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It is Philip Gould the friend and the positive life force I mourn today

Posted on 7 November 2011 | 8:11am

Even when he entered what he called ‘the death zone’, Philip Gould brought hope and happiness to others – not accidentally, but deliberately, as one of his final, and selfless, acts of strategy. He was constantly asking himself not just how to make things easier for his wife Gail, and their daughters Georgia and Grace, but how in talking about his death he might help others, and what he might write and say now that could help the Labour Party in the future.

He was a team player, and his team was Labour. ‘Pollster’ doesn’t really say the half of it. He was an integral member of the inner team that worked to get Labour back into power, and stay there for more than the usual single Parliament breathing space for the Tories. His focus groups, far from being an exercise in PR, were a way of making sure that the kind of people he felt Labour forgot in the wilderness years had a direct voice to the top of politics. He was not a speechwriter but he was the most brilliant analyst of speech drafts. His notes on them always improved the final product. He was also great in a crisis, and always able to lift people and campaigns when they were low. He was that rare thing in politics – someone who was strategic, tactical and empathetic all in one. He was a rock.

But it is not Philip Gould the strategist, nor Philip Gould the gutsy fighter against cancer that I mourn today, but Philip Gould the friend who made our lives better, and Philip Gould the positive life force who brought hope and energy to all he did.

There are many ways to judge people you know. Two important ones for me are how they relate to my children, and what their own children are like. Georgia and Grace are wonderful young women who are a tribute to a mother and father who always led busy lives, but who were always utterly devoted to their daughters. As for Philip’s relationship with my own children, they loved him for the fun, the joy, the support and the friendship he brought into our lives.

TB could never understand how Philip and I could spend so much time working together, then go on holiday together as well. Partly of course it was a way of carrying on working. We shared workaholic tendencies and we shared an obsession with doing all we could to help Labour win and, once we had won the first time, win again. Some of our best strategies, ideas, lines and slogans came from long holiday chats occasionally interrupted by Gail and Fiona asking if ‘you two’ ever had a conversation that didn’t mention TB-GB. (answer not many, even to the end).

But more than that he was just enormous fun to be with. Though all too often he created mayhem by losing passports or wallets or jackets (just as occasionally he would lose our entire election plans on a train coming back from one of his focus groups) he was the organiser, the originator of trips and tournaments, madcap events that turned inevitably into holiday highlights.

And when times were tough, there was no better friend. Always loyal, but understanding that loyalty required honesty and frankness, and ideas about how to make things better.

Fiona and I saw him for the last time yesterday morning, and we knew we were saying goodbye. It was painful of course, but there was a magnificence to it all too. He had fought the cancer harder than anyone could. But he was reconciled, and he had helped Gail and the girls, and all his friends, to this point too. He always needed a campaign, and the illness became the campaign. We called the cancer Adolf, perhaps the ultimate enemy. Yes, I said, this means you are Churchill. He liked that. We had slogans for the fight. He had a grid of his chemo visits, when to take his pills. Early on in the illness, he told me he had had a petscan. What is a petscan? I asked. ‘It’s like the exit poll,’ he said. ‘And how is it looking?’ ‘Ok, but all within the margin of error’.

For once, he has lost a campaign. But he had a lot of wins along the way. He has viirtually written two books while ill, one on his cancer, which he was working on to the last hours of consciousness, and the other a wonderfully defiant update of his Unfinished Revolution, with the basic message that New Labour changed Britain and British politics for the better. We did, in no small measure thanks to Philip Gould

  • Susie Godfrey

    I always liked your comments about Phillip Gould in your book ‘the blair years’ and can see how you have lost yet another good friend. my condolences to Gail and her daughters and you and your family.

  • John R

    As soon as I heard about Philip’s death I logged on to your blog as I knew you would capture the mood of all of us who will be indebted to the contribution he made to Labour’s revival. As usual you got it spot on.

  • Ayub Khan

    I never met Philip Gould but knew about him and the role he
    played in Labour’s renewal. A genius of our times.  This is a wonderful tribute to your
    friend.  My view is that he is in a
    better place now and I’m sure he will be missed by those that knew him over the
    years.  His recent appearance on TV was
    in my view a lesson for us all in that life in general is far too short.    

  • Mark Wright

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. Your friend was clearly loved by all who knew him.

    I’m reminded of a blog you wrote some time ago about not being able to evaluate your life and achievements until the very end. From everything I have seen and read about Philip Gould in his final months he opened up a ten point lead over all of us.


  • Jonathan Posner

    A wonderful, warming tribute, superbly written.

  • Donaldstavert

    He made a difference …

  • Anonymous

    Alastair I am really sorry  about your loss.  You have written an excellent piece about Philip who will be sadly missed and remembered for all time.

  • A loving, compassionate and moving tribute, Alastair.

  • MicheleB

    RIP and condolences

  • Sue Heal

    Fine piece of writing. Condolences

  • Anonymous

    This is a wonderful tribute to Mr Gould.  I knew of his role within the party and of course his interview with Andrew Marr meant that I became aware of his illness. You have brought the nature of the man to my attention – thank you.

  • Bar Bar of Oz

    I read Philip’s book  Unfinished Revolution shortly after it was first published in 1998. Told me everything I needed to know about New Labour, and I used to re-read it as time went on. It was inspirational, and reminded me vividly of the days of youth when we were reforming the Labor Party here in Australia. But that was back in the late 1960s; extraordinary that it took 30 years for Brit Labour to do the same. Philip was clearly a remarkable man and true Labour. One of the best.

  • Shirley Davis

    This particular form of cancer is the one that took my Dad from us. That’s the ‘me’ bit.

    My admiration and gratitude go to Philip’s memory for all his huge achievements within the Labour Party, an beyond.

    My heartfelt condolences go to his family & friends, including you, Fiona and your children, Alastair.

    I sincerely hope the Gould family will read this tribute post, so beautifully and humbly penned.

  • Alastiar this is a superb tribute to someone who was obviously a good man and a good friend. Tough to lose a great friend like that … we don’t get that many !!

  • Olli Issakainen

    I have Philip Gould´s The Unfinished Revolution here on my table. It is the best book about New Labour I have ever read. 

  • Andrewjohnston

    Thanks Alistair – you did him proud.

  • MicheleB

    I watched and listened to these interviews / talks today, what a quality person we’ve lost .

    BBC News – Philip Gould: I would not wish to have died the person I was

    BBC News – Election Lunch Party: The last lunch

  • Sally Rance

    Thank you for such a moving tribute.

  • Ehtch

    My deepest condolences to Philip Gould’s family and friends. No need to say his family will need close emotional support over the coming time to overcome great loss, as it is especially for anyone who looses someone too early. Many people have just as vicious similar names for the big C, it is a bugger.

  • Thank you Alastair for this superb and moving tribute for our friend, dogged fighter, and beacon of our beloved Labour Party: Philip Gould.  As we mourn his loss today, we are comforted by the enormous contributions he made , in our efforts to make a difference in the lives of our citizens. His larger than life efforts to usher in a just social order; and determined resolution to reject compromise and demand the very best have caused his name to be etched firmly in the annals of those great men and women who have changed the cause of history.

    Our thoughts are with his family – Gail, Grace, and our very good friend and former organizer here in Mitcham & Morden: Georgia.

    Rest in peace, Great Comrade.

    Councillor Gregory Patrick Udeh 

  • Thank you very much Alastair for this superb and moving tribute for our friend, dogged fighter, and beacon of our beloved Labour Party: Philip Gould. 

    As we mourn his loss today, we are comforted by his enormous contributions that have helped our great party to make a real difference in the lives of our citizens.  His larger than life efforts to go the extra mile, at great personal costs; and his determined resolution to reject compromise and demand the very best for our people, have caused his name to be etched firmly in the annals of those great men and women who changed the course of history for mankind.  And when the history of the Labour Party is written, his name and achievements will resound in our famous halls of fame.

    Our thoughts are with his family: Gail, Grace, and our very good friend and former organizer: Georgia.

    Rest in peace, Great Comrade.

    Councillor Gregory Patrick Udeh