Alastair Campbell Sun, 14 Aug 2016 23:04:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 My brother Donald: please spread his story far and wide, and join the fight for better mental health Sun, 14 Aug 2016 23:03:02 +0000 I want to thank the hundreds of people who sent messages, direct and on social media, after I published a tribute to my brother in the Sunday Times News Review yesterday. And though I often slag off the Murdoch media machine, I want to thank the Sunday Times for giving me so much space, and for treating the subject so seriously and so sensitively. 

Of course, I could have just posted the piece on here and I am sure it would have attracted a fair bit of attention. But the kind of space the Sunday Times offered me was too good to miss, speaking with my Time To Change Ambassador hat on. And they agreed that provided I could give them a day’s exclusivity, then it could go anywhere. 

So this is an open invitation to anyone who wants it to use it as they wish. If you want pictures of him, email me via my website and I will try to help. The more people read about mental illness, and talk about mental illness, the better will be our campaign for more funding, improved research and services. The more people realize that mental illness is not incompatible with doing good jobs and having a life full of potential and opportunity, the better we will all be too. 

Donald was not ‘a schizophrenic’. He was a man who had schizophrenia. Big difference. He refused to let his life be defined by his illness. And he was a man who lived an amazing life despite it. I will be doing the eulogy for Donald at his funeral, for which we don’t yet have a date, and I will publish it here after the event.

 Here is the piece. I don’t expect you to love him as much as I did. But I do hope it makes you think both about the horror of this ‘shitty illness,’ but also the possibilities of overcoming it. I hope it might make people and employers sign up to Time to Change, and add charities like MIND and RETHINK to those you think about supporting.

My big brother died on Tuesday. It was a massive, horrible shock, even though we have always known that people with his condition live on average twenty years less than the rest of us. My Dad lived to 82, my Mum to 88. Donald was 62. His condition was schizophrenia.

His illness, not mine, is the real reason I campaign for better understanding and treatment of mental illness, not least because people who have schizophrenia do have such shortened life expectancy.

I talk about my own issues of depression and addiction partly because I am asked to and also because I think openness is better all round if we are going to break down the stigma and taboo and so win the fight for the services and treatments we need.

Till now, I never talked publicly about Donald’s illness in public mainly because our Mum didn’t want me to. Not out of the shame and stigma that many people sadly still feel about mental Illness. She was incredibly proud of him, because of what he managed to achieve despite having what he called ‘this shitty illness.’ It was more that, not enjoying having one son in the media spotlight, she worried that if Donald’s head was in any way above the parapet, it could have made him even more vulnerable.

Donald on the other hand was totally up for it. Like a lot of mentally ill people, when he was well he thought he ought to be famous. And when he was ill be thought he already was. In his prime, he saw Sean Connery as a suitable actor to play him in the movie of his life. More recently he wondered if George Clooney could do a Scottish accent.

He was competitive about his illness. ‘Saw you on the telly again talking about your psychotic breakdown, Ali. You heard voices once and you’re like Mister Mental Bloody Health. Why don’t they come and talk to a real expert?’ He was certainly an expert on living a good life with severe mental illness.

Our Mum having died two years ago, we were planning to make a film together – centred on him – on living with schizophrenia. He got the telly bug a bit when we appeared together in a film about bagpipes, one of our shared loves, of which much more later.

My daughter Grace, a film student, had begun to record interviews with Donald about the ups and downs in his life since he was first diagnosed – and later discharged – while serving in the Scots Guards in his early 20s. So he would sit and tell her about the time he was in a waiting room, and the wall-plugs were talking to the lights about him while he was surrounded by people who were all discussing terrible things they were about to do to him. Then he would laugh and say ‘absolutely mad innit Grace? And look at me sitting here now. Normal or what?’

The problem was that in recent months he has been on 24/7 oxygen to assist his breathing so the noisy buzz of his portable oxygen machine is a constant on the soundtrack. We were hoping – alas in vain – that he would get his breathing sorted and we would make the film free of the buzz and the nasal tube.

Here is the real bastard about his shitty illness. The drugs. Don’t get me wrong. Treatment  – in Donald’s case, medication – can often help restore someone to the person they are supposed to be, unclouded by the illness. Medication helped give him long periods free of the voices in his head and the hallucinations before his eyes that could otherwise reduce him to a sometimes terrified and other times aggressive human being.

He had a marriage, though it didn’t last. He had better luck in work, holding down a job he loved at Glasgow University for 27 years and at his farewell last year – alas because of physical ill health – the warmth and the turnout were evidence of the huge contribution he made.

Donald had two main roles at the university – he was the Principal’s official piper who played at dinners, ceremonies and graduations; and he was part of the university security team, mainly working at the control point in the university library. It meant he got to know hundreds of students, loved the banter, taught some of them the pipes, and regularly went round to order anyone with feet on tables to ‘kindly use the carpets.’

Glasgow University was a model employer for someone with severe mental illness, while his role as piper gave him a real sense of purpose and status which he loved. He piped out thousands and thousands of students from their graduations. One of the greatest sadnesses in his life was that latterly because of his poor breathing he was unable to play other than on electronic pipes – ‘second best Ali, but I’m still better than you.’

The very last time he played the ‘real’ pipes, we played together at a memorial service for Charles Kennedy, a former Rector of the University. ‘Good lad that Charlie Kennedy – always stopped for a chat.’ He had to give up half way through to get his breath and I finished alone.

It didn’t stop him adding this to his brotherly boasts: ‘Did you see Nicola Sturgeon nodding along to my playing? Alex Salmond isn’t the only one who knows I’m a better player than you.’ (Salmond had once said in an interview that Donald was the better player of the two of us  – on this, at least, he was right). Our sibling rivalry went back to the one competition when I beat him aged ten – I got gold, he got bronze -and to his dying day he swore the judges confused us. He was probably right.

So the drugs worked. Kind of. But decades of powerful anti psychotic medication take a toll. When it came to fighting ‘normal’ illnesses like colds and flu and chest infections the gaps between them got shorter and the quantity of ‘normal’ drugs required to treat them got larger. Added to which a recent change of his main medication for the schizophrenia – necessary to deal with the physical illness and weight increase – seemed to have sent him haywire mentally.

In the end something had to give. His life.  It is a source of real sadness that our last conversations were with the psychotic Donald, not the loving, giving, funny Donald who brought so much to our lives by making so much of his own.

Donald Lachlan Cameron Campbell. You’d never guess our parents were Scots would you, giving their first born those names on May 3, 1954? Donald our Dad’s name. Lachlan his Dad. Cameron his mother’s maiden name. I got off lightly with Alastair John.

Like me and our brother Graeme and sister Liz, Donald was born and raised in England but an adult life that started in the Scots Guards as a teenager and once discharged on medical grounds was lived almost entirely in and around Glasgow, a lot of it in the piping world, meant that he had a 100percent Scottish accent (200percent when psychotic!). When we were interviewed together for the piping film, the interviewer doubted we were brothers because though I have tinges of a Scots accent when with Scots I have lived most of my life in England. We were brothers alright though. Living very different lives. But very close. No death have I ever dreaded more than this one.

He had little interest in politics, even less in sport. His passion was the bagpipes. He joined the Army largely so he could be in one of the Guards’ bands and hopefully spend more time piping than soldiering. He was serving in Northern Ireland however when his colleagues and superiors started to notice that he was behaving strangely. The next thing we knew he was in a now defunct military psychiatric hospital in Netley, Hampshire.

When we got the call, I travelled down with my Dad. Donald was in his own room, bewildered and scared, and had been drawing all sorts of weird things on the walls. In so far as he spoke, he talked absolute nonsense. Both my Dad and I just stood there, shocked to the core. Those eyes were not the eyes we knew.

It was a tough place. That is no criticism of the doctors and nurses. They were operating at a time when servicemen and women who wanted to leave service early had to ‘buy their way out’ and so amid the really serious cases evident to all, the medics were on the lookout for people feigning mental illness as a way of doing so. It was also a time when ECT was a favoured form of psychiatric treatment and Donald had his fair share of that.

My Dad was a self-employed vet and had to get back to work. I was in my late teens, on a long college holiday and decided I wanted to stay down there. I didn’t have a driving licence at the time but went north to collect Donald’s car and spent my days in the hospital with him and my nights either finding someone to put me up or sleeping in the car.

Donald reciprocated after my own ‘not as psychotic as mine, Ali’ breakdown in the 80s when we went on a road trip visiting friends and relatives around Britain. He was great company; a real glue in both close and extended family, and a very loving and supportive brother. ‘I want to kick that Michael Howard’s teeth down his throat,’ he said after a particularly unpleasant attack on me by the former Tory leader. When I say ‘after’, yes, I mean immediately after but also one week after, a month, a year, five years after, last month. He really didn’t like people who said bad things about his family. And he loved saying the same things again and again! He had a book full of mantras.

Donald was very clever but not very well educated (the reverse of a lot of people I know). I have no idea when his mind first started to go wrong, but I do know of all of us he was the one who found schoolwork hardest. I’ve often wondered too whether those times when he just couldn’t seem to get himself out of bed, which my parents saw as signs of teenage rebellion, were the first indications of an illness about which we knew absolutely nothing when that call from the military came, a call after which, our mother said many times, her life was never the same again.

He had many doctors, nurses and psychiatrists down the years, and to the end had fantastic NHS care in several parts of the country and several moments of crisis. One of them once said to me ‘Donald is my greatest success story. Keeps his job. Owns his own flat. Drives himself. Stays active. Has a passion for his music. Has more friends than any of us. Has a positive attitude almost all the time.’

That last bit was certainly true. I wrote a book about my depression and called it The Happy Depressive. If we had ever made the film about Donald we were going to call it The Happy Schizophrenic. ‘It is what is it, Ali. I got given a bit of a crap deal, but you’ve got to make the best of it, know what I mean?” It helped that, unlike me, he did do God and his faith was certainly a comfort.

He loved people and he loved life. If there were an extended family vote – we have around sixty cousins – to elect its most popular member, he would have walked it. He worked almost all his life. He didn’t like hospital for all the obvious reasons but also because he didn’t like to be a burden on the NHS which he felt had already given him more than most. He adored his nieces and nephews and was obsessed with the idea that he should have something to leave to them even though several of them already earn more than he ever did. He was a total giver.

The piping was a gift from our father who taught us when we were very young growing up in Yorkshire. Indeed if ever I do Desert Island Discs the first song will be ‘Donald Campbell by Donald Campbell,’ a tune written in honour of my Dad and played by my brother on one of the CDs he recorded for the University.

For Donald piping became a life-defining passion. He competed at a high level. The judges were aware he could sometimes be ‘out of form up top,’ as once when my sons Rory and Calum and I went to see him compete in a Piobaireachd competition – top end stuff – Donald’s mind was wandering and the judges smiled as he stopped prematurely, said ‘bugger it, I was away with the fairies there,’ saluted and left the stage.

But he was competing, composing, recording and teaching almost to the end. One of his proudest contributions was his role as a piping teacher – both by Skype and with regular visits – on the island of Tiree where our father was born and raised. Donald was teaching the next generation of young pipers on an island whose population has been in steady decline since the time my Dad, Donald and I turned out for the Tiree Pipe Band on summer holidays.

When I played – admittedly only because a Sky Arts programme wanted me to – in front of 2,000 plus people at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, I played well (including the Donald Campbell tune) largely because he had been keeping me on my toes. ‘Proud of you son,’ he said afterwards. ‘But I’m still a better player.’  Playing with him and top piper Finlay Macdonald in the bar afterwards, with our Mum, my sons, our sister and her daughter Kate, and our last remaining Aunt from Tiree in the family gathering listening to us, was one of the musical highlights of my life.

My sister Liz was the last person to visit him, shortly before the respiratory collapse which led to his death. In recent days he had become unusually violent as the voices became more and more unmanageable. After being admitted, he was initially refusing to take medication or even oxygen and was having to be restrained regularly. When he had been stabilised somewhat Liz took in some old family albums and also some of his own CDs. And though he had forgotten a lot about himself and some of the people in the albums, and in any event was back talking the same kind of nonsense we heard more than forty years ago in Netley, when she turned on the CD, Donald’s eyes lit up and his fingers started to play along with the tunes on the bed rail.

He lost his mind from time to time. Now, all too young, he has lost his life. But right to the end of it, he never lost the music in his soul. And though the Donald who died was the sick Donald, the workings of his mind divorced from people and events around him – which is what schizophrenia is, not the awful ‘split personality’ cliche which compounds the stigma  – in there somewhere was the real Donald.

The real Donald leaves behind so much grief precisely because he inspired so much love, and gave so much love to so many, not least his little brother.

– Alastair Campbell is an Ambassador for Time to Change, also for MIND and RETHINK, and Patron of the Maytree suicide sanctuary in London


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My film on the Mail – and why it is good for the soul to rip it up Fri, 22 Jul 2016 12:48:49 +0000 I know, I know, I am almost sixty years old, a grown man even  … and yes, if my Mum was still alive, she’d say ‘tut, tut, Alastair, why are you bothering to make a film about that silly man from the Daily Mail that most people have never heard of, and none but his family and staff could pick out of an identity parade?’

That is partly my purpose, in fact, about banging on as I do about the Daily Mail, and its editor, Paul Dacre, for whom the old label ‘power without responsibility’ could have been invented. The public ought to know more about someone who runs such a commercially successful and influential organisation. He and his paper are the very worst of British values constantly posing and preening as the best.

We should neither understate nor overstate its importance, however. The Mail is culturally vile, for sure, and its most negative impact, in my eyes, has been its ability to influence other parts of the media, and so the broader debate. But part of the reason for my little ‘I’m still standing’ video is to emphasise to people who, willingly or unwillingly, are in the public eye, that the only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. Of course, what a newspaper like the Mail says about you might at the margins have an impact on the way that some people view you. But provided it has no impact upon you, both your character and your determination to do whatever it is you are minded to do, then any power it feels it has is removed.

Name drop time. When Bill Clinton was talking to me about how he survived the Lewinsky scandal, when papers all around the world were hounding him to a seemingly inevitable downfall, he said that part of his survival technique was the insight that ‘you must give permission to people’ to bring you down, to change your mood for the worse. Once you see a thing like the Mail as comic, and an editor like Dacre as the comic-in-chief, worthy of pity, a source of humour and ridicule not fear, then you have the right approach.

So in these dark post-Brexit, Trumpian, Corbynista times, we must find reasons to keep smiling. I enjoyed making the #hatemail film, and I am pleased that in the reactions so far,  most have included the fact that it made people laugh or smile. A producer from Sky News asked me if there was a ‘deeper meaning’ to me doing it at this time? No. I had the idea, I made the film, bit of fun, hate the Mail.

But alongside the #hatemail hashtag is #ripitup, and I do feel that one day my campaign to stop airlines and other travel operators handing out free copies of the Mail will win. These freebie giveaways are all part of a scam to keep sales figures fraudulently high, so for that reason alone we should not play along. But as you can see in the video, the Mail’s paper is eminently tearable, it is a nice feeling, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is reading this in an airline lounge or about to get on a British Airways or Virgin flight. These genuinely great British brands really ought to know better.

For those who don’t know what the hell I have been talking about, and with thanks to Silverfish, here is the #hatemail #ripitup film Now let’s get out there and rip it up.



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The lesson of political history is keep fighting for what you believe in – including Britain in Europe Sun, 17 Jul 2016 15:10:48 +0000 Thanks for all the positive feedback for the piece I did for the second issue of The New European, an extract of which I posted a few days ago, and the full version of which you can read below.

The New European is a ‘pop-up paper’ which was launched into the UK national market with just nine days of planning. The spur was the EU referendum and the feeling that there had to be a voice given to the 48% who feel dismayed and angry that the country voted to leave the EU.

The editor Matt Kelly describes is as ‘an eclectic mix of expert voices all linked by a sense of loss about what just happened, and a celebration of why we loved Europe so much in the first place.’

It’s a weekly paper, published on Fridays and on sale through the week for £2, and available via subscription here and also as an app on both the android and Apple stores. The plan is to run four issues. I hope there are more. I hope too that the idea I propose at the end of this piece, in a memo to Theresa May, gets serious consideration. One thing is for sure – the vote has happened and must be respected. But the consequences, and the future decisions they will require, are far from clear, and there are going to be more votes, not least in Parliament, and possibly also in the country, ahead. Thanks for reading, and thanks to The New European both for coming into being, and for giving me so much space!

Can someone point me to that part of our great unwritten Constitution that says if you lose a vote you must immediately agree with those who won it?

Cast your mind back to the Scottish independence referendum. 55-45. A defeat for the YES campaign. Did the Nationalists overnight go ‘oh well, hey ho, we’re all Unionists now’? No. They accepted they lost the vote but declared that the fight for the cause they believe in goes on. The way they fought that fight contributed towards their success in the subsequent general election. Now the mess of the EU referendum means they may yet reach their goal, even more quickly than they imagined when that referendum was lost.

Or take something closer to home, my political home at least. When New Labour was in a long and winning (remember that?) ascendancy, did Labour’s Bennites put their hands up and say ‘sod it, might as well give up now’? If so, how the hell did Jeremy Corbyn become leader? And now that he is, have all those who see he cannot lead given up on the idea that he must be replaced? Far from it.

Similarly, did Nigel Farage, when he was in the small minority dismissed by David Cameron as fruitcakes, racists and loonies, vanish amid his succession of crushing electoral defeats? No. He kept on keeping on, until one day, alas, he won.

The lesson of all political history is you keep fighting for what you believe in.

So to all those who think the UK has made a decision of epically bad and dangerous proportions in voting to leave the EU – and they now include plenty who voted Leave – I say ‘do not give up the fight to make sure we are spared the consequences.’

Ah, say those who still believe they did the right thing, echoed by the same right-wing lying newspapers which helped lay the ground for Brexit, and the same right-wing lying politicians who helped take it over the line, but ‘the British people have spoken.’ Indeed. But can someone tell me what we actually said? Every Leaver I speak to seems to say something different.

In the Mad Hatter world of UK politics, and its dumbed down, personality obsessed media culture, where Dave v Boris morphed immediately to Theresa v Andrea and Jeremy v Angela, with the occasional broadsheet look at something called ‘policy’ or (perish the thought) ‘ideas’, we are now beginning to have the debate we didn’t have during the referendum campaign itself.

That is because after all the mind numbing speculation and the near meaningless slogans pre June 23, (take back control of what, precisely?) things have actually happened to bring home the reality of the Brexit decision and its implications. Business people and tourists have seen what the weak pound virtually every economic voice in the world warned of actually means. The decline of our political power has become visible in every humiliating encounter between ministers and overseas counterparts. And how nauseating has it been to see the chief cheerleaders of the Brexit Lie Machine – the Sun, the Mail, the Express, the Star, the Telegraph – filling their money advice pages with stories of Brexit’s impact on the cost of holidays, phone calls, food – oh no, not coffee too! – and the effect on pensions and savings. All those things the Leave Lie Machine dismissed as ‘Project Fear’ now unfolding across the same pages of the papers which lied the most. Let’s hope the foreign, tax-dodging media owners and their lying editors, get more of the kind of direct action treatment Paul Dacre’s neighbours to his vast EU-grant-supported Scottish estate have decided to mete out.

The Lies involved in the campaign are among the reasons there is now so much buyer’s remorse. I have been involved in some tough campaigns in my time, where claim and counter claim get pushed and tested to the limit by politicians and media alike. But never one in which one side, perhaps inspired by Donald Trump’s success in winning the Republican nomination in the US presidential campaign, made a strategic decision to build its campaign around blatant, provable untruths. £350m a week goes to the EU. No it doesn’t. We can build a new hospital every week with the money. No we can’t. Turkey ‘is joining.’ No it’s not.  There ‘will be’ an EU Army. No there won’t. We can have different immigration and customs policies without the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. No you can’t. We can be out of the EU but still in the single market without extra cost if we fancy it. Ditto. Even when the £350m figure was established as a lie, on they went with it, no shame, no backtracking, the more people talked about it the happier the Leave liars were.

But since the vote three very important things have happened. First, the full scale of the lying has been exposed. Second, by contrast, the sober reality of the Remain warnings is becoming equally clear. And third, the people who made this all happen vanished after the event. So not only have we voted for a pig in a poke; in scenes even George Orwell would have struggled to make sense of, the head pigs who created the mess immediately ran away to leave others to clean it up. The Prime Minister who decided to hold the referendum. Gone even earlier than he expected when he announced he would resign. Chancellor George Osborne. Gone. The deadly duo of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Leadership ambitions up in smoke. Farage. Gone. Andrea Leadsom. Her fall from leader-in-waiting as rapid as her rise.

Of the many sick ironies of recent events surely one of the sickest is that a campaign supposedly all about ‘we the people’ deciding who governs us, rather than ‘unelected elites’, set up the election of a new Prime Minister by 0.3 percent of the population, the largely old, white, utterly undiverse and unrepresentative section of the population that makes up the Tory Party membership. And in the end, even they didn’t get a vote. We got a new Prime Minister by a process of voluntary leadership euthanasia by incompetence as Johnson, then Gove, then Leadsom went up in the flames still burning from the fire they had set alight. If it had happened in Africa or Latin America we’d be trotting out banana republic headlines. Having been to Latin America last week, may I say much of the rest of the world sees us today at best as a country which has opted voluntarily for decline, at worst a global laughing stock.

Politics across the entire landscape has rarely been more fluid. Changes as yet unthought of may hove into view. There is time for the recent outbreak of national and multiparty madness to calm down. We can all have a say in this. By keeping fighting for what we believe in. In these circumstances, the political road to Brexit is littered with road humps and crossroads where choices have to be made. So is the legal road and good luck to all those lawyers doing their best to unpick the catastrophe the Brexit Lie Machine has delivered.

Meanwhile, a little note to our new Prime Minister, Theresa May. I wish you well. It is a very tough job. I have seen that up close. I note you have said ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ I note too that you think the Fixed Term Parliament Act means you can govern without a specific mandate from the people until 2020. On verra, as we multilingual Europeans say. You may find it less easy- and even less helpful – than Gordon Brown did (and at least people knew he was likely to replace Tony Blair when TB was elected in 2005), to resist the pressures for a national poll. I do not see how the politics of the situation will allow you to cruise to 2020 while negotiating the most important decisions in modern UK history with a mandate as PM that came not from the people but from Tory MPs many of whom had lied their way to a result the consequences of which they then left to you.

Your job now is to lead the country through very difficult times and make decisions in the national interest. You must put those decisions before Parliament. The job of MPs is to assess them in the national interest and in the interests of their constituents too. Whatever you decide will not be as simple as the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ formula. I suspect you will quickly see that Brexit as it was sold by the Johnsons and Farages will be impossible without enormous economic damage to the country you lead. If you conclude that Brexit means there is no realistic way of staying inside the single market, which you decide is a fundamental part of our economic future, then you should say so and fight for us to stay in that single market. If you don’t, but a majority of MPs feel they cannot support an outcome that sees us outside the single market, then they should fight for what they believe. You may well end up being attacked from right and left alike, but if you have the real economic national interest as your guide, I doubt very much you will be in a rush for the exit door. You will rarely be more powerful than in these early days. You should use that power to buy time and show calm, measured leadership.

From me, herewith an idea that you and your team might want to consider. Do not trigger Article 50 quickly. There is no need to do so immediately and sensibly you have not said that you would. Instead go into discussions with fellow EU leaders (without your foreign secretary, whose appointment has gone down like a global dose of the Zika virus) and explain as follows: the British people have voted to leave the EU. You want to negotiate the terms of exit, and David Davis is around to help. However as you must lead the whole country, not just half of it, you want in this process to represent those who voted Remain too (and the many Regrexiters who voted Leave and wished they hadn’t.) So in addition to discussing terms of exit, you would like to explore the possible terms on which we might stay, including another look at immigration, which is of concern not just in the UK, and some of the other issues which emerged as problems for Remain during the campaign. Might freedom of movement become freedom of labour, for example? Fight for CAP reform, and completion of the single market, in areas like energy and digital services.

Then come back to the country and put those options to the British public. The terms on which we leave. And the terms on which we could remain. A real choice of real options, rather than the fake choice between a Johnson nirvana of more money for the NHS, Independence Day, cuddly toys for all; or a hell of Brussels bureaucracy, mass immigration and straight bananas.

This would not be a second referendum on a question that has been settled on June 23. It is a new referendum on a new question which flows obviously from the first one, and from the appointment of a new PM. And once that decision is settled, that might be the time for a general election. We are, after all, a Parliamentary democracy. I accept that your fellow EU leaders have said there will be no informal talks until Article 50 has been triggered. But they will be fascinated to get to know you, you have a bit of time to play with, and if they sense you are serious about exploring options both in and out they would get over that insistence fairly quickly. I know there will be serious Tory Party management issues. But hey, plus ca change. That is how we got into this mess. Leadership is needed to get us out of it.

Good luck. These are not easy times for leaders in any country in the world, but especially those, like the US and the U.K., which really are living in the post-fact, post-reason world. I don’t know you well. But I do at least get the sense you won’t be driven by the mania of the modern media but by cold headed analysis of the options. Options are what the country needs right now. A leader who sets them out, and leads a debate that rises above the awful level of the one we have just had, would be doing the country and the world a massive service, showing leadership and winning respect, mine included.






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Memo to PM May: not a second referendum, but a first referendum on a proper choice of options after real debate Thu, 14 Jul 2016 09:56:46 +0000 There have not been that many rays of light emerging from that dark day of national self-harm, June 23, but one has been the emergence of a new ‘pop-up newspaper’ aimed especially at the 48percent who voted Remain in our deeply divided country.

The New European has been launched by Archant Media, and they have committed to four issues to test out the market. The first one, the cover of which you can see in this Huffington Post story about the launch, had a print run of 200,000, good online reaction, and it must have had some success because the second, out tomorrow in mainly urban areas, has the same run, and I am pleased to say I am writing the cover story.

The headline ‘This fight’s not over,’ gives you some idea of where I am coming from. As I say in the intro: ‘Can someone point me to that part of our great unwritten Constitution that says if you lose a vote you must imnmediately agree with those who won it?’ The history of politics is that you keep fighting for what you believe in.

The editor, Matt Kelly, told me to take as long as I liked to say whatever I wanted (the kind of brief I like) so 2,000 words later I had got a lot off my chest. I hope you can find a spare two quid tomorrow and get yourself a copy.

But within it, I do have this message for our incoming Prime Minister, who will currently be getting briefed on all the big issues now atop her in tray, few bigger and more atop than Europe. So herewith (my word of the day, as you will see) an extract from my very long cri de coeur.

Meanwhile, a little note to our new Prime Minister, Theresa May. I wish you well. It is a very tough job. I have seen that up close. I note you have said ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ I note too that you think the Fixed Term Parliament Act means you can govern without a specific mandate from the people until 2020. On verra, as we multilingual Europeans say. You may find it less easy- and even less helpful – than Gordon Brown did (and at least people knew he was likely to replace Tony Blair when TB was elected in 2005), to resist the pressures for a national poll. I do not see how the politics of the situation will allow you to cruise to 2020 while negotiating the most important decisions in modern UK history with a mandate as PM that came not from the people but from Tory MPs many of whom had lied their way to a result the consequences of which they then left to you.

Your job now is to lead the country through very difficult times and make decisions in the national interest. You must put those decisions before Parliament. The job of MPs is to assess them in the national interest and in the interests of their constituents too. Whatever you decide will not be as simple as the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ formula. I suspect you will quickly see that Brexit as it was sold by the Johnsons and Farages will be impossible without enormous economic damage to the country you lead. If you conclude that Brexit means there is no realistic way of staying inside the single market, which you decide is a fundamental part of our economic future, then you should say so and fight for us to stay in that single market. If you don’t, but a majority of MPs feel they cannot support an outcome that sees us outside the single market, then they should fight for what they believe. You may well end up being attacked from right and left alike, but if you have the real economic national interest as your guide, I doubt very much you will be in a rush for the exit door. You will rarely be more powerful than in these early days. You should use that power to buy time and show calm, measured leadership.

From me, herewith an idea that you and your team might want to consider. Do not trigger Article 50 quickly. There is no need to do so immediately and sensibly you have not said that you would. Instead go into discussions with fellow EU leaders (without your foreign secretary, whose appointment has gone down like a global dose of the Zika virus) and explain as follows: the British people have voted to leave the EU. You want to negotiate the terms of exit, and David Davis is around to help. However as you must lead the whole country, not just half of it, you want in this process to represent those who voted Remain too (and the many Regrexiters who voted Leave and wished they hadn’t.) So in addition to discussing terms of exit, you would like to explore the possible terms on which we might stay, including another look at immigration, which is of concern not just in the UK, and some of the other issues which emerged as problems for Remain during the campaign. Might freedom of movement become freedom of labour, for example? Fight for CAP reform, and completion of the single market, in areas like energy and digital services. 

Then come back to the country and put those options to the British public. The terms on which we leave. And the terms on which we could remain. A real choice of real options, rather than the fake choice between a Johnson nirvana of more money for the NHS, Independence Day, cuddly toys for all; or a hell of Brussels bureaucracy, mass immigration and straight bananas.

This would not be a second referendum on a question that has been settled on June 23. It is a new referendum on a new question which flows obviously from the first one, and from your appointment as a new PM. And once that decision is settled, that might be the time for a general election. We are, after all, a Parliamentary democracy. I accept that your fellow EU leaders have said there will be no informal talks until Article 50 has been triggered. But they will be fascinated to get to know you, you have a bit of time to play with, and if they sense you are serious about exploring options both in and out they would get over that insistence fairly quickly. I know there will be serious Tory Party management issues. But hey, plus ca change. That is how we got into this mess. Leadership is needed to get us out of it.

Good luck. These are not easy times for leaders in any country in the world, but especially those, like the US and the U.K., which really are living in the post-fact, post-reason world. I don’t know you well. But I do at least get the sense you won’t be driven by the mania of the modern media but by cold headed analysis of the options. Options are what the country needs right now. A leader who sets them out, and leads a debate that rises above the awful level of the one we have just had, would be doing the country and the world a massive service, showing leadership and winning respect, mine included.





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On Brexit, Chilcot, Corbyn, Leadsom and May: the Mad Hatter-ology of modern politics Sun, 10 Jul 2016 13:59:04 +0000 This was first published yesterday by International Business Times.

Since June 23, when we ‘took back control’ (of what precisely remains very unclear) I have been in South America, and four European countries – all work no play apart from a bit of football – taking in the Chilcot Inquiry Report en route from Spain and France. I’m now back home.

This was not exactly a tour of the entire world, but based on those parts I have been to, I can report that most of the world thinks we are at a point of potential enormous decline (these moments happen in history you know). They also think that in having voted to leave the EU we have taken leave of our senses and thus, we are becoming something of a laughing stock.

Now I need to be careful here. As I said in the long blog I posted on Chilcot Day, we live in a post-factual, post-reason age where many parts of the media, and many people, tend to find the facts that fit the argument they already believe, the pieces of evidence that fit the world view they already hold, the opinions that match their own. So I may be a little guilty of doing this myself, as someone who strongly believes that Brexit was a national catastrophe, and that Chilcot, and even more so the coverage thereof, an unfair, unbalanced and over-simplistic portrayal of a difficult set of decisions in a deeply complex policy area.

On the EU referendum, having met large numbers of people in politics, business, media, charity (and loads of air hostesses and airport personnel) I can report two things with certainty … First, Brexit is one of the biggest talking points on the planet. Only Donald Trump and, in Europe, the football, get near. Second, close to ten out of ten people thought we had made the wrong decision. Some of these were the dreaded experts demonised by Michael Gove. You know, heads of government, finance ministers, top economists and diplomats, people who run businesses. People who know stuff.

Michael Gove, yes? You remember him, surely; the spectacled, non-blonde one of the deadly duo who helped take Brexit over the line, then ran to ground, then got their just deserts as the post Cameron Tory leadership race began. But many I met were not experts at all. Like the guy serving me breakfast in Barcelona … ‘why would you do that? I don’t understand.’ Or the Italian journalist who said ‘I think we just feel so sad that you did this to yourselves.’

I still feel sad too. It is like a bereavement, where you forget for a while, but then something happens to remind you and you feel like someone hit you in the guts … ‘oh God, yeah, she’s dead,’ so ‘oh God yeah, we actually voted to Leave the EU.’ Ian McEwan is clearly feeling the same way, and has expressed these feelings superbly in The Guardian today.

I also feel that sonething, somehow, will happen, to ensure the disaster, or at least the full extent of it, doesn’t happen, and that we won’t actually leave. That would of course anger many of the 17 million who voted LEAVE. But it is clear that a fair few among them are having considerable buyer’s remorse and would change their vote had they realised that Project Fear was real. Among the more nauseating consequences of the Brexit vote are the Money pages of the right wing newspapers which helped Johnson-Gove-Farage do their worst, and which now tell their readers how this is hitting the value of the pound, the cost of holidays, flights, phone calls. Coffee in the UK, says the FT today, is the latest to see a post Brexit price rise. Sterling, I read yesterday, is currently the worst performing major currency in the world. Thanks Johnson. Thanks Murdoch. Thanks Dacre.

And what kind of mad hatter’s tea party world are we living in that a campaign that was all about making sure the British people decided who governed us, and we curbed the power of unelected elites, sees the leaders of that campaign, Johnson, Gove and Farage, fall by the wayside, along with the Prime Minister the country elected last year; and the choice of the person to hold the most important position in the country is about to be decided by 0.3percent of the population, the largely white, largely old, largely golf club bore types who tend to gather in areas of low immigration and spend all their time telling each other how they are feeling overwhelmed by immigrants. Sorry, this is a caricature, but you know what I mean. The Tory Party membership is not exactly representative of the country, yet they have ‘taken back sole control’ of the choice of PM.

As for what that choice is, it really is a commentary on the desperate state of UK politics that I am so hoping Theresa May wins. Let’s be honest, all but the political anoraks had never even heard of Andrea Leadsom till she did the TV debates as Johnson’s sidekick. Even then ‘speaking as a mother,’ and ‘let’s take back control’ appeared to be all she had to say. The mother bit appears to have gone a little far. I am as used to exaggerated misrepresenting headlines as anyone, but it strikes me, having listened to the tape, that The Times story that she was setting herself up as superior to May because she had kids was fair. Also, she says that having children and wanting grandchildren means she is more likely to care about the future. So how come she just helped destroy the future for the young?

Just as the referendum debate was too focused on the Tory personalities involved, drowning out discussion of the kind of issues that only now are coming into sharp and sobering focus, so the May-Leadsom-Gove-Fox-Crabb contest has been desperately free of actual ideas and plans for the future. Depressing, and that is why this kind of stuff about kids or no kids, especially in our dumbed down media, becomes so high profile.

Then there is the Labour mess. There was something bizarre, frankly, to be in Latin America, and have people ask me ‘so will Corbyn go?’ Or ‘what is this Angela Eagle like?’ For decades, Corbyn toiled away as a good local MP backing a few hard left causes with gusto and being little known outside narrow political circles. Now, with Brexit such a global event, he is surely one of the most talked about Opposition politicians on the planet. But it is becoming clearer and clearer, that though yes, he was given a big mandate as Leader of the Party, he cannot lead it. And as I said in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, and Neil Kinnock says in a very good interview today, it is hard to escape the conclusion his clinging on is as much about vanity as any belief he can actually do the job, or even that he wants to win an election, or thinks he could, or ever sets out a strategy suggesting how he might.

So here we are, with the Tory Party split down the middle, another economic target missed, poverty and inequality on the rise, rights under attack, a Prime Minister gone and a pretty poor field of successors in the frame, and yet still Labour trail in the polls. Ah, say the zealots who think JC is the new JC come to save us, that is because of all the division in the PLP. No, oh zealots who care more about power inside the Party than about the Party winning power in the country, it is because those MPs, in common with anyone else with an interest in a Labour government, hear from virtually every member of the human race, home and abroad, ‘that guy has no more chance of being elected Prime Minister than my pet budgie.’ We have never needed a strong Opposition more than today. I have never known the Opposition to be weaker. We have never needed a Labour government more than we do now. The chances of it happening are slim indeed unless we have a new and credible leader and a new and credible strategy. I accept the field, as with the Tories, is not strong. But anything is better than this.

According to the conspiracy theorists who occupy so much of online political debate, I have been involved in some coup or other to get him out, and it was all about making sure he was not there to make hay over Chilcot. Apparently it involved someone who works for a PR firm advise going to a Gay Pride event and heckling Corbyn. Some coup!

There were few surprises in what he had to say about Chilcot. He had already indicated the kind of line he would take before publication, and indeed he did. He repeated repeatedly the lie that we lied; he restated his view that it was the biggest foreign policy disaster in decades; he whacked the Yanks, and said the invasion was an act of military aggression; he said the UN was important; and he apologised on behalf of a Party whose leadership he has always sought to define against Tony Blair as his main ideological opponent, rather than David Cameron. What he didn’t do was give any indication whatever of how he, should he ever be a Prime Minister rather than an anti-war protestor, would deal with the security threats facing the world. From what I can gather, he would sit down and talk with people. He wouldn’t do anything unless the UN said we could. So with a Corbyn government, President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping get the global domination they have long sought.

A word on the lying issue. It strikes me as part of the Orwellian Mad Hatterology of our times that in the Brexit debate, there were blatant lies told by Leave, (£350m a week, NHS, Turkey, EU Army, you know the drill …) and yet when the lying side won, few complaints, and a general acceptance across the political classes … oh well, never mind, the people have spoken.

On Iraq, by contrast, where no lies were told, by Tony Blair or anyone on his behalf, the Chilcot Inquiry confirmed as such, and yet by common media consent by the end of the day that he lied was an established ‘fact’ in our post-fact, post-rational analysis Trumpian/Leadsomian world. Part of the reason for that, for reasons perhaps to do with his having seen what the media did to Lord Hutton when he set out the truth as he saw it (and indeed as it was) over the BBC reporting on the WMD dossier in 2002/03, is that Chilcot’s statement on Wednesday was actually much starker in its criticism of Tony Blair than a report he knew that few would actually read.

But let’s end on a positive upbeat note. Since getting home and going through a vast inbox of ignored emails, direct messages and all the rest, three things are clear. One, for sure, there is a lot of hate out there and most of it is expressed publicly on social media. But there was a lot of support for my defence of TB too. Two, in the more private correspondence, there are many many people who will not roll over as most of the politicians seem willing to and just let Brexit happen. And three, the view of the public, as opposed to the media, is much more balanced when it comes to Iraq, as well as the reputation of Tony Blair. This piece in the FT today, by an American legal expert, and this one in the Telegraph, by Charles Moore, at least add a little balance to the debate. As I said in my own blog on Wednesday, ultimately Chilcot and his team have never been leaders in the way that Blair and Cameron have, they have never had to make decisions as big as the ones TB faced on Iraq.

I was struck in particular by an email from the father of a soldier who had served in Iraq, who said he and his wife, as parents, were proud of what their son did, as was he. He made the point – and I think this is what David Cameron was hinting at in the Commons – that if we carry on as we are, a UK PM will never again be able to commit forces to danger, ‘at a time the world is actually a lot more dangerous than it might feel. If we can’t use an Army, you have to ask what is the point of having one?’

It is a very good question. And the fact it is even asked another sign that Britain is no longer the country it once was, but not for the reasons most volubly expressed by those still standing by their decision to vote for Brexit.








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Many mistakes yes, but no lies, no deceit, no secret deals, no ‘sexing up’. And ultimately a matter of leadership and judgement Wed, 06 Jul 2016 12:04:15 +0000 There was an awful lot to take in from Sir John Chilcot’s half hour statement, and there will be more to take in from the two million plus words he published when people get round to reading it, and the torrent of reaction.

There were many criticisms, and I know Tony Blair will respond to them later today. I am sure, too, that he will take responsibility for the decisions he took, and stand up for the soldiers, intelligence officers, civil servants and others who are criticised. One thing I know about Tony Blair is that he stands up for those who work for him, when they are acting on decisions he has made.

I hope people will forgive me, though this is by no means the biggest point in the report, if I begin this blog by focusing on the part of the Iraq narrative with which I have been most associated, and which was one of the factors behind my decision to leave Downing Street in the autumn of 2003. I did not receive a Maxwellisation letter, and so I am assuming I am not criticised within the report. That is four inquiries now which have cleared me of wrongdoing with regard to the WMD dossier presented to Parliament in 2002, and I hope that the allegations we have faced for years – of lying and deceit to persuade a reluctant Parliament and country to go to war, or of having an underhand strategy regarding the respected weapons expert David Kelly – are laid to rest.

The truth was – and remains, confirmed today – that the so called sexing up of intelligence never happened. The Today programme report that said it had should never have been broadcast, and the BBC should have properly investigated our complaint rather than dismissed it out of hand because it came from Downing Street. Had they done so, David Kelly would almost certainly be alive today, and no attempt by the media to say it was ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other’ will ever move me from that view, or fully erase the anger I feel at their dishonesty. Sorry, but I feel I have to say that.

I hope too that one of the main conspiracy theories peddled in the main by former US Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer, that Tony Blair did a secret deal with George Bush at Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, is also laid to rest. There was no secret deal, there was no lying, there was no deceit, there was no ‘sexing up’ of the intelligence. What there was was a decision, a set of decisions, which ultimately had to be made by the Prime Minister.

Though Sir John did not say so in so many words, it was clear from his presentation that he believed the Iraq War was a big mistake. He set out many reasons why he believed so. But his report does accept that ultimately leaders have to make decisions, and especially the tough ones.

I listened to his statement on Radio Five Live, from Barcelona, where I have been at a conference. The immediate response of Peter Allen’s experts and correspondents was drowned out by the chanting of protesters in the background ‘Tony Blair … war criminal,’ and I could hear a succession of speakers saying what they had clearly planned to say before Chilcot had said or published a word.

As we have seen in the debate surrounding the EU referendum, we live in a post-factual, post-reason age where many parts of the media, and many people, tend  to find the facts that fit the argument they already believe, the pieces of evidence that fit the world view they already hold, the opinions that match their own. This is a phenomenon born in the fusion of news and comment in most newspapers as they adapted to TV, developed in the sound and fury of 24/7 TV news, and ventilated by the howling rage of social media. People say they want the full truth to emerge, but is that really so? Or do they in fact only want the truth in so far as they already believe it to be, like the screaming protesters outside the QE2?

So when the latest murderous ISIS attack in Baghdad happens, a few days ago, with Chilcot looming, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, cannot resist adding two and two together and making whatever the number of deaths happens to be. ‘Sectarian war started in the chaos and violence that was unleashed by the American and British invasion of Iraq in 2003,’ he said. ‘Plenty of Iraqis have already made up their minds: that the invasion and occupation pushed them into an agony without an end.’ Plenty of Iraqis, and not merely Kurds and Shias, also remain glad that Saddam Hussein is no more. We just don’t see or hear them too often on British TV stations. Sir John was clear that the government’s objectives were not met. With regard to the aftermath, short, medium and long-term, that may be so, though Iraq is at least a democracy and one that is fighting terrorism. But the fall of Saddam, when the invasion took place, was a core objective, and the world is a better place without him and his sons in charge of their country.

Sir John acknowledged that war may have been necessary at some point, but argued that the timetable was rushed to suit US interests. It is true that the Americans were keen on action. It is also true, as he acknowledged, that Tony Blair did have some influence in getting Bush to go down the UN route.

Here is where I find the most extreme criticisms of Mr Blair from those who hate him most difficult to accept.

I was one of the few people who saw the process of his making the decision close up, virtually round the clock, around the world. Far from seeing someone hellbent on war, I saw someone doing all he could to avoid it. Far from seeing someone undermine the UN, I saw him trying his hardest to make it work. Far from seeing someone cavalier about the consequences of war, I saw someone who agonised about them, and I know he still does, as do all who were there, part of his team.

He was of course bombarded by views, from friend and foe. He was acutely aware of protest. He was aware that much could go wrong. He was aware lives would be lost. He was conscious of the possibility of damage to our relationship with the US if we didn’t go with them, and damage to the relationship with other allies if we did.

But here is the difference between him and other ministers and MPs, him and advisors, him and commentators, him and the public who three times elected him, including after the fall of Saddam. He had to decide. One way or the other. With the US or not. Topple Saddam or leave him. Knowing that either way there were consequences which were hard to foresee.

We elect leaders to make the toughest calls. Amid all the talk of learning lessons I fear we have already learned some wrong ones. Leaders in democracies have learned that if you do the really difficult, unpopular thing, it can be hung around your neck forever. ‘Look at Tony Blair,’ they say, ‘in so many ways a great Prime Minister yet with so many people refusing to see him as the author of anything but chaos in the Middle East.’ One, it is over simplifying things to say he is the author of that chaos, as I explain later, but someone even now, though out of power, trying harder than many of those in power to do something about it. Two, he made many changes to our country and to the wider world which cannot be erased from the national consciousness because of one hugely controversial issue.

So I saw the care he took over the decisions. I have seen the agonies it has caused him many times since and will do till his dying day. The deaths of soldiers weigh heavily on him, as do the deaths of Iraqi civilians. He knows there are things he should apologise for. But one thing he will never apologise for is standing up to one of the worst, most fascist dictators the world has ever known. Nor should he. For all the faults in Iraq today, a world without Saddam and his sons in charge of Iraq is a better and safer world, and those who gave their lives to make it happen did not, in my view, die in vain.

He accepts Iraq and the region have not advanced as we had hoped, but I wish more could be heard from those – they exist – who will speak up for the democracy that has developed, the fight against terrorism the government is leading, and the progress, albeit too slow, that has been made; I also wish the Blair haters were able to see things from his perspective, as the man who had to make the decision, in a way that we can see things from theirs.

Some of the main criticisms appear to be related to the aftermath, and many of these seem to me to be justified. We assumed, wrongly, that the Americans would be as interested in the aftermath as they were in the military operation to topple Saddam. They were the main player and we, a junior partner in a huge international alliance, did not press them hard enough.

In some ways we were prepared for the wrong things. Take WMD. I can remember accompanying Tony Blair to a pre-war briefing at the Ministry of Defence, where he was being briefed on the equipment our troops would rely on in the event of Saddam using chemical and biological weapons against them. It was one of those moments when your heart leaps to your throat. It felt horribly real. It was a moment of real fear and Tony Blair pressed to make sure that troops who faced such a threat had the capacity to be able to deal with it. I cite that for two reasons – to emphasise that we sincerely believed the intelligence on WMD, and we believed Saddam might use them because he had done so when threatened in the past; and also to debunk the idea that Tony Blair made the decisions he did in a cavalier or uncaring way. To the conspiracy theorists who say he did it for Bush, he did it for oil, he did it because of some weird Messiah complex, I say do you really think any British Prime Minister would put troops in the horrific situations that were outlined to us unless he believed the threat was real, and one which, unless we showed we were serious about dealing with WMD, would one day pose a risk to all of us?

We prepared too for a long and bloody battle with Saddam’s Republican Guard, but in the event the military battle to topple him was won more easily than expected. The welcome from the people seemed real. That may have bred complacency. Haters of Saddam as they were, we thought the Iranians would welcome his fall. Instead, perhaps obviously but it didn’t seem so at the time, they exploited it. More widely, we seriously underestimated the potential reaction of different powers and forces within the region, and their capacity for the chaos which they unleashed. Sir John suggests the government should have seen this coming.

But here too the simplicity of the debate in the UK about the post-Saddam Middle East must be challenged. To say the Iraq invasion ‘created ISIS’, as many commentators do, is on a par with saying the war in Afghanistan ‘created Al Qaida’ when in fact that war came as a consequence of 9/11 not its cause.

A bit of history. Al Qaida in Iraq, the forerunner of ISIS, was formed by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to fight Western forces in Iraq. But it rapidly moved on to trying to kill as many Shia as possible, and provoked them by destroying their holy sites. It was over that approach that its leader fell out with the leadership of Al Qaida in 2005. But when we left in 2010 Al Qaida in Iraq was largely defeated by the ‘surge’ of mainly US troops, by the Anbar awakening, and by our special forces.

ISIS emerged as a force out of premature departure from Iraq without taking the steps needed to try to reconcile Sunni and Shia. It was fuelled in Iraq by Sunni anger at the sectarian policies of the Maliki government and the threat from Shia militias fighting their way north; and in Syria by resentment at the vicious behaviour of the Allawite regime of President Assad.

Here is where I find some of the criticisms of Tony Blair from the left most difficult to accept. He is called a war criminal for acting to remove a real war criminal like Saddam who had killed more Muslims than anyone on the planet and with a human rights record to match some of the most brutal dictators of all time. Yet those same people were and remain prepared to stand by and do nothing to deal with Assad, despite the Syria death toll now being far greater than that in Iraq. ‘Standing up, not standing by,’ is the current Labour Party slogan. Well, we have not stood up for the Syrian people. We have stood by and allowed a catastrophe to unfold, millions fleeing terror, Assad using barrel bombs and crossing the so-called ‘red line’ of chemical weapon use with seeming impunity. One of the reasons ISIS has grown so strong, and become such a threat in Europe, is because we in Europe have not been prepared to intervene to prevent the emergence of a failed state in Syria and northern Iraq, just as Afghanistan became the failed state from where Al Qaida could plan the attack on the twin towers.

Syria is where ISIS has truly thrived, thanks in large part to non-intervention. Libya – where there was partial intervention but even less follow through than in Iraq – is now a country in chaos and becoming an important base for ISIS.  Of these countries only Iraq has a legitimate Government fighting terrorism.

And those who say the UK action in Iraq put us in the front of the queue for attack should note that ISIS has been and remains indiscriminate. France was our most vocal critic over the war in Iraq, yet has been a greater victim of ISIS than we and others who backed the US-led action. Belgium played no part in the war, but it too has been struck by ISIS.

Other areas of criticism from Chilcot centre on the process surrounding the Attorney General’s advice, and the role of the UN. A brief word on both.

People often talk of the UN as though it were a court of law, able to adjudicate on difficult and complex issues. It is not. It is a collection of all the countries of the world with all their competing visions and interests. But particularly today, with Putin’s Russia one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, it is rarely a body on which full international agreement can be found on anything. The inquiry believes we had not exhausted all diplomatic efforts. Of course, we could have gone on talking. But the reality is that there came a point where France and Russia were never going to follow through on the logic of Resolution 1441, agreed unanimously including by them, which was yet another ‘final opportunity’ for Saddam to comply with the weapons inspectors, deliver on the many UNSCRs he was still defying, or face the consequences.

When negotiating that Resolution, everyone – including France and Russia – understood what it meant. Indeed opponents of the US-UK strategy had sought to insert the obligation to return to the UN for a specific mandate for military action and this was rejected. I remember Derry Irvine, Lord Chancellor, saying to a meeting of the Cabinet that we had tried so hard to get the second resolution that people assumed there could be no action without it. ‘But that is not the case.’

As for the messy process, I fear that was inevitable given the white hot political context, the fluid circumstances of the build up to war in so many countries, and the worries about leaks – which were real. People may be surprised that Cabinet ministers did not grill the Attorney General directly on his advice when they had the chance. But I think they were sensitive to the possible accusation of seeking to influence someone who is meant to be able to offer advice independently. And whatever the process I think he would have reached the decision he did. There are suggestions the advice should have been debated and even voted upon in Parliament. But the military need absolute clarity on the legal base for war. I can remember the Chief of Defence Staff, and the head of the Civil Service, asking for it in very blunt terms. People really need to think carefully before going down that route.

So no lies or deceit, contrary to what Jeremy Corbyn has just said. No secret deal with Bush. A messy process surrounding the legal advice and the role of the UN. Mistakes in intelligence but no improper interference with it. Bad planning for the aftermath. Many mistakes and shortcomings made alongside successes.

I am going to leave the final word in this piece to the constitutional expert, Professor Vernon Bogdanor. Last month he gave a long and thoughtful lecture on the Iraq war, at Gresham College in London. It was a calm and cold-headed analysis and merits careful reading. But I was particularly struck by his final paragraph.

‘Of course, with hindsight, all things might have been done differently, but as President Bush said, and on this I agree with him, “Hindsight is not a strategy. Everyone’s hindsight is better than the most acute foresight.” My conclusion,’ said Bogdanor, ‘is that there are no easy answers, that Bush and Blair were faced with an almost impossible dilemma, and that all of us should be very grateful that we were not in their shoes and did not have to make their difficult decisions.’

The Chilcot Inquiry panel knows a lot about foreign policy, and about government process. They have been through millions of documents and produced a huge and challenging piece of work. But ultimately, as they recognise, they have never actually had to make the decision they have been examining. Such decisions are the stuff of leadership, which may explain why David Cameron, whose statement I have just listened to as I finish this, seemed to be speaking with considerable sympathy and support for his predecessor. He knows how hard these decisions are. He also knows that there may well be times in the future where we have to put our armed forces in harm’s way once more.

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A national catastrophe, and a vacuum in leadership. This is what Britain voted for Tue, 28 Jun 2016 09:45:32 +0000 So where to start with the national catastrophe, which has reduced us to an international joke, that has been unleashed?

Let’s start with the thing people are crying out for right now – leadership.

It is easy to understand why the Prime Minister has decided he has to go. But there is a reason for the phrase ‘lame duck leadership,’ especially when the bullet through the foot that made you lame was fired by yourself. My sympathy for David Cameron having to go to Brussels today and beg for understanding from other leaders, and my respect for the dignity he has shown since Friday morning’s political earthquake, is dwarfed by the anger and frustration I feel that he led the country down this road.

Apologies for banging on for the nth time about this. But the offer of the referendum was a tactical ploy to shut up the Tory right and shut down UKIP at the election. OK, it worked. He won a majority. But it looks like he is going to lose not merely his job, but the standing and status of the entire country; our prosperity; the Union.

He will now do his duty, and try to make the best of a terrible job. And what an irony that we, having made life a misery for other EU leaders, and having wrecked their markets as well as our own, now have to rely on Angela Merkel and Co showing the kind of fairness, reasonableness and solidarity that have been sadly lacking from this side of the Channel in recent weeks. But even her patience and understanding will have been pushed to the limit by this act of national  self-harm and self-indulgence.

George Osborne is another lame duck, but one with the difficult job of continuing to try to steer the economy through some very dangerous waters. Given he always thought the referendum was a bad idea, and shared my view that UKIP and the Tory right were better seen off in strategic argument rather than tactical pandering, he could be forgiven for a mild dose of ‘I told you so.’ To his credit, he has done none of that and like Cameron is doing what he can to rescue the situation, steady the markets and the pound. Project Fear was no Project Fear at all. The warnings of economic damage were real, and the people who will first pay the price are those who fell for Project Lies.

An important role was played by our wretched right-wing, lying, anti-Europe, anti-immigrant right-wing newspapers, owned by an Australian-American billionaire who has always used his papers for his own political and economic agenda; a weak tax-dodging billionaire aristo at the Mail (Rothermere) controlled by a strong and sociopathic editor (Dacre); Channel Island tax avoiders at the Telegraph; a pornographer at the Express and Star, which with the Daily Dacre have fanned the anti-immigrant flames more than anyone. These are national and cultural leaders too, and they are disgusting in the extreme, not least the effortlessness with which they glide from stirring the hate to condemning its consequences. And when loathsome creeps like Kelvin Mackenzie talk of having ‘buyer’s remorse’ at the vote; when these papers’ money experts now give their guides as to how the result will hit the savings, pensions, holidays, cost of phone calls of their readers, you wonder how those readers can ever buy these rags again, given the damage they have helped create.

But these papers would not have managed to be on the winning side without the trio of leading politicians who led the Leave campaign. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage.

Of the three, as leaders go, I have more respect for Farage than the other two. He has always been a far right, nationalist, xenophobic, anti European who has consistently called for Britain to be out of Europe. He has often been a lone voice screaming in the wilderness. He has kept going, and he has won his fight. It is a tragedy for Britain, in my view, but for all the nastiness he has unleashed down the years, you cannot escape the fact that he stuck to his guns and never gave up.

For Johnson and Gove, I am afraid I find it hard to feel anything but contempt right now. They won the campaign, and that did require boldness and nerve, without doubt important leadership qualities. But they did so by, in Gove’s case, posing as the intelligent Tory while doing his best to create a post-intelligence, anti-expert, anti-fact debate; and in Johnson’s case putting his own ambition to be Prime Minister ahead of what he actually believes to be the national interest. If you haven’t read Nick Cohen’s piece in the Observer, you should. Here it is.

Since the vote, the lack of leadership they have shown has been stunning. As I said in this piece for the International Business Times on Saturday, they looked sick to their stomachs at having won. Their celebration press conference on Friday was like a funeral. They said nothing about the markets, nothing about Scotland, nothing about Northern Ireland, nothing about the tensions and hatreds that were already kicking off in unpleasant racist behaviour around the country. They looked and spoke like two naughty schoolboys who had been bullying the smallest kid in the class, and finally it had been caught on CCTV behind the bike sheds.

Then yesterday we had Gove sneaking in and out of the Cabinet meeting he had to attend. Johnson avoiding the Parliamentary session he should have attended, speaking to the nation via the column in the Daily Telegraph that pays him £250,000 a year ‘chickenfeed’, and giving more bumbling nonsensical clips to the media, saying the pound and the markets had stabilised when they hadn’t, saying we could have access to the single market and end free movement of travel when we can’t. ‘You betcha,’ he said when asked if this was possible, as he jumped into a blacked out Range Rover – a sign that he will now have to hide his face from people who saw him as modern, progressive, pro-youth and pro-immigration when he was running for Mayor, and now see him for the opportunistic unprincipled charlatan some of us have long known from his days lying about Europe for the Telegraph in Brussels.

And what a horrible irony that having won this campaign by saying it was all about the country being able to elect its own leaders, the next PM will now be chosen by the tiny and shrinking, old and unrepresentative, Tory Party membership. If there is a stop Johnson campaign, I wish it well. It deserves to win in a way that he and his fellow Vote Leave liars, busy backtracking from every promise they made, on the NHS, on borders, on immigration, did not.

Now to Labour. Another leadership disaster area, at a time a well-led Labour Party has never been needed more.

Nearly everyone who spoke of Jeremy Corbyn as they resigned yesterday said he was a good and decent man. Well, he is certainly a good local MP. But I am beginning to doubt the decency part. The phrase ‘do the decent thing’ comes to mind.

Of course this is a subjective view, but it is born of decades of campaigning and of travelling the UK listening to people (the ones who said we wouldn’t win with Ed Miliband, the ones who said – and this is not hindsight, I was clear with the Remain campaign from early June – that the referendum was being lost) – but here is as close as a fact as you can have in these unpredictable times. The British public will never elect Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.

Yes, he was elected leader by a landslide. Yes, he attracted lots of new members. Yes, he is right that division and inequality are massive problems in our country. But he is not going to be asked to solve them and, what’s more, for all the fine words, he has given little indication of how he would try.

MPs are of mixed quality. But they are not all daft. The avalanche of resignations of frontbenchers has come not merely because of his half-hearted, ineffectual campaigning in the referendum debate. It has come because they have seen up close that he cannot do the job. And we saw again last night, just as we saw in that car crash Vice documentary, is that he is great when telling the converted what they already think (and by the way large numbers in that crowd last night are dedicated to destroying Labour not saving it) but hopeless at winning over the people we are going to need to prevent an even bigger Tory majority in the coming election, whether it is Johnson, Theresa May or anyone else at the helm from Number 10.

There has always been a section of the Labour Party that cares less about winning power than it does about holding sway within the Party. Corbyn now leads that section. He seemingly couldn’t even answer the question if he voted REMAIN. And have you ever seen him say he actually wants to be PM. A sect has taken control of one of the two most important national political organisations. If he was a decent man, he would do the decent thing and go, and let someone who can lead take on the role of leadership. If he remains, fighting harder for this remain than the one he should have fought for, then he will earn his place in history – as the man who split and possibly destroyed the Labour Party in an act of vandalism and vanity. In this, he is the Labour version of Boris Johnson who, out of ego, ambition and vanity, has risked the destruction of the country he claims to love and claims he could be capable of leading.

This, tragically, is the story of British politics and national life today. Johnson – a man who doesn’t believe in Brexit, but said he did, may be about to become PM, despite his obvious unsuitability. And Corbyn, who does believe in Brexit, but said he didn’t, is clinging on as Leader of the Opposition, despite his obvious unsuitability.

Thank God Merkel is in Germany. Thank heavens too that Scotland has proper political leaders across the board, including three strong women leading the SNP, Labour and the Tories. But God help the rest of us right now.

And if I meet one more person telling me they wished they hadn’t voted Leave, they didn’t realise these warnings were real, they thought it did mean more money for the NHS, they thought it would mean a drop in immigration, they thought it wouldn’t lead to economic harm and job losses and rising prices and and tax rises and spending cuts … I worry my legendary calm temper might just snap.

We have got what we voted for. We were warned. We have the national crisis many of us said we would. And we have a vacuum in leadership.

A few suggestions.

Do not give up on the idea that the country can rethink this decision. Yes, accept the verdict of the people. But watch and get involved as the people express their regret in growing numbers and in varying ways.

Do not allow Boris Johnson, chief architect of this disaster, to become the Prime Minister.

Do not allow him, Gove et al, to escape the scrutiny they deserve for the lies they told. At the least, the Electoral Commission and the body for Standards in Public Life must be looking at the claims made, and the retraction of them immediately after winning.

If you think Corbyn has to go, join the Labour Party, and help make that happen so that it can become a proper functioning campaigning party again, not a hard left sect and vanity project, as a general election nears.

And call out and challenge the nastiness and the racism that this campaign has unleashed, further adding to the sense that a campaign won on the slogans ‘take back control’, ‘make Britain great again,’ is lurching out of control, and showing the world its worst side, not its best.



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3Ps+U = REMAIN. Peace, power, prosperity v Fear of the Unknown Wed, 15 Jun 2016 15:46:14 +0000 Yesterday I spent a lively couple of hours debating the pros and cons of EU membership with former Chancellor Norman Lamont in the City. He was one of the first high profile political figures ever to suggest one day we might leave the EU (so long ago I can’t remember when.) At the time it was something of an eccentric position, but as June 23 nears, not only do we have a referendum on membership many thought would never happen, but the prospects of Lamont being proven right are more real than even he, I suspect, imagined they might be.

His main arguments were that the EU’s primary if not sole objective was preventing the eurozone from imploding, and we were better to be well out of it when it happened which, he was adamant, it would; and that the basic project of the EU remained to create a political union that morphed into a US of E. I disagreed with the second part, had some sympathy for the first, but made the points that 1, we are not in the Euro 2, we would be affected by economic meltdown in the EU anyway.

He had little time or respect for either of the campaigns, and he did at least admit (and this is something I will be discussing on the BBC Northern Ireland referendum debate tonight) that he could not see how it was possible for the UK to leave and not have border controls at the border with the Republic of Ireland, our only land border with the EU.

As for my own main arguments, here, for those who can be bothered to read a speech in this era when some consider a whole tweet to be a long read, are the opening remarks I made before we got into the q and a.

It is very nice to be trading blows with Norman Lamont. Or Lord Lamont as he now is, one of those unelected peers who complain constantly about unelected bureaucrats making laws in Brussels. The difference being that he does and they don’t, the elected politicians do.

Norman was an important figure in my time as a journalist. Black Wednesday, when we crashed out of the exchange rate mechanism, was one of the busiest days of all for a Labour supporting Mirror hack like myself, whilst his view that unemployment was ‘a price worth paying’ for economic rigour was one of the great enduring soundbites of the era, and might perhaps be relevant too to the current debate gripping the nation and indeed the world.

But despite my parti pris approach, there was something of the politician-defending spin doctor in me even then. When we were summoned towards the end of Black Wednesday to the back of the Treasury where a pale looking Norman was to do an impromptu press conference, I noticed that the cameramen had all gathered in an arc, knowing that if the Chancellor stood in the centre of the arc, they would have a very good shot of Norman in the foreground, and a drain directly behind him. My fellow hacks will not forgive me but … I called Gus O’Donnell, the PM’s press secretary who was overseeing this event, and warned him about these looming ‘down the plughole’ headlines, so that when they came out he directed Norman very pointedly to the edge of the arc.

Also in that little gathering was one David Cameron, then a special adviser, now the Prime Minister and leader of a campaign in which I find myself, this time, on his side, and it is Norman who is on the other.

I do not particularly like being on the same side as Cameron. Partly tribal politics. Also, the strategist in me is angry that we are having this referendum, promised as a tactical response to the rise of UKIP three years ago, perhaps one of the factors that gave him a majority he didn’t always expect, but now we are having it and, guess what, possibly the most important vote of our lifetime and it is becoming as much an argument about the future leadership of the Tory party, as the future of the UK, and all manner of issues and personalities are crowding in in a way not exactly predicted when it all began.

So I do not stand here as a natural supporter of Mr Cameron, or a great admirer of the way he has handled this debate.

I stand here purely as someone who, amid all the bleatings from LEAVE about Project Fear thinks there is an awful lot to be scared about if we do the wrong thing on June 23.

I centre my arguments on three Ps and a U.

The Ps. Peace. Power. Prosperity.

The U. The Unknown. More accurately Fear of the Unknown but I thought if I said FU it was too early to be going all Malcolm Tucker on you. We can do that in q and a.

Let’s start with peace. There have not been many wonderful examples of communication in this campaign, but one I noticed, from Labour, was a short film about a very old second world war veteran, close to tears, saying he couldn’t believe that a time the forces of the good in the world need to work together, Britain of all countries, historically a leader, is on the verge of ripping itself apart.

I know that NATO has been a big part of keeping the peace in Europe. But do not underestimate the importance of Europe’s institutions becoming ever closer in helping deliver peace to a continent historically defined by wars between its great powers which have engulfed the world. If Black Wednesday was one of the big days of my journalistic career, one of the defining images was of Mitterrand and Kohl hand in hand. I am not saying that a vote for LEAVE is a vote for World War 3. I am saying that it is hard bordering on impossible to see the circumstances in which EU nations go to war with each other when they are pulling together. Easier to do so when they are pulling apart amid the kind of strains we have now over migration and economic inequality, and the reassertion of Russian power. The answer is not to run away from those challenges or think we can be immune from them but seek to meet them together.

We should resist the short memory syndrome. How many felt, as I did, a certain chill when Austria came so close to electing a far right president? Amid economic uncertainty, the forces of the far right are on the rise, sufficient even for Angela Merkel to have to warn about the return of anti Semitism. We will defeat them better together.

I am saying too that the nature of the threats we face to peace require us to be part of the collective strength that the EU gives us. There is the obvious threat, of global terrorism, which requires greater not less co-operation between the forces of security and law and order. ISIS would love it if we began the break up of the EU. So would Vladimir Putin. We should not be weakening ourselves at a time his entire objective, his strategy and his tactics are all about the reassertion of Russian strength.

Virtually every security voice is saying we fight terrorism and organized crime better together. If we leave the EU, we would lose our access to the European Arrest Warrant, making justice slower and reducing our ability to deport suspected criminals. The Association of Chief Police officers has said being out of the EAW and relying on less effective extradition arrangements could have the effect of turning the UK into a ‘safe haven’ for Europe’s criminals.

There are two borders I worry about too. Our border with France moving back from Calais to Dover. And the only land border in the UK, the one between north and south Ireland. Think that one through, those who take peace in Northern Ireland for granted. I have still to hear any credible answer to the question – how can you put an end to free movement across the EU without controls at that land border? And what are the trade and security implications in the incredibly important relationship between the UK and Ireland?

This takes me to power, the second P. The UK remains an important country. And we will not vanish off the face of the earth if we come out. But I do believe we will diminish in power very quickly. When Barack Obama talked about us going to the back of the queue, when President Hollande talked about their being ‘consequences’ to Brexit, when Angela Merkel says we have more power at the table than away from the table, when Prime Minister Modi said we would be of less interest or relevance to India out of the EU, they, in common with all the other world leaders saying the same thing, were all dismissed as part of Project Fear, in Obama’s case dismissed by Leave leader Boris Johnson – hoping to be PM in a few weeks time if we make the wrong call, ladies and gentlemen – in rather unpleasant and racist terms. But when virtually every world leader is arguing that they believe we would be taking the wrong decision, might their collective wisdom actually be worth thinking about? And might there be a message in reflecting that the only foreign voices who appear to want us to leave are Putin, ISIS and Donald Trump?

The EU is the world’s largest provider of development assistance, the world’s biggest trade bloc, and a key player in the global effort against climate change. Inside the EU, the UK has influence over how the EU uses its weight around the world. Alone, we can do some good, but not as much as through the pooling of our resources.

Let me weave in part of the U here, the fear of the Unknown and also the unintended consequences. A prediction … if we leave, we will do so despite a majority of Scots wanting us to stay. Nicola Sturgeon will have her excuse for the second referendum. This time I think she would win it, low oil price or not. Bye bye UK. And with it bye bye our seat as a permanent member of the UNSC. The power we have now comes not merely because of our history but because it gives us a top table place on so many of the important bodies of international authority. Alone in being a big player at the UN. NATO. G7. G20. Commonwealth. EU. We are deliberately taking a risk with that … and for what?

So to P for prosperity. Again, I am not saying that our economy will vanish overnight. I am saying that the single market is of enormous advantage to business and to consumers and, short of there being any compelling evidence that we would be better off out, then why on earth would we put that at risk too? And why would we assume, once we are out, that what will be by far the bigger market – 500m people minus us – would want to do a deal that was better for us than for them? This is on a par with Trump’s vain belief that the Mexicans will pay for the wall that, hopefully, he will never be in a position to build.

A vote to stay is a vote for, if not certainty in these uncertain times, much greater security. Not only with access to the single market but with a say over the rules of doing business across Europe. That means more jobs, lower prices, and more financial security for British families.

A vote to leave is a vote for a risk so big it should only be made with at least some sense of certainty that Vote Leave have not been able to provide.

If we stay, we are, Cameron’s reforms not withstanding, largely sticking with the status quo. If we come out we are making several general elections worth of change in there. And yet have the LEAVE side done the equivalent of a manifesto and said what will replace the arrangements we have now?

‘We just don’t know’ is their answer to what replaces the single market arrangements, and at various points different LEAVE campaigners have suggested deals similar to those enjoyed by Canada, Albania, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Macedonia, Andorra, The Isle of Man, The Channel Islands, Turkey, Australia, South Korea, Ukraine, Moldova, Morocco, Vanuatu, Brunei, Nicaragua, Mexico, Peru, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, or Columbia.

The truth is if we left, the EU would not give us a better deal than they have for themselves. This would harm our economy, lead to a fall in standard of living, billions in spending cuts, which would hit the NHS and other public services. And as Johnson travels Britain with his mobile lie machine, and the straightforward untruths on the side of his bus, it is hypocrisy of stomach churning proportions to see him, Farage and the NHS-hating privatisers who run Vote Leave pretending this is a fight for more money for hospitals.

It is also fantasy to say we can leave the EU yet stay inside the single market while delivering on Leave’s pledge to stop freedom of movement. To quote former civil servant Sir Stephen Wall, one of those ‘experts’ LEAVE are so keen to dismiss, who has forgotten more about the EU than most of us will ever know: ‘A vote to leave the EU would be interpreted as, at least in part, a vote against the freedom of movement of people. It is likely therefore that the Government would be obliged to seek terms giving the UK continued open access to the single market while excluding freedom of movement. Such a deal would be unnegotiable’

Again, it’s good to take a look at whose side you’re on in an argument. Now given that a lot of the current dissatisfaction with politics and economics stems from the failings which led to the GFC, and the feeling that those who caused it have carried on as per, and those who didn’t have paid a price, it is not an automatic that great economic voices are as credible as we or they might like. But can they all be wrong? Bank of England, World Bank, OECD, IMF, CBI, IMF, LSE … I could stand here pretty much for the rest of my speech and list the voices who are backing REMAIN. On the other side there is John Longworth of the BCC, and as major employers there are hardly any outside the tax dodgers and foreigners who own most of our national press and make sure the Brexit Lie Machine can tick away nicely.

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

Firms come to Britain because we offer a gateway to high-income consumers who want high-value goods.
Because of the single market. If you really drill down on all the expert economic opinion, it is saying investors will pull out, firms relocate, jobs disappear – because we choose to leave this remarkable free trade area, and deliberately opt for a more restrictive trade relations with the world. So PWC has estimated almost 1m jobs will be lost if we come out of the single market. Every serious organization issues serious warnings and these are waved away as nonsense by Johnson and Farage. They’ll work it out. Those two.

It is not so much a leap in the dark as a dive from a top board into an empty pool, knowing that a catastrophe is likely but saying, oh what the hell, let’s give it a go. That is why, just as passionately as Norman believes the opposite, I believe we should vote to stay in the EU on June 23.


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Time to listen to people who know what they are on about Thu, 09 Jun 2016 06:57:11 +0000 Given that Tony Blair ousted John Major from power in 1997, they are hardly ever likely to be best buddies. But for both Prime Ministers, Northern Ireland was a big priority, and the progress to peace there one of the best examples of what boldness and courage, political commitment and hard work, can do.

So as the EU referendum nears, it is good for the campaign that they are going there together, and that their voices will be heard on a subject on which all too little has been spoken, namely the potential impact on Ireland north and south of a LEAVE vote on June 23.

Doubtless they will be drawing attention to the possible return of  controls at what is the only land border between the UK and the EU. Add in the possibility on the other side of the UK, South East England, of the border at Calais moving back to Kent (another issue on which LEAVE are conspicuously quiet) and you start to get into the nitty gritty of just two of the many difficult and unintended consequences of exit.

Border controls in Ireland have a resonance unlike no other. We in Great Britain have not had to live with the kind of checks that the security situation, the smuggling and the organised crime related to terrorism, demanded. Nobody from LEAVE has been able to explain how they can meet their promises to curb freedom of movement by EU nationals without strict border controls returning. Nor have they been able to explain how they would make up for the damage done to both UK and Irish economies by the departure from the single market on which so many of our jobs, and so much of our prosperity depend.

One of the most remarkable parts of the Boris Johnson/Michael Gove et al con trick at the heart of LEAVE has been the way they have turned the concept of the ‘expert’ on its head, and also how they, as Establishment as they come, have become self-appointed leaders against ‘the elite.’ ‘Expert’ used to mean someone who knew what they were talking about. So when nine out of ten economists argue strongly for REMAIN, and when every major economic institution bar none comes out against LEAVE, warning of potentially cataclysmic consequences, these are all dismissed, by Eton/Oxbridge/Telegraph/Tory MP/London Mayor Johnson, and Oxbridge/Murdoch press/Tory MP/Lord High Chancellor Gove as pro-establishment Project Fear flunkeys.

Sometimes, when you have difficulty making a decision, expert opinion is the one worth listening to. When it comes to the peace process, its strengths and weaknesses, you don’t have many greater experts than Tony Blair and John Major. If leaders have a genuine fear that a course of action will have bad consequences for something as important and at times as fragile as the peace process, they have a duty let alone a right to say so, however much the Project Fear attack goes up. There is a lot to be scared about. They will also be warning of the danger of a second Scottish independence if the UK votes to leave and, as I have said before, I think in those circumstances there could be a different outcome.

So yes, the economy is on the ballot paper on June 23, and the single market and the three million UK jobs that partly depend on it should be argument enough to stay. But the peace process is on the ballot paper too. And so is the Union.

They are the kind of issues too serious to be sacrificed on the altar of Boris Johnson’s ambition to follow in the footsteps of Major and Blair into Downing Street. I hope today is one of those days when people really stop and think what is at stake.

I know from my regular visits to Ireland that the business community there is if anything even more united for the UK staying than business is here. Today Ibec, a group representing Irish business, is launching a poster campaign at Dublin Airport, aimed at the many UK voters, and Irish voters with UK connections, passing through there daily.

The message is simple … ‘DON’T GO. Let’s work together.’ Ibec CEO Danny McCoy says: ‘If the UK votes to leave, not only will the UK economy suffer, Ireland will also be badly affected. An EU without the UK would be a lesser Union.

‘A UK exit would send Ireland, Britain and Europe into uncharted and treacherous waters. The value of sterling has already fallen significantly, a vote to leave would prompt a further significant depreciation, heaping pressure on businesses trading with the UK. This is in addition to the countless other risks that would arise during and after the period of a negotiated exit. A UK departure would be a blow to the Irish recovery and result in a protracted period of uncertainty. It would undermine Europe’s ability to act collectively and decisively in the world and would push the EU back into a damaging period of crisis management, at a time when it should be looking to the future.’

While Johnson, Gove, Farage et al blithely claim new trade deals will be worked out quickly and with ease, anyone with any experience of actually doing them knows how untrue that is. We are set, if we leave, for years of uncertainty and with it massive economic risk.

In this era of disbelieve, and of anti-politics and anti-business, and anti-expert, it is easier than it should be for a Trump or a Johnson to gain traction. But sometimes it really is worth listening to people who know what they are talking about. Love them or hate them, Major and Blair are seriously worth listening to on the fragility of the peace process. And the overwhelming volume of the expert voices warning of economic calamity are worth heeding too, because the prospects of it are all too real.

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Lots to learn from the way Sadiq Khan fought and beat the Tories Sun, 08 May 2016 13:56:43 +0000 Given Sadiq Khan is in man-of-the-moment territory, I thought I would repost the transcript of the interview I did with him a few weeks back for GQ. What was clear to me then, and became clearer as the London Mayoral campaign went on, was that Sadiq had done a lot of strategic heavy-lifting – worked out the big themes and messages he wanted to put across, and thought well about how to deal with those areas where he had worked out he was vulnerable to attack. (The bits in bold, as before, are the bits that were not used in the published interview on space grounds, but which I do think say something interesting about him nonetheless).

He has got off to a good start, because of the nature of the campaign, and the size of the mandate. I also think he was absolutely right to pitch in today by emphasising the lessons to be learned from the nature of the campaign that led to his win. As I said on Robert Peston’s new ITV show this morning, he won in part by being explicit about the desire to win support from all sections of the community, including people who would not normally consider Labour. He was pro-business but also had ideas for dealing with inequality. He was not talking only to the converted, and he was always determined not to get trapped inside the political bubble. Too many people in the Labour Party today are talking to themselves about themselves, in a language many do not hear let alone understand.

I hope too that he will use his new found authority and name recognition to get right into the EU referendum. He is well placed to make the Labour case for IN, the London case for IN, and to show that positive campaigning can enthuse and motivate others to get involved. It is damaging to the campaign for IN if it is seen as being all about a Tory internal war to succeed David Cameron, Boris v George, Teresa v Michael and so on. There is a progressive case for EU membership and we need to hear a lot more of it. Sadiq can be a big part of that.

Now here is the GQ chat again.

AC: Why should London vote for a Mayor who supports Liverpool?


SK: Because I am an authentic football fan who doesn’t change teams to win votes.


AC: Why Liverpool?


SK: My two brothers went to Chelsea and got chased away being called “the P word,” [Paki] and never went back. I supported Wimbledon, went to Plough Lane for a Cup game against Spurs, and the Wimbledon fans – my team – were calling me the “Y-word” [Yid]. I never went back. So the only opportunity to watch was Match of the Day, Big Match, Football Focus, Saint and Greavsie. Liverpool were on all the time, playing beautiful football, the Dalglish-Rush-Souness-Hansen era, I became a Liverpool fan at eight or nine.


AC: Do you go?


SK: Last year once, this year not yet.


AC: Do you regret nominating Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership?


SK: No I don’t. We lost two elections in a row, big defeats, won just 29percent, 30percent. In those circumstances, for the Westminster elite not to let someone on the ballot paper who had support in parts of the party would have been wrong. You remember when we stitched it up to stop Ken Livingstone running for Mayor. We ended up coming third. Also, David Miliband nominated Diane Abbott in 2010, but she came fifth because there were better candidates.


AC: Did you think Corbyn could win?


SK: No, I was clear I was not supporting him, and I was as astonished as anyone by Corbynmania. I have spoken to mates of yours whose kids voted for him, because he said what he believed and believed what he said, and the other three candidates had such flat campaigns, it was not clear what they stood for. Also it is not true that his voters were all – quotes – “headbangers”, or signed up for three quid. He won among members, supporters, trade unions.


AC: How is he doing?


SK: Early days. He has made mistakes. If you have done 32 years as a backbencher, no experience of the frontbench, let alone leadership, it is a difficult transition. But simple things: as Leader of the Opposition you’re applying for the job of Prime Minister, so when there is an event to commemorate the Battle of Britain, I don’t care what your views are, you sing the national anthem. That was a mistake.


AC: Do you have a sense of what his general approach to policy and strategy is?


SK: It is not for me to answer for him, but I think he is getting to grips with the levers. Politics is a team sport, the big tent matters, and if they are honest I’m not sure they have been good at building a team.


AC: How much do you want him in your campaign?


SK: This is my campaign, and I have a similar mandate, 60 percent. A city chooses as Mayor a champion for that city, with ideas, a vision; what they do not want is a patsy for their party. That means working with a Conservative government if it is in the interests of the city. George Osborne is right to go overseas and find investment for London. And if Jeremy Corbyn says things not in London’s interests, I will say so.


AC: Why did you change your mind on Heathrow?


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


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


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


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


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


AC: Where are you on HS2?


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


AC: How active will Jeremy be in your campaign?


SK: Jeremy gets the housing crisis in London, he is passionate about inequality, of course he will help. But it is about me, my campaign for London, not Jeremy.


AC: But if Scotland and the local elections are bad, and you win here, you are his get out of jail card.


SK: Alastair, you know this, you cannot choose which elections to fight and win. This is not about me …


AC: You just said it was …


SK: … it is about London. It is about housing, and whether people, graduates as well as non graduates, not just bus drivers and teachers, but there are people in Morgan Stanley, Deloittes, the tech companies, can they afford to live in London? It is about building a modern transport system. It is about helping people to do a hard day’s work and get decent pay. I am vain, and I love the party, but it is not about me or Jeremy, it is about London and Londoners. So I say to people “do not be too clever by half,” working out if this helps Jeremy Corbyn or harms him, it is about London.


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


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


AC: But Zac’s campaign is basically portraying you as “Corbyn’s candidate.”


SK: The Tory campaign is not rocket science. It will be a negative campaign about links to Corbyn, and then coded language about my background. [Goldsmith leaflets call Khan “radical and divisive]


AC: Is that really the case? Aren’t you proud to be radical?


SK: It is about context, Alastair. “Radical and divisive” – it says that with my photo, my name, in the context of the attacks in Paris, “radical and divisive.” I am not going to get sucked into their negative campaign. I have a positive vision for London, and my experience is more relevant. Only two people can be Mayor, me or Goldsmith, and I am asking people of all backgrounds, all parties, to lend me their vote.


AC: Have you been surprised at Zac’s campaign?


SK: Pleasantly surprised. He is not Boris Johnson, is he? Boris is a force of nature. He is personable, funny. I like Boris.


AC: Isn’t he just a right wing twat?


SK: You can like people with dodgy politics, dodgy ideas and ruthless ambition. Zac has none of the vision or charisma. Being the Mayor of a leading global centre, you should have done something, have ideas, know why you’re doing it. I am unclear why he is doing it. I am clear why I am doing this. London gave me all my chances to fulfill my potential. My parents were immigrants, my Dad passed away in 2003, he had been a bus driver for 25 years, my Mum sewed clothes, raised eight children, but we had security on housing, it was affordable, they could put money aside to get our own home; we went to good local schools and our parents said “listen to the teachers.” They pushed us. All of us who wanted to go to university, we did. I came back home after law school, slept in the same top bunk, saving for a deposit, then my wife and I got a property in our mid 20s; I was a lawyer, ran a business, MP, then sat at the Cabinet table …that is the London story. Too many people miss out on those chances now.


AC: What are you going to do about housing?


SK: I have a real plan, Homes for Londoners, I’ll be in charge, it will do what it says on the tin. In the London Plan, my expectation in development is that half of new homes must be genuinely affordable. I will define that. Social rents linked to salary …


AC: So you have to intervene in the market?


SK: The market isn’t working. I want half to be genuinely affordable. Developers and local authorities have to know what that means. I am also saying, no more selling off first to Asia and the Middle East.


AC: How do you stop them?


SK: The quid pro quo for permission to develop is first dibs to Londoners.


AC: But how do you stop them selling to foreigners?


SK: For six months they go first to Londoners. One of the top five estate agents, they advertised seven hundred properties overseas before here. Another one, they had fifty cocktail parties in Singapore and Malaysia on properties not yet built. So there are going to be conditions for development – first try sell here, and they have to be affordable.


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


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


AC: Do you want more powers?


SK: Absolutely. Of all public money spent in London, seven percent is by the Mayor. In New York, it is 50, in Tokyo 70 percent. This is the most centralized democracy in the world. We have police, fire, planning, tube, DLR, parts of the overground. We should have skills too. Now, the London Plan is the Bible


AC: Not the Koran?


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


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


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


AC: Like?


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


AC: Are you looking forward to getting out of Parliament?


SK: I look forward to being Mayor. Being in Opposition is a grind, winning arguments and losing votes. I am loving this. The only thing I would love more is being Mayor because I can do stuff, fix the housing crisis, get employers to skill up, pay a living wage, freeze fares for four years, sort transport. If the Mayor says to top companies to come together to discuss skills, they’ll come. I can persuade people.


AC: I am surprised you are so intensely relaxed about billionaires getting filthy rich.


SK: To be fair to Peter Mandelson who said that, he also said “provided they pay their taxes.” Now we are city with 140 billionaires, over 400,000 millionaires. There are some who use us to launder money – unacceptable.


AC: So you’ll go for the Russians?


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


AC: But the immigrants nobody ever seems to challenge are the tax-dodging superwealthy, the very ones helping create the housing crisis for Londoners.


SK: Sure. But the way to avoid tax avoidance is to close loopholes.


AC: We have said that forever. So you are sending a message to the superwealthy they are more than welcome here?


SK: Anyone who comes to do good things for London is welcome, wealthy or middle class. This is a place to fulfil potential, not take the piss. Some take the piss and we have to clamp down on that, but we mustn’t scare off Indian entrepreneurs, Chinese students.


AC: So you want the government to change the visa regime for students?


SK: Without a doubt. Why do Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, have such fondness for Britain? They studied here. How great is it when students from the East go back home and say “it is not true the West hates us”?


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


SK: London had always been different. There is the old saying that Britain is ten years behind America, and the country as a whole is ten years behind London.


AC: But many parts of the country really feel left behind.


SK: Yes but we should not cut the cake to make it smaller. If London is more successful it makes the cake bigger for everyone. If you have a Mayor of London working for jobs and growth and strong businesses, that is going to create opportunities for businesses and people in Burnley or Hull and places all over the UK. Sure, the media are here, the creative arts are here, and I am sure lots of people have an impression of London and say “they have everything already,” but I really believe if London does better the country does better.


AC: Can you ever envisage a population limit?


SK: No. The problem is not population, it is lack of planning. We must have better planning on housing, on transport, not just Crossrail, but trams, electric buses, better cycle lanes…


AC: They are causing chaos right now.


SK: Short-term pain, long-term gain. The problem is Boris has not been on top of the project. So more planning on homes and skills. We cannot compete with China or Taiwan on price; we compete on skills, on arts and culture. On arts this is the world’s leader. Adele. James Bond. JK Rowling. Royal Opera House. Barbican. O2. Four out of five people who come here say they come for our cultural arts.


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


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


AC: What are you going to do about the growing numbers of people sleeping on the streets?


SK: It’s heartbreaking. You know what makes me angry – people saying you won’t get rid of it. Short memories. You guys [New Labour] got rid of it. I remember being scared going to Waterloo, cardboard city, remember? Now it is all coming back and I tell my daughters, you guys got rid of it. It took hard graft, investment, hostels, mental health interventions, alcohol dependency units.


AC: So what can you do?

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


AC: You said you do do God. How much?


SK: We all have multiple identities. I am a Dad, a husband, Londoner, Asian, British, Muslim. I never run away from my faith but I don’t proselytise (spell ??)


AC: Do you pray five times a day?


SK: I try to. During Ramadan I fast. This Ramadan I opened fast twice in a synagogue. Where else in the world would someone of Islamic faith be welcome to do that? That is the magic of London. The faiths don’t just tolerate each other, but show respect.


AC: When was the last time you were racially abused?


SK: To my face, not recently. Growing up, a lot.


AC: What about your daughters?


SK: They have not had it to their face. That shows progress. My Dad used to tell the story of a sign up in Earl’s Court – “no Irish, no blacks, no dogs.” The Labour government brought in the Race Relations Act to make that kind of thing unlawful. This is my point about the power of politics. I had experiences which my daughters have never had to suffer. Think about it – we are at the cusp of London choosing a Londoner, son of immigrants, ethnic minority, Muslim. Not being too pompous about it, but think about the signal that is going to send around the world. Or think back to the Olympics, I was at home with twelve people, there were 80,000 in the stadium, tens of millions watching TV, cheering on an African, an asylum seeker, a Muslim, a black guy, a refugee, Mo, Mohammed, Farah. That was the best ever. And the Mo Farah story is this: he goes to his local state school, a PE teacher spots his talent, he goes to the track, he starts to get noticed, then Paula Radcliffe pays for his driving lessons so he can pass his test to drive elsewhere to train and compete and and fulfil his potential. He got a helping hand. Too many in London today, who could make it in sport, arts, media, the law, they are missing out, can’t get decent homes, not enough apprenticeships, not enough access to the best unis and colleges.


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


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


AC: We call it “necessary discipline.”


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


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


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


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


SK: Hindsight tells us that.


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


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


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


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


AC: What compromises are you having to make?


SK: I will try to let people know who I am. On the frontbench collective responsibility is like a straitjacket, message discipline binds you in. I can now say what I really think, on business say, or immigration.


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


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


AC: But you don’t really love these business guys, do you?


SK: The difference between me and Goldsmith is that I have run a business. I have had sleepless nights about the overdraft, bills, rent. I have lived through all that.


AC: But these big business investment bank people are not your people.


SK: A famous politician [Blair] said we must get away from “our people/their people.”


AC: But you wouldn’t go on holiday with them.


SK: I feel as comfortable in a boardroom as I do in Tooting High Street. I understand why they are important to London’s prosperity. And for every investment banker sixty other jobs depend on them.


AC: But life for the people in Tooting High Street has been made tougher by bankers’ greed and most of them got away with it.


SK: Some have taken the piss, yes, and not been stood up to.


AC: Your message is they are ok.


SK: No, what I said is London is not, and cannot be, closed for business.


AC: What about the cops? By and large good?


SK: By and large yes.


AC: Any lingering racism?


SK: I am sure there is. But it is so much better. When I grew up you crossed the road to avoid them, because of stop and search. For most of us that was our first contact with the police. Now it will be neighbourhood policing, or school visits. My kids would approach the police in a way that I would never have done when I was younger. But also remember a lot of the cases I did, which I won and became a successful lawyer, were police misconduct cases, wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution, or helping black police officers subject to racism.


AC: Are you a Monarchist?


SK: I like the Queen.


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


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


AC: The Monarchy is not democratic.


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


AC: Do you think Boris could be PM?


SK: The jury is out. Nothing so far persuades me he can. But underestimate him at your peril.


AC: Could Osborne be PM?

SK: Yes.


AC: Competent?

SK: By his lights, yes. He has also been lucky.


AC: Lucky that Labour didn’t challenge him enough and let him get away with “the mess we inherited.”


SK: We never bounce back in one term. We have to learn lessons. But you have to be either commentator or participant, and ask, “am I doing this to feel better or influence the outcome?”


AC: Your job is also to be a leadership figure and we need those in the party now, saying different things.


SK: Yes, and I will deliver. It is going to be me, not Corbyn, on the ballot paper. I hope to show how we win elections. We have not won the Mayoral election since ’04; ’05 was our last general election. We’ve got to get the winning habit back. There are additional benefits for Labour if I win. The rest of the country can see a template.


AC: Can you see Corbyn as PM?


SK: He has to prove he can be.


AC: So the jury is out on Boris and very out on Jeremy?


SK: He has to prove he can do it.

AC: Do you worry the people have already decided?


SK: The downside of the five year Parliament is a very different rhythm. It is really important Jeremy gets to grips with it, because his only task is to win the next election.


AC: You sound even less confident than I am.


SK: If a week is a long time in politics, four years is an infinity.


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


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


AC: You do stand up comedy. Tell me a joke, make me laugh.


SK: (long pause) Ok. So I went to St George’s my local hospital, and I asked three surgeons, “who are the easiest people to operate on?” The first surgeon said librarians, “because you slice them open, and all the parts are perfectly ordered.” The second one said “no, accountants are the easiest, because you slice them open and all their parts are numbered.” But the third one said “no, it’s politicians. We had Jeremy Hunt in here last year. I sliced him open and he was gutless, spineless, and his head and arse were totally interchangeable.”


AC: Not bad. Where did you hear it?


SK: I wrote it myself.


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


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


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


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


AC: Who’s he?


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


AC: I’m not interested in Star Wars.


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


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


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


AC: Which politician in the world do you most admire?


SK: Barack Obama.


AC: Do you think he’s been that good?


SK: You said “admire.” What he did to get there was incredible. I’ll tell you what broke my heart though, when the New Yorker called him a Muslim. I wish he had said “no I’m not but so what if I was?” He just said “I am a Christian.” It took Colin Powell to say “go to Arlington Cemetery and see the graves of Muslim soldiers.”


AC: Are you looking forward to hustings with [George] Galloway?


SK: He is a hateful, horrible man, always seeks to divide. Some of the stuff he did campaigning in Bradford was truly horrible. And in Tower Hamlets. A horrible man.


AC: The best Prime Minister of your lifetime?


SK: Blair without a doubt.


AC: Boris in a word.


SK: Funny.


AC: Zac in a word.


SK: Underachiever.


AC: Tony in a word?


SK: Winner.


AC: Gordon in a word?


SK: Decent.


AC: Cameron in a word?


SK: Heartless.


AC: Osborne in a word?


SK: Calculating.


AC: Sadiq in a word?


SK: London.


AC: Message discipline. You’ve been well trained, I’d say.






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