Alastair Campbell Sat, 26 Sep 2015 13:08:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Charles Kennedy would have loved both the debate and the outcome of last night’s Europe vote Sat, 26 Sep 2015 13:08:10 +0000 Charles Kennedy would have enjoyed last night’s debate on Europe at the Glasgow University Union where he honed his own great debating skills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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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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