, but are willing to take anything that is offered for as long as it can be. And they are willing to pay rent, and have the capacity to move the children to different areas, so though one site would be perfect, if it requires multiple sites, that is fine.

This is a long shot I know, but anyone who thinks they can help can find out how, and find out more about what it happening, here.

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The talk is good, the words are warm, but we are miles away from equality between physical and mental health Tue, 16 Feb 2016 10:31:46 +0000 It has, on the surface, been a good week for the campaign to get better understanding and services for mental health and mental illness. The long-awaited NHS Taskforce Report gave a strong analysis of the dreadful problems we face, and some good ideas of how they might be addressed, and the government indicated a willingness (I don’t think we can put it much stronger than that) to fund them.

The other good thing happening is that the BBC are covering mental health in depth all week as part of their season of programming on the issue. Amid my many criticisms of the media down the years, I have often said that mental health is one area where I think the coverage has been broadly good, and has steadily improved. One thing is for sure: the volume of coverage in recent years has increased, and the BBC focus is another welcome step in that direction.

These two things – the Taskforce Report and the BBC mental health week – came together last night when David Cameron appeared on the main bulletins, interviewed by Fiona Bruce. Now given everything else he has on – he left for Paris almost immediately the interview was over on the next stage of his European “strategy” (sic) adventure – I suspect he could have done without the interview. He may even have thought it would be a nice interlude amid all his other problems, a chance to show his touchy-feely side on an issue that he knows is a growing concern for the public.

If so, he got something of a rude awakening. Fiona Bruce was not really in cuddly touchy-feely mode, and unsurprisingly wanted to know exactly what the PM intended to do to meet the demands set out in the report. Cameron was classic Cameron, hoping the warm words and the top level message of broad support would do. But there were some very clear specific demands in there, and he seemed vague at best, evasive at worst.

Added to which the figures – a billion pounds extra spending, a million more people to be treated – were just too rounded to be convincing. Then on that old question – “is this new money?” – it all got a bit vaguer, and as the day wore on it became clearer we were in any event talking mainly about the era when Cameron is going to be a former PM.

The good news is that in Cameron allying himseld to the cause, and his likeliest successor George Osborne having done so in the spending review, the issue gets further up the agenda and it becomes harder for them not to deliver in future. But we have seen in plenty of other areas promises of action, promises of funding, which then evaporate as he moves on to another “top priority.” I felt when he was promising his prisons revolution last week, for example, that it was all very well to talk about improving prison conditions, and moving from incarceration to rehabilitation as a philosophy, and giving more powers to Governors. But if those Governors are having to cut their budgets, how can they deliver on these new priorities?

On mental health, we have seen the government talk the talk, but when some of the responsibilities have shifted to local government, whose budgets have been slashed, how can we expect the same levels of service to be offered? We can’t. Cameron and Osborne are allying themselves with a campaign, rather than delivering a plan to see the campaign goals being met.

There was one part of his interview that really struck me, namely when he talked about the need for a two-week maximum waiting time for someone with psychosis. The talk is all about parity between mental and physical health. Having had psychosis back in the mid-80s, I can tell you what the physical equivalent of a psychotic attack is – you’ve gone through the windscreen of your car in a multiple motorway pile up, and you’re lying on the tarmac not sure if you’re going to see the day out.

Just think on that. It shows how far we are from genuine parity between physical and mental health. Would the police, fire and ambulance service tell the car crash victim to wait two weeks to see someone? I don’t think so.

As Jeremy Hunt wages war on the junior doctors over his plans for a “seven-day NHS” (a version of which we already have, and which was in any event an election promise they didn’t think they were going to have to deliver), the one area where we do need it is in mental health and mental illness. With most operations whether it they happen on a Monday or a Sunday does not make that much difference. Mental health crisis does not differentiate between weekdays and weekends. But to deliver the kind of weekend service that is required demands genuine extra investment.

I think both Cameron and Osborne do want to see better services. But I am far from convinced they are willing the means to deliver them. So the campaigning has to go on, and we have to keep on generating the sense of outrage there surely ought to be that mental health services are so far behind the kind of level of support and service we take for granted for physical health.

And we have to watch like hawks to see what all this talk of an extra billion pounds means, where it is coming from, over what period, and what it is actually delivering.

PS, if you have not already signed up to support Equality For Mental Health, you can do so here



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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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