Alastair Campbell Thu, 02 Jul 2015 06:16:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Guest blog from a father who lost his daughter and wants to help others avoid the same fate Thu, 02 Jul 2015 06:16:54 +0000 “In business, you have politics and profit. In charity, you have politics.”

Or so the saying goes.

I have been in business and understand that sentiment, but charity is still pretty new to me, in the sense that our family just set up a charity earlier this year.

Of course, it’s not party politics that’s being referred to in the quote, but if you substitute the word “party” with either “charity” or “charitable organisation”, then from what I understand there really isn’t much difference. Power and money appear to be the root of what drives the politics in charity, although not necessarily in that order.

But does charity have to be this way ?

My daughter, Margot died in October aged two, after losing her battle with a rare blood cancer. Since diagnosis, doctors recommended that she needed a bone marrow transplant (a.k.a. a blood stem cell transplant) to stand the best chances of survival; that requires a donor with the same tissue type as the patient, and tissue type is linked to ethnicity.

Consequently, Margot’s mixed heritage was the key obstacle to her finding her “perfect match”. She fell into the category of people who are either mixed race or from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, for whom the chances of finding a donor with the same, identical tissue type are just 21%. By comparison, if you happen to be white and northern european, your chances of success are 69%.

We need more people on the stem cell registers.

I didn’t know any of this before Margot fell sick and I have since learned that I wasn’t alone. It’s a global problem: the general knowledge and awareness around the need for more stem cell donors is appalling.

That’s one of the reasons why we set up our charity, Team Margot Foundation – which is primarily about awareness and action. Simply put: we encourage people to join the stem cell register. Worldwide.

Margot was very unlucky, but through our work we will continue to help improve the chances & ultimately help save the lives of all those people who, just like Margot & our family, never thought that they would need a bone marrow transplant.

Margot’s appeal saw more than 35,000 people join the stem cell register in the UK alone and her story was covered in more than a dozen countries besides.

As a result of our work to date, we now know of 4 people who joined the register as a potential donor because of Team Margot and who have actually donated stem cells or bone marrow since. The chances are that we have already helped to save someone’s life and we’re told that statistically, based upon the numbers of registrants, more than 500 people will now have the chance of a potentially life saving bone marrow transplant over the course of the next ten years.


So what about power and money ?

Well, it was never our intention to raise money.

When Margot needed a bone marrow transplant, family and friends came together as Team Margot to help find her a matching donor and ask people to do something amazing: register as potential stem cell donors and encourage others to do the same. We explained how such a selfless act could save a life and that it could be our daughter’s.

During Margot’s appeal we were careful not to confuse our public campaign with fundraising. We wanted our message to be clear.

Nevertheless, we have come to realise that many people want to donate money and/or fundraise to support what we do: some because they’re ineligible to register, others because they’ve been touched or inspired by Margot’s story.

Thanks to their efforts, Team Margot raised almost £300,000 in 2014 for the various charities we in turn support.

That’s partly why we registered as a charity in early 2015 to continue to honour Margot’s legacy as a permanent Foundation. This enables us to better understand how funds are raised and donated – and to deploy them in the most beneficial ways.

Our family currently funds all operations, although we have applied for a few corporate grants to help mitigate the costs of promotional items like lapel pins, wristbands and sporting kit. We sell some of these items at our donor registration events to help raise money for the people and charities we support.

But Team Margot is still fundamentally a campaigning charity – we educate and inform about what’s involved with joining the stem cell register, we inspire people to register and then we ask them to encourage ‘Just One More’ to do the same.

And that’s it.

In this country we are working with all the known UK organisations in this field (Anthony Nolan, Delete Blood Cancer UK, NHSBT and Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry), yet whilst we are deliberately positioned to embrace them all (as well as the international registries too – it’s a global issue after all !) we are careful not to wed ourselves too closely to any one of them.

The key point here is that Team Margot is focussed upon helping the ‘greater good’. We don’t have any other agenda, nor are we fettered by anyone else’s, so in that sense we seek to avoid unhelpful politics and partisan behaviour.

Essentially, our ‘power base’ comes from the support that we have managed to garner from both the general public and also from celebrity / high profile personalities. We value and attribute great currency to ‘word of mouth’, which is where you & your own network might be able to help.

If you contact us with your postal address, we will send you some literature and a wristband so that you can take a picture of yourself wearing one, a bit like this:  and then send the picture back to us.

We will hold off from using these pictures until the week before the 7th October, which is the day we will be celebrating our inaugural international as you can see here.  Going forward, this will be an annual event. It’s aimed at making as many people as possible aware of the urgent global need for more people to join the worldwide stem cell registries. And then signposting the way they can help, regardless of where they live in the world.

If you would like to receive a Team Margot wristband, please email me

Perhaps it’s naive to wish it, but I question whether our charity can succeed by being a bit different in approach. Alastair recently quoted Henry T Ford as saying: “Coming together is the beginning, staying together is progress, working together is success.”

To my mind, that makes sense for winning and succeeding in charity too, hence our strap-line: Together, saving lives.

With thanks,

Yaser Martini, Margot’s father and trustee of Team Margot Foundation
For more information, please visit:

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When politics becomes blood sport – welcome to The Killing Season, power Aussie Rules style Tue, 23 Jun 2015 08:24:03 +0000 One of my favourite foreign politicians when starting out with Tony Blair was then Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating. Clever, funny, tough, with a desire to batter the Tories that was closer to my own approach to politics than that of my more big-tented boss.

With Keating, though he was cute enough at internal politics and became PM after ousting Bob Hawke at the second time of trying, once in the job, you always had the sense that his real enemies were on the benches opposite, not sitting all around him on his own side. He was never happier than when punching his Liberal opponents when they were down, and he saw off a few of them before finally being seen off himself, by general election defeat to John Howard in 1996.

Would that the same could be said of two of his successors as Labor leader and PM, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. No doubt there have been times in their careers when the closeness between them was genuine. But one of the worst things about the brilliant ABC TV series which has been running in Australia about their rises and falls is the contrast between what they said in public about each other when working together, and what they say now. Shots of mwah mwah air kissing, and warm words about their respective talents, are woven in with their own retrospective accounts of tensions that develop into what is clearly now a mutual loathing which led to mutual destruction and the election of Liberal – aka Tory – Tony Abbott as PM.

The series is called The Killing Season. You get the idea. It is great TV, and terrible for politics.

In terms of where blame or sympathy lie, it is a bit like watching a tennis match where the momentum swings first one way and then the other. At times Rudd comes over as something of a narcissist, but then a section on climate change or the global financial crisis will give a sense of the political qualities and the acute intelligence that got him to the top. Gillard will in one episode appear as the epitome of the get-things-done, get-on-with anyone loyal deputy, the next as a political killer to match the hardest and the toughest.

This is not just the Rudd-Gillard show. Most of the players around them have given long interviews and one ministerial colleague, asked to make sense of the fact that she could one day see Rudd as rude and difficult with colleagues and staff, the next brilliant in comforting kids driven from their homes by fire, observes: ‘we’re all complicated.’

One of the most interesting sub-plots – and sorry if I use the language of soap opera but at times that is what it feels like – is Rudd’s relationship with long-time friend, colleague and godfather to his son, Wayne Swan. The conversation when Swan told him he was joining the Gillard camp, to force Rudd out, was, says his former best mate in politics, the last time they spoke.

By a total coincidence I was in Canberra seeing Gillard on the very day Rudd finally made his move after months of intrigue and undermining, and paved the way for her departure, and his resumption of Prime Ministerial office. It did feel like being in the middle of some kind of psychodrama that had ceased to be about real political differences and was all about the personalities of the main characters. At the time, getting everything through the Gillard lens, I was seeing and hearing all that was ‘wrong with Kevin.’ The series takes a broader view of course but, on the question ‘who comes out best?’, I would say pretty much none of them, thought with Gillard perhaps ahead on points.

Gordon Brown is interviewed, speaks glowingly of Rudd, especially his role in the GFC. GB and Rudd did play significant roles in the shaping of a G20 response and the warmth between them seems genuine enough. And of course watching the series did bring back memories – which frankly are never far away – of the TBGBs, as the often troubled relationship between Tony and Gordon became known.

That in turn brought front of mind once more the question I have asked in WINNERS AND HOW THEY SUCCEED, about why politics seems to be so bad at teamship compared with sport.

I have a chapter in the book titled ‘The Winning Spirit of Australia,’ which salutes the very special winning mindset that has made Australia one of the disproportionately most successful sporting nations in the world. It draws on interviews with the likes of cricketer Shane Warne, Aussie rules player of the century Leigh Matthews, athlete turned politician Nova Peris, seven times worlld champion surfer Layne Beachley, rugby league star Johnathan Thurston. They all have very different stories to tell, but they all draw in different ways on the importance of mateship.

There are said to be examples of Australians forgetting their closest friend’s names, due to knowing them for decades simply as ‘mate’. It is an Australian cultural idiom, a remnant from an age of convict culture and class rejection, strengthened on the fields of Gallipoli, and continuing to this day.

The word ‘mate’ comes up often enough in the Killing Season interviews as friends recall how they fell out. ‘The thing that is most painful through it all is the active sense of betrayal,’ Rudd says in the opening titles of episode two. ‘Betrayal by people close to you, betrayal by the people you thought you could trust.’ Asked what he would say if he did have a conversation with Wayne Swan, Rudd says simply ‘betrayal hurts, mate.’

Character assassinations, assaults on reputations, betrayal of the deepest form, set amidst national and global crises: it’s Machiavellian, Shakespearean, and feels completely un-Australian, but maybe my love for the Aussie sporting mindset has made me naive and romantic about the country as a whole.

But what is it about politics, to quote the Bard, ‘that it should come to this’? How can politics be exempt from such a strong national identity? How can politics ignore a fundamental element of success in business and in sport – that of being able to work as a team?

When in pursuit of an objective as clear as winning an election, particularly if that election is winnable, then there is likely to be solidarity. ‘It adds something by being together’, says Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. ‘Suddenly it is about “us” and not “me”‘. As early as the 1890s people were agreeing with the importance of this: one of the forefathers of modern sports psychology was an American, Norman Triplett, who calculated that people rode their bikes faster if they were with other people.

It was possibly of little surprise then that on the night of their election win in the year ‘Kevin 2007’, Rudd was open in his admiration for Gillard, declaring she was a ‘fantastic’ deputy leader of the Labor Party and will be a ‘fantastic’ Deputy PM. Gillard reciprocated: ‘He has done a remarkable job in the less than 12 months he has been leader, and a remarkable job during the campaign: he is just amazing… You couldn’t possibly ask for better.’

Yet as Henry T Ford put it: ‘Coming together is the beginning, staying together is progress, working together is success.’ Watching The Killing Season, you are left reflecting that though both Rudd and Gillard have the highest job in the land on their CVs, because they only really managed the first of those three, ultimately they are closer to Enoch Powell’s ‘all political lives … end in failure’ than Ford’s vision of how people can come together to do great things that endure.

And here we come to the only conclusion I reach on this subject in WINNERS – that sportsmen and women find their talent young enough to be shaped by others, and in any event the concept of the team is drummed into us the moment we kick a ball in anger. In business, the hierarchy is clearer and more fixed than in the ever fluid world of politics where the ambition of the individual is always mixing in with the goals of the team. In politics, even if a politician is joining a team – the party or the campaign – actually going into politics is an acutely individual decision, and perhaps that never leaves them, which is why ultimately the real team players are outnumbered.

The Killing Season is extraordinary TV but sad to watch. Because ultimately it is a story of bad politics that failed because people simply could not work together in a way that made the team greater than the sum of the egos of the individuals.

The final word of the final episode goes to former UK Labour minister Alan Milburn, who has advised the ALP, and who reflects as follows: ‘The hard question that the Australian Labor party has to ask itself is this: how is it possible that you win an election in November 2007, on the scale that you do, with the goodwill that you have, with the permission that you are gifted by the public, and you manage to lose all that goodwill, to trash the permission and to find yourself out of office within just six years. I have never seen anything quite like it in any country, anywhere, anytime in any part of the world. No one can escape blame for that in my view.’ He is right.

And the quote about not seeing anything like it in any other country in the world is instructive, given that he was a key figure in the UK Labour election campaign of 2005, when the TBGBs were kind of rampant. The Killing Season makes our problems then look tame by comparison. And we did, for all the problems at the top, win three successive full terms.

— Enough for now … off in the early hours to talk about WINNERS, and no doubt about THE KILLING SEASON, on Australian media.


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Why is it always the sports guys who seem to open my mind? Sun, 21 Jun 2015 12:56:49 +0000 I know some of you might think I am one of those people who always thinks he is right. And to be frank, more often than not I am. But I do have a more open mind than most and I do actually love meeting people who make me think differently.

Recently I have met a few of those. And spot what they have in common. One is Jose Mourinho. The second is retired athlete Kriss Akabusi. The third is former Wales rugby star turned gay icon Gareth ‘Alfie’ Thomas.

Mourinho, as I may have mentioned before, is one of the WINNERS I interviewed for the book of that name. I have seen him again since, to resume the conversation. As I recorded in the book’s main profile on master strategy, he is a disruptor who has twice now made me slightly rethink and retweak long held views on the interplay between strategy and tactics.

Akabusi is someone I have only known from afar until this weekend, having spent the last couple of days with him at a conference in Malta. He slept in and missed my presentation, but I saw his, which was terrific.

I was on just after breakfast (and given how late he got to bed, I can understand why he gave it a miss.) I did what I do more and more at speaking gigs these days, mainly get up, take a look at the audience and only then decide what I am going to talk about, yesterday after offering a few multiple choice questions on audience preference re style and content. I do this more to prevent myself from becoming bored than the audience, though the two are linked. If I am tired of hearing what I have to say, why should I expect anyone else to be interested?

Anyway it went down well enough judging by the reaction in the hall and on social media. Then I waited for Kriss, who did a fantastic resume of his life story, poor son of Nigerian parents who left him to be raised in care, into the British army, running talent spotted by a sergeant, into athletics, and glory. The climax of his presentation was him showing, and shouting his way through, the film of his most famous race, when he ran the final leg to beat the Americans in the 1991 World Championships 4 x 400 relay.  The brilliant David Coleman’s commentary was the perfect soundtrack, especially as he twice expressed his scepticism about Akabusi’s chances of holding off the Americans even before the baton got to him. It was wonderful stuff. So was the whole speech. Filled with great stories and characters, told with fantastic energy and passion.

As we walked out together I asked him how many times he had done that presentation. ‘What? You mean so far this week?’ he replied, before laughing – he was a famously loud laugh. He told me he had not gone more than a few days at most in the last 20 years without doing that presentation, or a variation of it. But what was fantastic was that because of the energy and the passion and the broader, modern lessons – especially about teamship, and the wonderful story of how he and Roger Black forced the UK Athletics management to re-order the relay team so that Black, their best runner, went off first not last  – everyone in that room felt he was talking to them, and telling them a story he had never told before.

Now I still couldn’t do the same speech again and again. But the lesson I took from it was that if you like doing something, and your audience likes it, don’t worry too much about changing a winning formula. Just keep it up to date and keep on tweaking but as mega-brain chess maestro Garry Kasparov told me in WINNERS, don’t change your strategy unless the fundamentals change.

Gareth Thomas, whom henceforth I shall call Alfie because that is what everyone calls him, said something which challenged me rather more fundamentally than either Jose or Kriss. I know Alfie well, having worked on the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand a decade ago, when he became captain after Brian O’Driscoll was battered out of the tour. We became friends, and have kept in touch, including through that period when he openly and publicly came to terms with his sexuality, and deservedly become something of a hero for doing so. He also owes me forever, because I wangled him a place in the Soccer Aid match at Old Trafford with Diego Maradona, about which I never talk.

Anyway we were speaking at a conference last week in London, him on a panel about the upcoming Rugby World Cup, me afterwards about the book and the psychology of winning and what I learned from sport that ought to be applied in politics and business. As I often do I also talked about mental health and mental illness.

Afterwards Alfie was the first person to come up to me. He does a lot of work in schools now and he said that he felt there was a danger in the message I was putting out about the paramount importance of winning. Alfie, as both team-mates and opponents from his playing days know, is as competitive as they come. This was not my and other mothers’ dictum that ‘it is taking part not winning that counts.’ This was more, as he put it, that sometimes the desire to win can be such ‘that it becomes a form of mental illness.’

Earlier that day, as I had told the conference, I had done an interview with Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 about Lance Armstrong, and Alfie said the Texan cyclist may be a case in point. I had talked of the quote Armstrong gave to me, when I first interviewed him even before the Lions tour, when I still believed he was clean, just better and harder working than the rest, to he effect that he saw death from cancer and losing the Tour de France as ‘the same thing.’

‘That is sick,’ said Alfie. ‘I mean literally.’ So he asked me to have a think about whether there might be an inconsistency, or at least a considerable tension, between my campaigning on mental illness whilst exhorting the virtues of winning.

I did discover in my research that ‘maladaptive competitiveness’ – to which I plead guilty – is seen by some as a medical condition. So maybe he has a point. He has certainly got me thinking. And I am not sure yet what I conclude. But I reckon he and I should do a debate in a school and get to the heart of what we think about it.

Alfie is among the most winning winning mindsets I have come across. But he is saying there are limits. And crossing them may be a form of mental illness. That is quite a big point I would say. I intend to mull on it, and am interested in the mullings of others.

Isn’t it interesting, too, and maybe a bit worrying, that these days I find it is sportsmen and women, more than politicians, who get my brain shifting to places it has not gone before? Maybe it comes back to one of the points I make in the book, that top people in sport now think nothing of getting the best psychological support, up to and including top psychiatrists, whilst in business and politics there remains something of a taboo about admitting that we might need them? Just a thought.

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A good new name for a great old charity and a good example of OST in action Wed, 17 Jun 2015 07:48:29 +0000 If you have ever heard me speak, or read much of what I have written, you may know that I consider OST to be the three most important letters in the language. O for Objective. S for Strategy. T for Tactics. Get them muddled or wrongly ordered and you are setting yourself up for failure. But let’s move on from politics!

Instead let me tell you of a very good piece of OST work from one of my favourite charities, Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.

O – beat blood cancer.

S – investment in the best research in the world.

T – Read on.

I got involved with Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research for the same reason most people who haven’t been diagnosed themselves get involved: someone close to me – in my case two people close to me – died from leukaemia. My best friend John Merritt died of the disease in 1992 and in the most horrible of coincidences, so did his beautiful 9-year-old daughter Ellie, just six years later.

So when I first started realising that my profile could help raise money, and I entered the London Marathon in 2003, I did it for them, and raised almost £400,000. Then they roped me into the next new big thing, triathlons, and after a few years I was captain of the biggest triathlon team in the world. As chairman of fundraising, I then began to plunder my and my agent Ed Victor’s contacts books to deliver A list names for an annual ‘Audience with’ event in the West End.

We are not short of people who want to support us out of personal experience. Ed is a leukaemia survivor. And if you put together all the people in Britain who will be touched by blood cancer this year, you would just about fill Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium.

That is the thing with blood cancer: you might not hear about it in the way you do breast cancer but when you add up the hundreds of types of leukaemias, lymphomas and myelomas (all blood cancers, every single one of them) what we actually have on our hands is the third biggest cancer killer in the UK.

So I’m always happy to do whatever I can to help fill this particular charity’s coffers. But recently they’ve been asking me for a different kind of support, more in line with the day job that gave me the profile in the first place.

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research have had that same O for Objective of beating blood cancer since they were founded back in 1960. But their S for Strategy does not come cheap, and needs continuing fundraising and innovation to do so.

One of their strategic goals is improving their reach, their reputation and their brand, organisation-speak for ‘if we’re going to succeed we need lots of people to know who we are and understand what we do’. A charity whose name, cause and work is not known by the public will not raise the money it needs, nor be able to fight for the goals it is trying to reach.

Now there is a lot in a name, and Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research does at least say a good deal about what the charity is about. But they have decided they need a change, a shift to generate fresh thinking, fresh energy, and fresh funds for the research.

So this is the T for Tactic.

They’re changing their name. A big, bold move and, provided it captures the imagination and as it fits with the O and the S, it is something which can help deliver both.

Thanks to the work these guys have been doing for the last 55 years, more and more blood cancer patients are surviving for longer and people are starting to talk seriously about living well with blood cancers. So things have changed since 1960 when people were just desperate for a cure, and childhood leukaemia was a death sentence. Now it’s about better treatments that don’t cause the bad side effects, better diagnostic tests and better support.

So realising how much things had changed, two years ago the charity decided it was time to take stock, to stand back and plan the next half century. They took time to understand exactly what it means to live with blood cancer today and their research took in the views of doctors, nurses, patients and carers, reams of data and also the views not just of me, but of a number of branding and communications experts.

Just like in politics, focus groups don’t always tell you what you expect to hear. What’s important though is that you’re open to listening, able to sift through what you hear and then act on the most important bits.

Among the main findings were, frankly, that the world simply doesn’t understand blood cancer as is does lung, liver or breast cancer, that blood cancer patients don’t feel part of a community or a cause and that people struggle to find information and support.  Also, it was clear that the name just wasn’t working hard enough for us, especially given it’s a name that means so much to so many people across the country, including me.

But under the leadership of chief executive Cathy Gilman, who started out as a volunteer after losing a loved one, they’re a charity always looking at problems with eyes wide open all the time. Once the evidence from patients, health professionals and hard data was there in front of them, they set to tackling these challenges head on and finding solutions (or tactics) that are rooted in this evidence and will help them achieve their objective of beating blood cancer.

The evidence says that awareness of blood cancer is low. So they’re launching an awareness campaign. The evidence says people with blood cancer don’t know where to go. So they’re launching a signposting service. And when your evidence says that actually myeloma is the blood cancer that kills most people 5 years after diagnosis and your name only mentions leukaemia and lymphoma, it’s time to do something bold and brave about it.

So they have. They’ve found a new name that can help create the blood cancer community patients are saying so loudly that they want, bring together all the work they do (not just research) and be so memorable that people know exactly where their first port of call should be if blood cancer comes anywhere near them.

After two years of thought and consultation they’ve decided on the name – Bloodwise. I like it. Yes, there’ll be a few people who say it doesn’t explain exactly what it does on the tin. And I do understand how attached people can become to a name when it’s linked to someone you’ve lost.

But from a strategy and campaign standpoint, I am sure it works, and I think it can be a strong foundation of the future success I know this great charity will have. The thing that unites all these diseases is what the cancer is living in: blood. We all have it and we don’t tend to think of it as being healthy or unhealthy, it just is. But unhealthy and indeed deadly it can most certainly be. So that is where the ‘wise’ part comes in. We all need to be wise about our blood: how it works, what can go wrong with it, what the symptoms look like when it does.

So here’s to the new name, Bloodwise. Help us meet the objective of universal UK recognition for what it is and what it does. Help us with the Strategy of shouting out about it. Do both of those and this new Tactic can help us meet the bigger O that brought the charity into being, and is now so much closer to being met.

PS: Find out more about the charity here





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Enough of the ‘lessons of defeat’ – Can we learn some lessons of victory please? Thu, 11 Jun 2015 05:35:13 +0000 Desperate times call for desperate measures. On the back of big defeat must come big bold ideas for how to turn setback into opportunity. Some will be little more than the stuff of fantasy. Others may have the grains of possibility within them.

So let’s start with fantasy. Last night, back from a short and inspiring trip to Norway and Denmark, which stood in contrast to the long and uninspiring trip through UK politics of late, I had a big bold idea for Labour.

I am afraid that it does – bear with me – involve Scotland leaving the UK. It also involves Wales leaving the UK. But then Scotland and Wales will join Norway and Denmark, and maybe a bit of Northern Germany – there will be a vote between Hamburg and Edinburgh for capital – and we create a new country called the United Progessive Archipelago. I thought if the Scans were to miss out on the capital at least UPALAND sounds Scandinavian enough.

As the designer of this new country I feel that perhaps I should be King but then as a lifelong Republican, this would be an anti progressive stance. Instead we will have an elected executive based in the new Parliament which will be part of the underwater city  to be built halfway along the tunnel – funded entirely by the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund – linking Scotland and Norway.

The Presidency will rotate between the five parts of the federal structure we will be creating. In fact, you know what, capital city is a bit anti progressive too. The capitals can rotate too. Yes Cardiff, you shall have your day, but please accept English as the main UPALAND language. It is too much to expect Norwegians and Danes to learn Welsh given they all speak fluent English from the kindergarten days. Also English will remind the former UK countries of an important part of our history. I met Adam Price, creator of hit Danish TV series Borgen, in Copenhagen and, Shakespeare alas no longer with us, he will be the official chronicler of the trials and struggles as this great new country is forged.

Oh ok. Yes, as my former Downing Street colleague Tim Allan said yesterday when I raised this new idea ‘in the old days I had a number to call at this point to summon in fresh medication.’

But why did the impulse come? Well first it is hard to escape the conclusion that, living in England, I am living in a largely conservative, non progressive country, and I do not really want to live in one of those any more. Wales is Labour. Tick. Scotland is not Tory which is not as good as being Labour but it is better than being Tory and I am hopeful of persuading Nicola Sturgeon and Co that though they want independence from Tory England, they would embrace unity with the United Progressive Archipelago especially as the Norwegian Wealth Fund – you can get an app by the way (this bit is not fantasy) which reveals in real time how many millions it is adding to the billions – has made such economic hay out of oil.

Now Norwegians among you may note a snag here and indeed Danes may warn me there is a possible snag just days ahead – namely that Norway is currently Tory, whilst Denmark has a general election a week today and Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, if the polls of the last couple of years are to be believed, ought to be dead and buried.

So why did I come away from Norway and Denmark so inspired, an re-energised by progressive politics and politicians?

Let’s take Norway first. Well, I got to see 16-year-old football wonderkid Martin Odegaard play in the flesh and I could see immediately we have a new cross between Messi, Scholes, Giggs and Dean Marney (look it up) on our hands. Martin will be captain of the UPALAND national side, we will aim for World Cup victory under the new FIFA in 2034 (you see how big I am thinking here,) and having given up my rightful role as Monarch, I will be team manager.

Back to reality. What I loved about Norway was the answer of Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre when I asked him how he intended to win the next election. Often at times like this, a private chat over breakfast, the politician comes back to a question like that with smart tactical ideas, a good slogan and news of the hiring of a hotshot foreign advisor.

He said this. ‘There are five big issues and give big themes for me and we need to build a campaign and an argument around them.’

– population growth. Oslo alone will grow from 600,000 to 800,000 and that will bring new opportunities for new business investment but it will also mean new schools and hospitals and a new way of dealing with and winning a progressive argument on immigration.
– ageing. How do we see this as an opportunity as well as a threat to traditional welfare models? How do we develop the concept of the family amid demographic change?
– urbanisation and the fact that more and more people will live in towns and cities and what are the questions that arise for the future of our rural areas and our agriculture?
– technology. The waves of change of late have been so powerful and we can expect the pace of change to be maintained. How do we use that for better educational and industrial performance?

– finally he said his personal passion was climate change and we had to win the argument that there had to be huge change to the way we live for us to meet that challenge which he also believed to be linked to the other four challenges above.

When he had finished I just put down my knife and fork and said thank you. Thank you for being a political leader who sees election campaigns as being about big themes requiring big ideas and big solutions.

He, in common with leaders I have met in a number of countries since the election, said he could not understand why the UK campaign was so small and so parochial. ‘You didn’t even debate Europe and now you are having a referendum?’ t think British people would be stunned if they knew how closely other countries followed our politics – I even had a Singaporean taxi driver asking me about Labour’s Edstone when I was there a fortnight ago. They look to us because our politics and our campaigns often shape theirs. Not this time.

Now don’t get me wrong. As I learned from the meetings with his strategy team and his deputy leaders later, they do the detail of campaigning too, not just big picture. But they were striving, two years out, to get the strategic building blocks in place. This is something that I am afraid Labour did not do with clarity or consistency. The Tories had two planks to their strategy – economy and leadership. We did not rebut their attacks on the first and so allowed Labour falsely to be painted as the cause of economic calamity after a decade of growth and prosperity which ended badly not because of spending the Tories supported or bank regulation they said was too strong, but because of mainly American bankers none of whom would vote for a left of centre party if you doubled their bonus.

And on leadership we were behind through the whole Parliament so that when the polls started to show a minority Labour government propped up by an SNP Ed Miliband said he would not even talk to, the Tories had a brilliant tactical storm into which to launch their economy and leadership fireworks. ‘You may not like us. But what is a better form of government? One led by someone who has now done it for five years? Or a minority government led by someone many of you consider to be weak propped up by a tough Scottish woman who wants to tax more, spend more, borrow more?’ Conservative England rose to answer.

But on both of those planks of the Tory strategy we helped put them in place. I like Ed personally but I am afraid the many among the public never saw him as a Prime Minister and though he campaigned well we never got the right economic or electoral strategy in place. A good campaign cannot be called a good campaign without a good strategy.

So now – bear with me any Danes who may be reading, I am coming to you shortly – we have to choose another leader. I for one wish we were having a leadership election at the end of the debate about our loss not as a replacement for it. But there we are and here we are.

I will vote for somebody, of course, but I’m not going to back anybody publicly. Whoever wins I will offer support and advice if it is wanted, as I always have. But if in two or three years time it is obvious from all we see and hear from the public that the new leader is not winning, and it is obvious we are not going to get close to winning an election, I will not bite my tongue and I will encourage others not to bite their tongues and I will happily lead the charge to try to replace whoever is leader. As I said to the Times for the series they are currently running on why we lost and where we go now, it is not complicated. You need a good strong leader, a clear compelling strategy that speaks to the reality of people’s lives, you need a great team and you need to hunt them down and inspire the best to want to join you, you need innovation and you need resilience and you need to fight like your lives depend on it.

Which brings me to Denmark. Two years ago when I was there everyone told me my friend Helle was going to lose. Six months ago they said she was still likely to lose but things were turning a little. This week she was ahead in most of the polls and momentum was with her.

Now polls, don’t we know it, can be wrong. But the momentum point is important. And where did it come from? It came from strategy. She made a speech at the New Year which laid out big strategic themes and a plan to roll them out. It came from resilience. She has been battered by her opponents and the media and she just keeps going. It came from authenticity. It took a long time for the Danes to realise that ‘Gucci Helle,’ as she was dubbed for so long, is a lot more than a pretty face and nice clothes. But nor was she going to stop wearing nice clothes and taking care of how she looked because of a lazy insult thrown her way. And it came above all from the right political positioning. She sees  New Labour positioning and Blairite politics combining enterprise and compassion not as ‘toxic’ but as the way to fight and win the power you need to put your compassion into action. We hear a lot about learning the lessons of defeat. It is time to start learning lessons of victory and for all our faults and any mistakes TB and his team made, a three in a row winner might be the place to start.

Helle could still lose. It is close but her main opponent Lars Lokke Rasmussen is uninspiring and mistakes he has made in this Parliament are coming back front of mind. The system is complicated however and it depends not just on how she does – and even her enemies say she is doing well – but how smaller parties do. But if she does win it will be because she deserves to because she made the right calls politically and strategically. I am not sure Labour here can say the same.

So as for the next leader and how the party approaches the next few years, frankly we have to toughen up about what you need to do to win.

As I say in the Times today, we have now gone through the last two elections with deep down many of us thinking we couldn’t win, telling each other we couldn’t win then telling the public we can or kidding ourselves that we could. We’ve got to become as ruthless as the Tories and stop pretending that it’s a bad thing to say that if you’re in politics you have to want to win more than anything else because if you don’t win you end up where we are now – powerless to do anything for the people we claim to speak for and who we know are going to have five years of crap ahead, possibly more. It is evidence of the ludicrous mindset of some of our people that somehow we should look at the most successful election winning leader we ever had as a problem. I am all in favour of learning lessons about defeat. But there are a few lessons from victory too.

The next leader is going to have to be big and bold, inspire the next generation, make the weather, foster talent and find a way to get the big strategic questions right. Rooted in our values but not afraid of new ideas, new people, new ways of doing things.

There will be some who think the idea of someone like me publicly saying before we even have the new leader that we should try to oust them if they are failing is daft or disloyal. But it is not. Politicians are fond of everyone else in top public sector jobs being subject to regular assessment and review. So why not the leader of the opposition ? In my view the next leader should embrace this approach and embrace the idea of a confirmation process in the run up to a general election. It could be a massive opportunity. If the next leader turns out to be good and look like they can win, then great, they get confirmed in a big moment of renewal and energy before the run in to the election. And if the debate shows the party thinks the leader is not up to it, perhaps because we have had had three years of the public telling us so – and they are the boss by the way – then off they go. Sorry but there is it. Football managers have to deal with it. CEOs have to deal with it. If leaders fail, they go. It’s the real world and it is time we got back into it.

So I would love it if the contenders came out and said what is self-evidently true: ‘if I get the job we won’t necessarily know for sure if I can do it well and become real PM material, because it is a massive step up, so let’s have this confirmation process in place down the track and watch me show you I can do it and relish the chance to show it.’ And if they get challenged by someone better and lose then so be it. I am a big believer in unity but not in collective denial dressed up as unity.

This could be a massive opportunity for a good leader and an important fail safe if we don’t get one.
Also remember that David Cameron is going to go. The Tories will have a new leader in this parliament. That is going to give them the chance to be party of change, to have new energy, direction to make the weather again, and we could be rumbling on, grumbling about the new leader but then going out and telling the public things are ok really.

Here is another thing — people said Ed performed much better later on than earlier. He had a good campaign. But imagine if that shift had taken place a year or so earlier in a really open and challenging debate which forced him to pin down and and defend basic strategic positions. He could have risen then. Or he could have fallen.

But having spent the first third of my adult working life covering Labour defeats as a journalist, the next third helping Labour win by doing what you need to do to win, I am not going to sit back and spend the rest of my life watching us lapse into a wretched comfort zone that sees one defeat follow another. The candidates need to see the election as their job interview. But the real interviewers are the public because ultimately only they will decide if someone is up to being PM. we would be wise to bear that in mind at all times. I intend to do my best to make sure we do. We are saying to the public: ‘This is the person we think you should be your next Prime Minister.’ That is a big choice to make.

One of the reasons I wrote the book on WINNERS was to set out the case for the defence of winning as a great objective but also because I was so frustrated that a lot of the things you have to do to win were not really being done. I was fine about Ed’s team saying they wanted to do things differently to New Labour. But what I am not fine about is mistaking doing things differently with not doing the blindingly obvious you need to do to give yourselves a fighting chance of winning. We cannot make that mistake again. If we do, we risk extinction as a winning political force.

Good luck to Jonas. Good luck to Helle. And long live UPALAND. The capital shall be called STRATEGY. The national anthem shall be a bagpipe version of ‘Things Can Only Get Better.’

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Why Arsene Wenger is an inspiration in the battle against alcohol Sun, 07 Jun 2015 13:59:00 +0000 You see, even when I am writing about alcoholism, I have to get in something about sport. Did I tell you I had a book out? It is called WINNERS AND HOW THEY SUCCEED. Arsene Wenger is in it. So are lots of other great sports, business and political winners. And so is my pledge that the next big win I have on my own agenda is to change the way that Britain thinks, talks and acts about mental health and mental illness, especially depression and alcoholism. Best to stick to what I know.

What does that have to do with Arsene Wenger, I hear you ask? Isn’t he just that French guy who looks a bit miserable even when they win, and can’t do a zip up on his anorak? Well, that is part of the story. The other part is that he is one of the most intelligent men ever to have managed at the top flight in football, whatever Piers Morgan may try to tell you.

But his name popped up on my twitter feed over the past few days as I have been banging on – apologies but I always feel strongly about alcoholism, and especially when I have just lost another friend to this wretched illness – about changing the culture in our country, changing the awful relationship we have with alcohol.

We are, dare I say from my travels around the world, seen as the alcohol abuse capital of the world. And before anyone says ‘Russia,’ may I offer a rare word of praise for the Putin government who have taken some tough action on this and started to get the needle moving in the right direction. Meanwhile, in France, have you ever wondered why the Heineken Cup is called the H Cup – because rightly they have stopped the alcoholisation of sports sponsorship and I wish they would do the same here.

In the UK meanwhile, liver disease is the only major killer on the rise. It is a disaster and a scandal of epic proportions and we are all conspiring in it by failing to acknowledge the scale of the growth and the cost of it all; and the politicians – with the exception of the SNP government and a few down here – are fuelling it by failing to do what is needed to lead change.

Note that phrase. ‘Lead change.’ Change comes if you work for it and make it happen. The reason Arsene Wenger came to people’s minds as I talked of the need for cultural change was that when he came into English football, he was appalled at the drinking culture among men who were paid handsomely to be professional athletes. He was also appalled at the diet of many players. So what did he do? He led change. And what did that achieve? It led to greater success. And what impact did that have? It led others to study how he did it. And what did they conclude? Hey, you know what, if you don’t drink and you eat well, and you understand that rest is just as important as training, you play better.

Now, though there are plenty of stories of top footballers going off the rails, the ‘culture’ has changed. Wenger can take credit that goes well beyond the walls of The Emirates’ stadium.

It was particularly relevant today as I saw the papers at the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, and a desperately sad story on the front of the Sunday Mirror about former Arsenal and England left back Kenny Sansom. He is clearly an alcoholic, and he is clearly in trouble And I know there will be plenty of readers who say, well, every time he picks up a glass or a bottle, that is his choice. That is true. But then they imply, and this implication has been in many of the questions I have faced about Charles Kennedy’s death, that it must therefore be the case that alcoholism is effectively a choice too, the result of too many wrong choices on the way.

But it is not. It is an illness and lots of us are suspectible to it. And until we face up to that, and do what is needed to change a culture where drinking is so embedded, so normalised, that you are considered weird if you don’t drink, and even weirder if you don’t get drunk, we are going to hell in a handcart.

So who has to lead the change? Well of course parents do. But ultimately leadership must come from politicians. That is why I admire what Alex Salmond did as First Minister, taking on the powerful alcohol lobby – in the home of Scotch whisky don’t forget – and bringing in measures on price and availability that over time will change the culture as they have where it has been tried elsewhere in the world, as we have done with smoking.

It is also why I feel such anger at the UK government under David Cameron, which brought forward an alcohol strategy full of good ideas and good intentions and then dropped it under pressure from his right wing and, above all, the alcohol lobby who found it easier to get in to see ministers than did any of the NHS, police, ambulance services, charities who are picking up the pieces day and night.

Charles’ death has merely fuelled my determination that we do something about it. I intend to keep on the backs of ministers on this. Also, one of the things I will be asking of the Labour leadership candidates is what their stance will be. Will they stand up and be brave? Or be scared to challenge the prevailing wisdom, and scared to stop people ‘having fun?’ Because leadership is about showing courage to change what needs to change, not pandering to powerful lobbies or people who think life is just about having a good time.

As so often, I think the public are ahead of the politicians. I have never had a bigger response than to the blog I wrote on Tuesday about Charles’ death the day before. Of course this was partly about the fact we were mourning a popular man. But it was also because people know the truth about this issue, that we are drowning in a sea of alcohol, and living in denial of the damage.

Is there any country in the world, apart from this one, where you can buy cheap booze as you pay for petrol? Do we actually have any soap operas that are not basically set in pubs, or in courts and hospitals filled with people driven there by drink and drugs? Have we actually reached the stage were we don’t even flicker now when we see stag parties and hen parties starting at airports at six in the morning with the booze flowing even then? Is it not time to listen to the kind of overseas students I met in Edinburgh yesterday who said they could not believe the drinking habits of their British counterparts, and they could not understand the pressure they felt under to drink, and to get drunk when they did so?

I know there is nothing worse than a convert. But maybe having seen over the edge of the personal precipice on this, I can see more clearly the national precipice coming nearer with every week, month, year that we fail to tackle this. Talk to the police. Like the British Transport chief talking to me on twitter yesterday. Talk to the Royal Free doctor who took me on a tour of the hospital and said there were alcohol related illnesses on display in every single ward, not just A and E or liver disease. Above all talk the the alcoholics themselves, and talk to their families. Then you’ll know.

To those ‘responsible drinkers’ (and what a nonsense that the industry is in charge of the education programme on this) who ask why they should pay a little more, or have availability restricted, because some cannot control themselves, I ask them to look around, and look outside their own little bubbles – you are paying already. In an NHS drowning in alcohol; in police stations, courts and prisons full of alcoholics and drug addicts.

In the Sunday Times today I have a piece in the News Review on my friendship with Charles and our relationship with alcohol. I mention a place in Peebleshire in Scotland I know, called Castle Craig. Many of the people there are Scottish alcoholics. But there are also a lot of Dutch alcoholics and drug addicts sent there at public expense by a more enlightened government than ours which understands addiction is an illness. Until we do the same, and until we treat it as such, until we educate young people properly about the dangers, until we stop seeing drink as a reward for good things and a commiseration for the bad, and until our leaders summon up the guts to do something as difficult and challenging as changing a culture that has gone horribly wrong, looking at price, availability, marketing and sponsorship, and education, then watch out for many more Charles Kennedys. The difference is you will never hear of them. You will never have politicians queuing to pay tribute to them. They will just be yet more victims of one of the biggest killers, the biggest destroyers of hope and humanity known to man.

That, Mr Cameron, and Mr, Mrs or Ms next leader of the Labour Party, is what leadership is about. Ask Mr Wenger. He changed a culture. In Arsene we trust, as the little flag behind the goal says. Would that we could say the same for a government too scared and too in hock to an industry lobby to do what it knows needs to be done, and more people will die as a result. Trust me too on this one.

Ps — I will put up the Sunday Times piece after a day or so. Not happy re the pay well either folks, but they did make four figure donations to Alcohol Concern, and also the MayTree suicide sanctuary, of which I am a patron. For which thanks

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Charles Kennedy – a lovely man, a talented politician, a great friend with a shared enemy Tue, 02 Jun 2015 07:19:12 +0000 Charles Kennedy was a lovely man, and a highly talented politician. These are the kind of words that always flow when public figures die, often because people feel they have to say those things, and rightly they are flowing thick and fast today as we mourn an important public figure, and a little bit of hypocrisy from political foes is allowed. But when I say that Charles was a lovely man and a talented politician, I mean it with all my heart.

Having heard the news from a friend of Charles who knew he and I spoke and saw each other regularly, and who had found the body yesterday, I finally got to bed at three o’clock this morning, and was awake before 6, feeling shell-shocked and saddened to the core.

Fair to say that most of my friends in politics are on the Labour side but Charles tops the non-Labour ones. I knew him first as a journalist covering his rapid rise, he becoming Parliament’s youngest MP – and one of the most interesting – aged 23, just as I was starting out as a Mirror journalist. He was one of the few politicians with whom I discussed whether they thought I should accept Tony Blair’s approach to work for him, and ‘on balance, all things considered’ (two of his favourite phrases) he felt I should. Then of course later he became Lib Dem leader, and he would ask me in TB’s heyday, half jest, half despair, ‘how on earth do I land a glove on this man?'; but we became especially friendly in more recent years once we were out of the frontline, meeting often, always away from the Commons, to cast interested and sometimes despairing eyes over our respective parties.

But our shared friendship was also built on a shared enemy, and that is alcohol. That Charles struggled with alcohol is no secret to people in Westminster, or in the Highlands constituency he served so well, for so long, until the SNP tide swept away all but one Scottish Lib Dem at the election last month. Perhaps another day, if his family are happy with this, I will write in more detail about the discussions we had over the past few years, and what it was like for someone in the public eye facing the demon drink. It was a part of who he was, and the life he had; the struggles came and went, and went and came, but the great qualities that made Charles who and what he was were always there.

For some years, my family has spent either Easter, or Christmas and New Year, sometimes both, in Charles’ former constituency and he, his wife Sarah before they split up, and their lovely son Donald would always come over, sometimes to stay. I always think one’s own children’s judgement of friends is a good indicator, and my kids, used to politicians in their lives and often seeing straight through them, saw right into Charles for what he was – clever, funny, giving, flawed. My Mum could listen to him all day. ‘I think you’re marvellous on Question Time,’ she would purr about some programme she had remembered from months earlier. She always took his side when I was trying to persuade him he would be a ‘natural on twitter,’ and he felt it was all a bit silly and new fangled. I helped him set up his twitter account. Fair to say he never quite moved that far from his initial assessment.

Mother and children enjoyed his robustness in braving whatever storms were lashing outside ‘to nip out for a wee bit of fresh air,’ otherwise known as a cigarette. Coming as they do from a maniacally exercising family, they appreciated his studied indifference to all forms of heavy exercise. ‘I’ve never actually been to the top of Ben Nevis,’ he said proudly and to great hilarity of the mountain on our doorstep, which had been on his doorstep all his life. They liked the way he advised on where the next long walk should be, ‘but I’ll probably stay and read a book.’

I think they also appreciated that Charles, such a passionate and eloquent opponent of the war in Iraq, was nonetheless unwilling to join those who when it came to their view of Tony Blair or of me, could never see beyond that issue. Charles knew that it was possible to disagree with people without constantly feeling the need to condemn them as lacking in integrity or values; though he was not averse to making a few cracks about historic events down the road in Glencoe.

Even though we knew it was a lost cause, and that Charles would be a Liberal all his life, Philip Gould and I did have an annual dinner time bash at trying to persuade him that deep down he was Labour, and now you have a son at school in London, how about we get you a nice safe Labour seat? Banter political holidays style. It was never going to happen. He was Lochaber to his bones, and a Liberal to his bones.

We were all a bit worried about him after the election. Indeed, ‘is Charles going to be ok?’ was one of the questions Fiona asked me most often during the campaign, and, on the night the exit poll made it clear his safe seat was gone, ‘is Charles ok?’ became an inquiry of a very different nature. Representing the people of Ross, Skye and Lochaber meant so much to him. Last Christmas was the first time he said to me that he felt it was possible he might lose. But we took comfort from the fact that a year earlier, at the same time, we were worrying that the referendum on independence might be lost. We worked on some ideas together and it was partly at his urging that I spent the last few weeks of the campaign in Scotland when – to his astonishment but to his apparent delight – I got on rather well with Danny Alexander, his neighbouring MP.

To be honest, for all the talk of the SNP tide, I did not believe he would lose his seat. He fought very much as Charles, not the Lib Dems and was hilarious about the efforts he intended to go to in resisting any high profile visits. As I know from the time we spend up there, he was hugely popular, but the combination of the toxicity of the Lib Dem brand and the SNP phenomenon proved too powerful a combination.

Going by the chats and text exchanges before and after his election defeat, he seemed to be taking it all philosophically. Before, he took to sending me the William Hill odds on his survival, and a day before the election I got a text saying ‘Not good. Wm Hill has me 3-1 against, SNP odds on, they’re looking unstoppable.’ Then he added: ‘There is always hope … health remains fine.’ Health remains fine – this was a little private code we had, which meant we were not drinking.

A week later, health still fine, we chatted about the elections, and he did sound pretty accepting of what had happened. Here and now is probably not the place to record all his observations about all the various main players of the various main parties north and south, but he said in some ways he was glad to be out of it. I am not totally sure I believed him, but he had plenty of ideas of how he would spend his time, how we would make a living, and most important how he would continue to contribute to political ideas and political life.

Later he texted me ‘fancy starting a new Scottish left-leaning party? I joke not.’ I suggested – though I confess I was joking – that we hold a ‘coalition summit’ at the place we go on holiday. ‘I am up for that – but who do we invite?’

This was to be the agenda for a catch up later this week when he was hoping to get to my brother’s farewell do from Glasgow University, where Charles had been the University Rector for six years, and my brother Donald has been the official University Piper for a lot longer. Charles tried to get me to run for the Rectorship after him – in addition to my brother’s role, my Dad was a Glasgow University vet school graduate – before I gently suggested that with the students voting, this was perhaps one place where his stance on Iraq may have been more helpful to such a campaign than mine.

His kindness to my brother, who has had health struggles of his own, and who Charles met many times at official functions and the like, was another big positive about him in the Campbell household. And I hope his son Donald won’t mind me revealing to the world that as a small boy he loved the bagpipes, and Charles and Sarah had to endure long car journeys with young Donald insisting on playing again and again a CD of my brother Donald’s best solo piping, and I had to play the same tunes on my own pipes once he arrived.

I think of all the memories, that is how and where I will remember Charles, with Sarah and Donald up in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, enjoying each other’s company, enjoying ours as we enjoyed theirs, and being able to talk one minute the future of Europe or the Union, the next where to find the best fish or live local music.

He was great company, sober or drinking. He had a fine political mind and a real commitment to public service. He was not bitter about his ousting as leader and nor, though he disagreed often with what his Party did in coalition with the Tories, did he ever wander down the rentaquote oppositionitis route. He was a man of real talent and real principle.

Despite the occasional blip when the drink interfered, he was a terrific communicator and a fine orator. He spoke fluent human, because he had humanity in every vein and every cell. Above all, he was a doting Dad of his son, whose loss is going to be greater than for any of us, and who will be reminded of his father every time he looks in the mirror and sees his red hair and cheeky smile coming back. And he was a very good friend. I just wish that we, his friends, had been able to help him more, and that he was still with us today, adding a bit of light to an increasingly gloomy political landscape.




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We got it wrong. Now we must have the soul-searching and honest debate we have perhaps avoided too long Fri, 08 May 2015 08:01:39 +0000 After yesterday’s very long blog, today a very short one, admitting that I was wrong. Not wrong in thinking Labour SHOULD win, but clearly wrong in thinking we would.

Sometimes, when advising people I work with, I will say beware the dangers of being so deep inside your own team’s bubble that you end up believing your own propaganda and lose sight of what is really happening.

That does appear, looking back at what I have been saying in recent days and weeks, to have happened this time to me, and many others. But it really did seem, looking not just at the polls but also Labour’s own data and my own instinct going around the UK, that the Tories would not get a majority, and that Ed Miliband could end up as PM as a result.

There is no point pretending that this is anything other than a disastrous result, yes especially in Scotland, but in England too.

Perhaps one of the reasons we are in this position is because we took so long to elect a new leader after Gordon Brown lost in 2o1o that we allowed the Tories to frame the politics surrounding the economy for the entire Parliament, and we did not rebut their attacks on our overall record with sufficient clarity or vigour, nor have arguments and policies able to build a coalition of support across the centre and the left of the political spectrum. Likewise clearly whatever strategies we thought we had for dealing with the nationalist surge in Scotland, they were not adequate.

But whereas I thought we took too long to elect a leader last time, perhaps the debate about the party’s future this time should be even longer. Because perhaps one of our problems is that we did not in reality have the debate that we should have had, with ourselves and with the public, from the moment Tony Blair made way for Gordon Brown.

After a result as awful as this, there has to be real deep soul-searching, and honest analysis about how and we have gone from being a Party identified as the dominant force across UK politics over a decade and more, to where we are today.

These are not questions that can, or should, be answered in a hurry.

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Why I think Miliband will become PM, why he deserves to, and why that is best for Britain Thu, 07 May 2015 09:59:01 +0000 Elections are among the days politicians and activists both love the most and hate the most. Love because the whole country at least has a sense that this is the most important thing happening anywhere today, and because right up to 10pm you can win another argument and win over another waverer and get them to the polling booth on time. Hate because no matter how well or how badly you have controlled the agenda, the control is now no longer with you. It has shifted decisively, definitively to the public. Democracy in action. What’s not to love?

All elections provide the answer to a basic question which, during the heat of battle, is sometimes not entirely clear until the end, when all the results are in.

If I go through all the elections I have been involved in, first as a journalist and then as part of the Labour team from 1994, it seems to me the questions are these.

1987 – does Margaret Thatcher have a sufficiently clear agenda and a sufficiently strong record to merit a third term? The country said yes.

1992 – is Labour ready to be a party of government again? The country said No. They were not exactly wild about John Major but they thought he was just about good enough.

1997 – is New Labour real? Is Tony Blair a potential Prime Minister? The country said yes in the language of landslides.

2001 – has New Labour done enough to merit a second term? Yes. Another three figure majority.

2005 – what about a third term, and in particular who is best for the economy? Are we ready to go back to the Tories? Again, even after Iraq and even with all the difficulties between Tony and Gordon Brown, the country said yes to Labour but with the majority down, and with a sense that at some point they wanted change at the top.

2010 – is the country ready for change and is the answer David Cameron? The answer to the first part was yes. The answer to the second part was ‘we are not sure.’ And the coalition was born. I predicted it, according to Philip Gould’s book, nine months out. Why? Because that was where the political centre of gravity was developing. The question was answered with an uncertain reply because that is how the country felt.

So the 2010 answer was more complicated than any of the previous ones. And the 2015 answer may be more complicated still.

Here is the question the Tories hoped that people would answer with a resounding yes today.

Is the economy on the mend and is that down to David Cameron and George Osborne?

They hoped that led to a second related question. Does David Cameron look and sound more like a Prime Minister than Ed Miliband?

Cameron thought yes to both was enough for a campaign at the start of which he said that anything less than a clear Tory majority, allowing him to govern unencumbered by the Liberal Democrats, would represent failure in his own eyes. Time to go time. Make way for – he even named them – Osborne or Johnson or May.

Well, as he sat down to breakfast today, he did so with a sinking feeling that the country might not answer yes in quite the numbers he imagined.

Has the economy improved and do he and Osborne get the credit? They have made the mistake of believing their own propaganda. You can find plenty of data that says there has been improvement. And they have plenty of media outlets who have reported such data to the exclusion of the data that suggests their claims of economic miracle do not match the reality of millions of lives. With every boast that has actually played into the Labour attack that this recovery has helped the people at the top but not the majority.

The one political success I have always given them is the way they managed to persuade themselves, most of the media, a lot of business, and some members of the public that Labour spending and borrowing caused the global financial crash, rather than the disgusting antics of their friends in the money world in the US and elsewhere.

I have also been consistent in saying Labour has not done enough to rebut all that. But even without that rebuttal, having spent a fair bit of time both at Labour HQ and out on the road in key marginals, my sense is the public have a much more nuanced sense of where blame lies for the crash and who is best placed to take the next steps forward for our economy.

Ed Miliband’s central message, that Britain does best when working families do best, is essentially both a many not the few message, but also a values message about who and what we are as a country and as a people.

The media has barely covered the growth in food banks over the past five years. But I found undecided voters often bringing it up as something that caused them real concern bordering on shame. Yes, some had imbibed the Tory line. But many others felt that there had been no reckoning after the crash, that the Tories still stood up for and defended those who had really caused it – not Gordon Brown who actually helped save the world economy at the time of the crash – but the investment bankers still raking in massive bonuses, the hedge funders who bankroll Cameron’s campaign, the non doms and tax dodgers who think there should be one rule for them and their many homes and another for those who can’t afford to buy or rent a home at all. Standing up for those who caused the crash, and punishing those who didn’t, was a potentially fatal error by Cameron and Osborne.

All this plays to a sense of fairness that despite the brutality of our media on these issues – where the tax dodging press owners urge Tory votes pretending it will be good for their readers when actually it is good for them, their wealth and their power – most people have in their DNA.

Here is the other thing about this election. If it was decided by Murdoch and his papers, Dacre and his papers, the Barclays and their papers, David Cameron would be heading for a majority bigger than any ever enjoyed by Thatcher or Blair. But it is not and Cameron would seem not to be heading for a majority at all which, by his own definition, represents failure and defeat.

Incidentally I do hope that the Electoral Commission, and possibly even the police, are investigating the emails sent out by the Telegraph editor today to readers urging a Tory vote. First, should it be considered an election expense? Second, has there been a breach of the Data Protection Act?

The press was pretty hysterical in 1983, 1987 and 1992. We managed to tame them for a few years when they knew we were going to win. But this time Ed Miliband has been subject to a campaign of vilification which must make even Neil Kinnock feel he got off lightly.

That is if you like a sub-question that this election is answering. Is the press as powerful as once it was? The answer is no. Is social media more important? The answer is yes. But are either the deciding factors? No.

If Ed Miliband does become Prime Minister – and I will explain shortly why I think he probably will – it will be a great thing for democracy that he has done so without courting or needing the support of the vicious, self-serving, nasty, deeply unbritish right wing media.

I hear The Sun has today wasted a few inches on an editorial claiming that because I signed a pro- Leveson, anti Murdoch/Dacre petition yesterday, this ‘let the cat out of the bag’ about Labour’s real agenda. That it was all about curbing the freedom of the press to stop them writing bad things about what it calls ‘lefties’ – these are people who do not share Murdoch’s very right wing view of the world.

The reason I supported Leveson was because serious wrongdoing had been exposed, had disgusted the country, which wanted a genuinely free press not the one we have now, owned by a small number of right wing oligarchs who wouldn’t know the truth if it bit them on their saggy arses.

When push came to shove, despite saying he would side with their victims, Cameron sided with the strong not the weak. Miliband sided with the weak not the strong. That is leadership. This is a side issue for the campaign but one worth reflecting on, for it exposes the real agenda behind the viciousness in display over thousands of front pages in recent years, culminating in the hate-filled hysteria of recent days. Miliband dared to stand up to vested interests. That is a good sign.

So the question at the heart of this election is this ‘has Cameron done enough to deserve another five years in power?’ The polls could be wrong, but the answer that appears to be forming is No.

So then, again if the polls are borne out, the question becomes ‘has Ed Miliband done enough to be in a position to be asked to try to form a government?’ And the answer to that is yes.

It is be found in the manual signed by Cameron, and agreed by Nick Clegg, paragraph 2.12, which addresses the issue of hung Parliaments. You are likely to be hearing a lot about it this evening if the exit polls confirm the opinion polls of the last few weeks.

‘Where an election does not result in an overall majority for a single party, the incumbent government remains in office unless and until the Prime Minister tenders his or her resignation and the Government’s resignation to the Sovereign. An incumbent government is entitled to wait until the new Parliament has met to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, but is expected to resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to be able to command that confidence and there is a clear alternative.’ The clear alternative is likely to be Ed Miliband’s ability to command a Commons majority for a Queen’s Speech.

Now there is one other big question being asked, most loudly in Scotland, and that is about whether our political system is fit for purpose. Here again I must return to the fundamental weakness of Cameron – his constant confusing of tactics and strategy and especially his woeful, shameful decision to use the too close for comfort independence referendum result to try to fight Scottish nationalism with English nationalism. He put the booster rockets under nationalism and the SNP every bit as much as Nicola Sturgeon has. Just as he was prepared to put EU membership at risk with a tactical response – the In Out referendum – to UKIP, so he is prepared to put the Union at risk. His attempt to portray Scottish MPs as somehow inferior or unworthy has been disgusting. His handling of Scotland and Europe alone, let alone all the broken promises, render him unfit for purpose.

What it shows – as do his billions of hidden benefit cuts and his billions of unfunded spending promises on the NHS – is that he is prepared to say and do anything to have a few more weekends clinging on the right to chillax at Chequers. He does not deserve to win. That is why I believe he won’t.

Ed Miliband, if he does become Prime Minister, will do so having shown he can make and win difficult arguments and do so in the face of a wave of powerful vested interests who have thrown all the money and the lies they can muster.

The question then will be ‘is he up to the job?’ That was the question the public asked of David Cameron by putting him on a period of probation by denying him a majority and forcing him to work with others.

As with every Prime Minister, we will only fully know when it happens. Having watched and worked with Ed Miliband closely over this campaign, and having seen him grow into the role as the heat has risen, I think he will be able to answer that question in the affirmative much more convincingly than Cameron has. I certainly hope he gets the chance. I for one believe he has earned it.

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Why Ed was right to see Brand, and why it is Dacre, Murdoch and Cameron who are the real rusty rockets Wed, 29 Apr 2015 08:44:11 +0000 In the land of Twitter Russell Brand goes by the name of @rustyrockets. I wonder if that self deprecating metaphor might be better applied to those parts of the press that take such delight in saying how awful and how irrelevant to real debate he is. For they are the ones misfiring left right and centre, fighting for their survival, gasping to hold on to influence even as they feel it slipping away, while someone like Brand effortlessly makes the weather form around him.

Now I loathe the celebrity culture more than most. Reality TV, Simon Cowell Inc, crap magazines telling me A list Celeb A shared a bed with B list Celeb B while C List Celebs C and D have new tattoos on their arse are of zero interest to me. But Brand is a celeb with a difference. He has political antennae, something close to a worldview, and he connects with groups of people and motivates people in a way that few politicians seem able to.

I first became aware of him many years ago when my daughter told me she and her friends were hanging around his house, round the corner from ours, after school. He then moved away but came back into our lives when, at a time he was getting big and the press were starting to turn him into a Public Enemy, a mutual friend called me and asked if I would see him to discuss how to deal with newspapers which are hellbent on hate and destruction.

Readily I did so, and told him the story of a conversation John Prescott and I had around 1999 and 2000 when we realised we had both reached a position of genuinely not caring what newspapers thought or said about us. I cared what they said about Tony Blair and the government, but only if it prevented us from doing the things we wanted to, and my own profile, good or bad, did not really fall into that category. Once I stopped giving a damn what they said, it was liberating. It was the beginning of an approach rooted in the idea that all you can control is what you say and do, not what others say and do about it. This is a trend now accelerated by social media in which Brand is something of a star.

I have no idea if Brand adopted a changed approach thereafter but he has always struck me as someone with a very good sense of who he is, what he wants to achieve, and how. Not many people can claim to be actors, writers, comedians and activists, and very good at all of it, on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.

There is another reason I am drawn to him and that is his experience of, and shared interest in, mental illness, in his case all manner of damaging addictive behaviours.

Like Ed Miliband, I have crossed the Brand threshold of his East London home. It is a lot funkier than the NW3 place that used to attract my daughter and her friends. Like Ed, I sat down with him and discussed politics. He was particularly keen to have a go at me about Iraq, and TB’s motivations. I was particularly keen to challenge him on his view, expressed when he was interviewed by – and more than held his own with – Jeremy Paxman, that voting made no difference. He didn’t change my mind about TB. I think I may have changed his about voting because afterwards I started to notice him changing his tune to the point of saying he wished he hadn’t said that, but he stood by everything else.

Since then, out on the speaking circuit, I have found myself mentioning Brand fairly often, saying I think he is wrong ever to advocate opting out of the democratic process, but right on a lot that he says about what politics and business have become. The need for revolution as it is commonly understood may be overstating things but that millions of people feel politics does not quite work, and our current economic model does not quite work, is surely beyond dispute. People like Brand can stir that up well, and actually to good not bad effect. Change can come in many ways, with many influencers along the way.

The interview we did was for a piece he was doing about the very subject of disengagement. In his last book, Revolution, he revealed that after I left his producer bollocked him – he thought Brand gave me too easy a ride because he was taken in by my shared love of a claret and blue football team and a shared zeal to improve understanding and services for mental illness.

But actually what I saw was someone who had certain strong principles and fixed views, but around them was fascinated by the views of others. We then did a slot for his online news chat, The Trews, where he looks at the newspapers with a guest. I was amazed how many people I bumped into in the next few weeks who had seen it. Any doubts about the reach of Brand were dispelled.

He also asked me if I thought he could persuade the party leaders to talk to him about politics. I was sceptical but told him how to make an approach to all of them. And I for one was glad when I heard Ed Miliband had said yes.

The papers today, rusty rockets firing and fulminating, are predictable in their outrage. But hidden within that outrage is a reality they cannot ignore – the story is on their front pages because what Ed Miliband says and does really really matters right now, because he may be a few days from being Prime Minister. And what Russell Brand says and does matters more than what the Sun, the Mail, the Telegraph, the Times, the Star and the Express are going to say on Election Day. Because anyone who has read them over the years could write it before they do. Predictable. Boring. Often nasty. Often wrong.

And if their readers believed it all, frankly Labour would be at around five per cent in the polls and Miliband’s ratings hovering just above the toilet. Just as if Scotland had voted in the referendum according to press coverage, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon would now be nothing more than footnotes of recent years rather than change-makers.

It is neither good nor bad that a young disaffected voter is more likely to listen to Russell Brand than Rupert Murdoch or Paul Dacre’s minions. It just is. And it is a good thing not a bad thing. Because it means old corrupt power structures are breaking down. That is why they rage ever louder, their growing impotence clearer with every howling shriek.

Russell Brand won’t decide the outcome of the election. The politicians will, by what they say and do, and above all the public will, by what they make of what the politicians say and do. It is why I suspect a nation groaned today as we heard or read that David Cameron would pass a law to keep him to his promises on tax. If ever there was a way to signal he broke them last time, he just did it. He has fought without doubt the worst campaign I can recall and it seems to get worse day by day. He didn’t deserve to win in 2010 and deserves it even less now.

And how predictable was his reaction on hearing Miliband had met Brand? ‘Brand is a joke and Miliband is a joke for seeing him.’ Whereas seeing Jeremy Clarkson or Katie Hopkins, or putting Karren Brady in the Lords to preside over half-baked small business PR stunts, or making Z-list celebs a ‘czar’ for this or a ‘czar’ for that, or sending best wishes to Tim Sherwood when he is made manager of phoney Dave’s claret and blue ‘team,’ that is all fine.

I have no idea, beyond what Ed has told me and what I have seen trailed, how the Brand interview will come out. But a few things I can be sure of. The Sun, Mail etc will rubbish it. More people will watch it than will watch any of the 24 hour news coverage that rolls like a lifeless blancmange over our TV screens from morning to night, and for every person who buys the Sun-Mail line and asks ‘why on earth is Miliband talking to that clown?’ a lot more will say ‘good on him,’ and think that the whole thing was good for Ed, good for Brand and good for politics.

As for the idea that it sets Brand up as some kind of serious commentator on politics, he already was. That is why it is Cameron, Murdoch and Dacre who are the jokes here, not Brand and certainly not Miliband.

Vote Labour and get this man, the worst and least strategic PM of our lifetime, out. Days to go. Can’t wait.

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