Waiting for Gordon

September 24, 2007

Unity ruled. Not the name of a Union, but the mood of unity enveloping the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth. The New Leader outlines his vision for the future. At times he retreated into the comfort-zone of his old role as Chancellor

The images from the first day of the Labour Party Conference offered some interesting surprises. At lunchtime, the faithful moving to the main auditorium wiating for Gordon’s speech were like fans heading for the Centre Court of Wimbledon when Tim Henman is playing. No, not quite. These were the faithful, queuing to get a good spot on Henman hill, clutching their thermos flasks and sandwiches.

The United Band of Hope

‘Where are the Blairites?’ asked Andrew Neill of the BBC’s Daily Politics show, in mock consternation. They were not to be found. The big-time defector Peter Mendelson had been one of the first of Brown’s political friends to betray him. Now he became one of the first of the Blairites to double-cross the frontline back to Brownite territory. He had announced his re-conversion in suitably confessional surroundings at a fringe meeting yesterday evening.

That was surprising. Then there was the even more surprising spectacle of another defector making an impassioned ‘come and join us speech. This was Quentin Davies, who had quit the conservatives last June [2007] as Gordon was becoming the party’s new leader.

Delegates struggled with the situation. Except for Dennis Skinner, who has a great taste for irony. Dennis Skinner sniggered. Mr Davies ended with a rallying cry. Come and join us, he called. A cheer-leader jumped up applauding enthusiastically. Brave fellow. A few others, stood up more reluctantly, applauded even more reluctantly. If they were looking for a lead from the senior party members present, they might still have been unclear what to do. Harriet Harman and the other platform leaders seemed rather unclear whether to applaud, and with what degree of enthusiasm.

Eventually there was a (sort of) standing, (sort of) ovation. Sadly I didn’t catch how Dennis was reacting. I don’t think it would have been ambiguous.

The main course

The anticipation of Gordon Brown’s speech was higher than I can remember. In some part, the first chance for those in the hall, and far beyond to see what he had to offer.

He started surprisingly by personalizing the events that had dominated his first hundred days. That was not the surprising bit, but by acknowledging a member of the audience, a fireman who had served with distinction in the thwarted attack on Glasgow airport. A more convincing standing ovation for this, than the one that had greeted Quentin Davies.

The new Prime Minister then returned to familiar ground. The impact of his father’s values on the young Gordon. His commitment as a conviction politician. Very worthy. Perhaps dutifully rather than enthusiastically received from time to time. New Labour as the party of aspirations, of expanding the middle ground.

He moved to equality of opportunity, and illustrated this with images of children and their education. The applause was far warmer. Curiously, some of his specific pledges seemed just a tad less well received than the rather platitudinous bits. But the bits well-received sounded to me too much like the Chancellor unfolding the sweeties in his budget plans.

Then, the offer of more sweeties. We (did he mean The Chancellor?) will renew the link between pensions and earnings. That was a surprise. (Unsurprisingly well-acclaimed). National minimum wage completely achieved. More new homes in environmentally and socially acceptable ways. Youth budgets in every community.

Yes it was a bit like his speeches as Chancellor. But it did not sound as a simple pitch for votes for a snap election. On the other hand, it wasn’t a simple anything. Rewards balanced with obligations. A Yes And speech for those in the Hall. One Member one vote; carbon omission legislation; All-elected House of Lords. (Phew).

Then a Yes And on being a good national leader and a good European and a good friend of The United States (phew, again.). And the debt owed by the nation to Tony Blair (lengthy applause, another surprise). Robust opposition to Al Qaeda. Humanitarian intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever (Yes And deepest commitment to the safety of our armed service people.

A National Health Service that is also a Personal Health Service. More specific examples. The speech had run for an hour. More Chancellor-like stuff on investing in medical research. Now more like the son of the Manse as he ended personally and patriotically.

No mention of the election.


Bush Brown Mills & Boon

July 29, 2007

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Tony Blair was said to have had an unhealthily close relationship with President Bush. The new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, meets George Bush this weekend. But are we at risk of making sense of their first encounter in terms better suited to romantic fiction?

The widespread view over here is that Tony Blair became too much in thrall to George Bush. The ‘poodle’ metaphor might have become clichéd, but it has outlasted other more nuanced terms. Maybe there will be a historical revision, but for the moment the story has been established, and the ending settled in the public’s recollections of both leaders and their relationship.

Gordon Brown became Prime Minister after a long and bitter succession battle. Maybe, again, the official line will soften the accepted version of the story. The official line is that the two men had a long-standing friendship which carried them through the long period of Blair’s dominance as Prime Minister, and Brown’s not inconsiderable political influence as a highly effective Chancellor of the Exchequer. In this version, any discussions between them did not amount to a deal that Brown would not complete with Blair for the top job after the sudden death of Labour’s leader John Smith. Blair would smooth the way for Gordon’s succession, but not with a time-scale attached to the arrangement, which as I have just said, was not in any way a deal.

In the version presented through the media, there was a deal, and in time Brown became increasingly convinced that he had been conned, and would not be given Blair’s support in a future leadership contest. The Blair/Brown relationship was to become as dark as the Blair/Bush one was to burgeon into an idyllic friendship of sweetness and light.

That was then

Gordon eventually takes over and ‘sends out signals that changes are on the way. It’s tricky because he can’t change too much of the things he was assumed to be partly res;onsible for. He might be accused of being Blair’s poodle! would be then accused of heavily involvement in under Tony. But it is thought that he will meet those two Kiplingesque impostors of threat and opportunity . over Iraq, and thus inevitably the Anglo-American relationship

Now Gordon journeys to Camp David to meet Blair’s old buddie. The meeting has attracted a little attention in the UK political circles, less so in America. The White House press machine seems to have reached an embattled compromise with the media in its standardized delivery of standardized news stories. The travelling members of the Washington Press Corp dutifully attends at Camp David and reports on the information provided. The item will slot into the back end of news reports in its rightful place after the breaking news of personalised tragedies, and the doings of celebrities from the overlapping celebrity worlds of sport, entertainment, and violent crime. No big deal. Gordon gets his allotted coverage, roughly that allocated to the meetings of the last and next international visitors with the President.

Does it the meeting matter?
Interested journalists seem to think it does.

Maybe this is so, although I am inclined to think the idea is too close to that romantic tale of a first encounter, and of the critical importance of first impressions. A misunderstanding leads to many a twist and turn before the two principal characters find their true relationship. Its too close to Mills & Boon, as we like to say.

First impressions are important, not least in the world of business. Rickards and Clark cited several examples of the importance attributed by business leaders to first impressions. It’s up there with other assumptions, such as the idea that trust, once lost, is never regained. That’s a more deterministic version of the ‘first impression’ assumption.

Here we have a chance to evaluate these notions in a well-documented (if well-packaged) form, as well as the suggestion that a new leader can expect a honeymoon period. In Gordon’s case, this is measured by the so-called Brown Bounce in opinion polls.


Skunk control and the Clinton puff

July 27, 2007

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Governments want to solve the problems of drug abuse. But programs of drug education are sadly ineffective. This suggests that politicians need to change if they are to escape the suspicion that they are untrustworthy spinners of tales in the interests of personal agendas

The overall thrust of this post is how the public is influenced by thought leaders, particularly in the context of issues of public health such as the dangers of vaccination and of drug-taking. The post opens up several issues which will have to be developed in subsequent posts.

A specific incident triggered this note.

My story begins with an exchange of views between a BBC broadcaster and someone calling in to a morning chat show. The phone-in was on BBC Radio Five live. The format is very much customized by long-established practice, and tends to invite text, emails or calls from listeners. Issues are picked up mostly from the popular issues of the day, with a steer from the early morning news media. The approach has never been accused as a dodgy means of cash from callers. The interviewer generally plies his trade in a bright and intelligent fashion.

The selected issue on the morning of Wednesday 25th July 2007 was that of drugs, drug dependency, and the impact of government initiatives. The interviewer permitted himself to be hooked into a pub-level exchange of views about the validity of the scientific evidence over the dangers of cannabis.

‘There’s no evidence’ asserted the caller.
‘There’s lots of scientific studies’, replied the BBC moderator.
‘Not proper, thorough ones’.
‘Yes, I’ve got the information front of me … [reads from his video feed]. …The evidence is endorsed by the British Medical Association…’.
‘That’s not proof, that’s propaganda’.

Interviewer now intent on winning this one, calls up yet more evidence on to his screen.

‘Alright. There’s another example from New Zealand. A longitudinal study with a thousand subjects shows that cannabis use led to more mental illnesses and hospitalization’.
‘A thousand people! That’s nothing. What sort of sample is that? I’d be laughed down by those medical experts if I said Cannabis was safe on evidence from just a thousand people’.

At which point, the interviewer ended the discussion, politely thanking the caller for sharing this point of view.

Monty Python and what the Romans ever did for us

The debate reminded me of a famous scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, about what the Romans had ever done for the ancient Britains. In the film, each counter-example of what the Romans did (aqueducts, roads, central heating, and so on) was grudgingly granted as one little example insufficient to win the argument.

Today, the claims of the New Zealand study were similarly brushed aside.

Does this matter a Clinton’s non-inhaled puff?

I rather think it does. There is a need to improve public awareness of medical findings. A current debate is emerging around the dangers of cannabis use. A recent example with adverse consequences to public health was tragically demonstrated during the MMR vaccine case, where public opinion was violently polarized. For a while, there were two views, each supported by influence figures or thought leaders. Eventually, the evidence overwhelmingly lined up behind the view endorsed by the British Medical Council. The vaccine was safe. Its use did not have the side effects that were concerning parents, and leading them to hold back on vaccinating their children.

But a proportion of parents remained in denial about the trustworthiness of the conclusions reached by the medical authorities. The popular view had been shaped by thought leaders who had aired plausible arguments which fed through into public assertions on web sites and in workplaces. When the topic was aired on chat shows, politicians seemed unable to counter views rejecting the credibility of the authority of the conclusions of the British Medical Council.

My depressing conclusion is that the political figures had an inadequate grasp of how medical research works. Also, I’m not sure the BBC mediators could elevate the level of discussion, even if they abandon their commitment to promoting ‘unbiased’ debate.

In other words, a few thought leaders with dubious arguments retain credibility, because of a lack of general education of others who might have been figures of influence.

Ttis may be a bit much to ask of primarily commercial broadcasters. But the BBC holds to its mission to entertain, but also to educate and inform.

What might help in such discussions?

A greater awareness of medical methodology is needed among politicians. Researchers worry a great deal about the appropriate design of an investigation. They know otherwise they will not be able to draw conclusions with any confidence. They also know that every research proposal will be scrutinized carefully. If the work goes ahead, the results will be even more carefully examined by other researchers (peer-review).

Sample size does matter. But the general public could be quickly introduced to a few principles or guidelines. How studies often only show association of a few factors, not causal links. Why some kinds of study require a few hundred individuals while others need far fewer.

A thousand people included in the New Zealand trial makes it quite a major one. Its longitudinal nature made it possible to consider causation, not just connection or association.

My point is that these ideas are not difficult to introduce into more widespread currency. That we all become less vulnerable to uninformed opinions taking hold. We accept the thought leaders after a more informed reflection of their arguments.

What’s this got to do with the Clinton line on drugs?

Bill Clinton serves as an excellent example of how some thought leaders operate. Audiences believed him, and went on believing him, even as evidence began to pile up to the contrary. In England, Tony Blair was having pretty much the same effect on his audiences. Their charisma worked its influence through a rare combination of charm and eloquence. Their most powerful weapons for attaining political leadership were their thoughts, their speech acts.

Clinton could find ways of explaining how he didn’t really smoke cannabis or how he didn’t have really have sex with that woman. And so on. Tony Blair convinced voters that old labour had been replaced by new labour which could be trusted by all sectors of the community. David Cameron is engaged in a similar exercise in thought leadership at present as h struggles to change the conservative party.

There is still much work to be done on the fascinating topic of thought leadership. I suppose I’m arguing for the benefits of efforts that educate people to become more are capable of assessing ideas on grounds that go beyond the skills of gurus, and charismatic thought leaders.

A note on thought leaders

I have indicated some doubts about the current state of knowledge of thought leadership. This has not prevented the enthusiastic espousal of the term by various management consulting organizations. But even Wikipedia is a bit sniffy, describing thought leadership as:

a buzzword or article of jargon used to describe a futurist or person who is recognized among peer mentors for innovative ideas and who demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights

The authors of Dilemmas of Leadership are also suspicious, although they suggest that the term may be theorized by connecting it to social identity theory, which would help understand the features attributed to thought leaders.

Where is this taking us?

Arguably there are several stories jostling to emerge here. One suggestion is how public education into issues such as medication and drug abuse will require a different kind of thought leadership. Another is the dependency which is associated with exposure to that other kind of dangerous drug, the words peddled to us by charismatic thought leaders.


Leadership books I won’t be reading this week

July 15, 2007

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In the near future, I will not be reading two very large books about leadership that were published this week. The first by Alistair Campbell is an account of his days as Tony Blair’s spin doctor. The second is by Conrad Black on Richard Nixon.

It’s mostly a matter of added value. There have been quite exceptional coverage of both books, for rather obvious reasons. Maybe I could find something unique by a page by page reading. As it is, the books are on hold, for me. Even as holiday reading, I think I’ll wait for the paperback versions.

Alistair’s magnus opus

Alistair’s mangnus opus, The Blair Years, is subtitled Extracts from Alistair Campbell’s Diaries.

It has been serialized and summarized enough. I’ve also watched several hours of television docu-drama around the story in the book. Even if this had left me wanting more, my hunger had been assuaged by the news that the author has produced an expuragated account of his own primary notes. He has removed material that could be turned into political capital by Tony Blair’s opponents. That, from the decade’s spin-master, was enough to confirm my misgivings about reading his final offering on behalf of himself and his greatest creation, the Blair Brand.

I was tempted to invest time in a full read by one review by Julian Glover. But even Glover (like others) noted how few references in the book cited the journalists with whom Campbell had frequent contact.

Alastair Campbell’s diary is a 750-page heavyweight that can be boiled down to a single sentence: “How me and Tony stuffed the media and changed the world”.

It captures strikingly the laddish, hungry, boastful side of New Labour, a thuggish competition to acquire and use power. The details are realistic and for the most part depressing … Nasty, brutish and long, Campbell’s diary is the edited outpouring of an obsessive, but its significance cannot be denied.

That significance, historically, is likely to be its account of the unfolding of events and reactions to events around the Iraq war. The point was not quite convincing enough to overcome my ‘no thanks, no sale’ position.

The Big Black Biog

I shall also be abstaining from about 1000 pages of a biography of Richard Nixon by Conrad Black. The book was launched during the week when its author hit the headlines in Chicago where he was convicted in a high-profile fraud trial. It has been cruelly pointed out that unless his appeal is successful, Lord Black will now have time enough to plan and write his next historical text away from the distractions of running a business empire.

Several critics have rated him as a competent writer of historical works. No Jeffrey Archer here. One review again helped confirm my prejudices that the book would not be worth reading just yet. So it’s thanks to The Guardian’s Peter Preston for saving me the £30 and the labors of ploughing through Richard Milhous Nixon: The Invincible Quest .

It is worth noting that its reviewer is a distinguished journalist who was editor of The Guardian for twenty years. His achievements include several exposes of corrupt Conservative politicians including Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton.

Even so, his review offers a powerful critique of Nixon, and (a happy coincidence) a chance for Preston to comment on its author, someone he obviously been tracking for many years. (Nothing personal, Conrad, only doing my job).

Here’s Preston summarizing Black’s analyid

Nixon, [according to Black], was a politician of great talent, and a man traduced. Black, on behalf of traduced chaps everywhere, has to come out of his corner fighting. Mere facts aren’t .. entirely fit for rehabilitation purposes… Nixon was tricky from first to last, carving up hapless opponents who played by the rules, first with the slur that hurt most, always liable to break into foul rages against “that senile old bastard” Eisenhower (or any younger bastard who crossed him). You can’t show that the real Nixon was better than this. You have to tell us so, with conviction. And Black can’t pull that off all the time.

So we’re back to the inevitable second strand here, to Richard M Nixon as an invincible model for [Lord Black, who is] …much more than your average, controversy-ridden press baron. He has a rare talent for serious history, and the talent to tell it well. … How could he toil to such solid effect in the midst of such personal strife? It’s remarkable. But it is also calculated. Set Nixon against Kissinger, rivals as well as partners, and you’d think Kissinger (a Black appointee to the Hollinger board) would get rave reviews. Not exactly. Kissinger was a “self-absorbed egotist”, a malignant gossip, a master “of scraping the barrel with his obsequious memos and asides” – while “loyal Richard Nixon” was “touchingly generous countless times in his life” but, in his loneliness, sadly vulnerable “to the counsel of extreme cynics and people of thuggish mien”.

Then we have Preston’s somewhat mischievous summing up:

Consider your literary verdict carefully, members of the jury: and try to remember exactly who’s there before you in the dock.

So it’s thanks Alistair, thanks Conrad, but no thanks. But most of all, thanks Peter Preston, and Julian Gover. For two great reviews, but also for saving me a lot of time than I can now spend on less dodgy dossiers.


Welcome to the top job, Gordon

July 2, 2007

images1.jpgGordon Brown has faced a turbulent first week as Prime Minister. As well as the natural complications of appointing a government, he has faced major terrorist threats, floods, and an industrial dispute. So how well has he done in his first examination?

Hard to resist the week is a long-time in politics cliché . Within days of taking over as PM from Tony Blair, Gordon has introduced his long-planned appointments of his lieutenants. These are as widespread as might have been expected. This is consistent with his message in his first public statements that he will deliver a number of changes. He is directly challenging David Cameron, the fresh but inexperienced Conservative champion who also presents himself as the leader who will bring change.

So far so planned. But within that first week Brown also had to deal with three terrorist incidents, two in London, and one at Glasgow international airport. The floods that engulfed parts of Yorkshire then spread to other parts of England and Wales.

So the new Prime Minister and his new Home Secretary Jaquie Smith faced an induction examination. What would they do about the terrorists and the floods. My selected test question for Gordon was to see how he would deal with the postal workers’ twenty-four hour strike last Friday. But that didn’t even get on the examination paper.

Terrorist tactics

The new Government faces a different kind of tactic from the terrorists in mainland Britain. Load up large cars with propane gas cylinders and with petrol (gasoline). Add a detonation device and an optional payload of nails. Target high-profile locations.

For whatever reasons, all three car-bombs failed to function as intended. Hundreds of people escape annihilation.

The security arrangements also survived the disruption at the top of Government. The specific response is to place the country on the highest security footing, ‘critical’, implying that a security threat has been assessed as both probable and imminent.

A little local story

As it happened, I was driving Susan to the airport in Manchester, earlier this (sunday) morning, and had a chance to become caught up in the security arrangements. Roads to terminals were blocked by police vehicles. Security personnel in their yellow dayglos were diverting cars through a series of chicanes. Straggling lines of passengers hauling luggage were pressing ahead on foot towards the arrival halls. I was waved on, and my passenger headed off, with the unenviable prospects of delays at Manchester, and on the next leg of her journey at Heathrow. [Subsequent report: all went as well as might be expected under the circumstances].

Gordon speaks to the Nation

In a formal televised statement the Prime Minister was brief and cogent. I found myself comparing his performance with what we might have expected from recently-departed Tony Blair. For me, he did pretty well. Quite different to TB’s favored style, although Blair’s famous theatrical adaptability might also have produced a good performance. But the circumstances probably favored reassurances from a dour serious man. Tony might have been more empathic, but maybe it’s not always an advantage to be chockfullacharisma …

What the polls say

Can’t get away from it. The leader who appears calm in face of a threat to the people scores political brownie points. If so, it comes as a bonus on top of what the columnists are calling The Brown bounce, a nice little climb in the opinion polls, up to 39%, and ahead of the conservatives (at 35%) for the first time since last May’s elections.

Crude percentage points in opinion polls are (as usual) misleading. Labour’s gains after Blair have come about mostly because less committed voters have drifted towards labour from other parties, including the Lib Dems (down 3 at 18%). The conservatives, while less than ecstatic, have even gained a (non-statistically significant) percentage point over the figures by the same pollsters for the Guardian a month ago. It’s still all to play for.

But to go with another cliché, the momentum seems to be with the new new boy Gordon, over the old new boy David, and particularly over the older new boy Ming.


Prime Minister Brown – At last, at long last

June 28, 2007

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Tony Blair exits after a last Prime Minister’s question time. The house settled for a dignified and good-humored farewell. Rumors leak out of names in Gordon Brown’s cabinet, and of a new job for Tony Blair.

Today’s political comings and goings are recorded for posterity in infinite detail. The leadership transition is now beyond the control of any one person. The ritual kicks in. It is worth noting, as it is a relatively rare event. The essential features for a century or so is that the incoming Prime Minister is received by the Monarch, is invited to serve, and accepts, almost always without hesitation. Sometimes it is possible for this to be preceded by a visit from the outgoing PM to hand in the bunch of keys and Rent Book for No 10 Downing Street.

Goings on at The Palace

In today’s ritual, the ceremony unfolds with TB being driven to Buckingham Palace in the Prime Ministerial vehicle, spending an hour with the Queen, and leaving as ex- Prime Minister Blair, in a more modest car. Conversely, Gordon arrives in a humble People Carrier, meets the Queen, does the business, and returns in the swanky Prime Ministerial car and with the keys and rent book for No 10.

The traditional speech on the steps of No 10. Slightly creepy because the area is mostly clear of people for security reasons. Prime Minister Brown predictably speaks of ‘doing his utmost’ (a translation of a school motto?).

The last and first leaks?

Possibly the last leak of the Blair administration. The rumor was right. Before the day is out, Tony Blair is to resign his Parliamentary seat and take up a job as special envoy to The Middle East. His mandate is particularly to assist in a resolution to the Palestinian issue, on behalf of the UN, EU, America and Russia.

Seems Tony mentioned it in a telephone conversation to his old friend Bertie Ahern. Bertie blabs to the press. These are two men who kept schtum with many a secret during years of delicate negotiations over the future of Northern Ireland. But this is what happens when demob-happiness kicks in.

The new manager draws up his team sheet

Meanwhile, in the quiet of his new manager’s office, Gordon completes the names on his team sheet. Even without Bertie’s help, more rumors trickle out. The late-night editions of tomorrow’s papers speak confidently of some names and appointments.

There have been more rumors of surprises on the team-sheet. We will have to wait just a little longer for the names, and the positions in which they have been selected to play.

A new job for Alan?

An obvious rumor. Alan Johnson will have a nice consolation prize, after losing out to Harriet Harman in the deputy leadership battle. a more surprising rumor is of a new job for Sir Alan Sugar in revitalizing British Business Leadership. Possibly in Business Education. Now that will offer some scope in future posts on leaders we deserve.


Gordon and Harriet take the floor

June 26, 2007

150px-gordon_brown_imf.jpgharriet-harman.jpgAt a special Party conference in Manchester, Gordon Brown becomes leader of the labour party, a few days before assuming the post of Prime Minister. A minor shock follows as Harriet Harman unexpectedly wins a closely- contested contest for deputy Leader, and Brown announces that she is also to become the Party’s chairperson

Sunday June 24th 2007

Tony Blair begins his final week as Leader of the Labour Party and as Prime Minister. Today Gordon takes over in the former role, and will acquire the greater prize on Wednesday.

The transition was never as smooth as was desired, but neither was it as difficult as it might have been. The opposition parties may still be reflecting on opportunities lost. Opinion Polls show that the long-established lead by the Conservatives over Labour has diminished, and may even have been wiped out.

From a great distance, darkly

I caught a glimpse of the final twists in the drama from a hotel room in Munich. A last minute break dot com had sold us on a quick visit to a city now emerging with some dignity from its darkest historical period.

The distance had some benefit. I could not take soundings of what the pundits were saying and writing, and had to make up my mind on the occasion, and its implications.

The first shock

Why was the camera switching from a lip-lickingly happy Brown to a gently glowing Harriet Harman? Got it. She must have won the election as deputy leader of the party. This turned out to be the case. This is thanks to the complicated transferrable vote process through which she just edged out the bookies’ favorite, Alan Johnson. Gordon invites her to join him centre stage.

The shock was his announcement that the post of deputy leader would be combined with that of party chair(person). Harriet scoops the jackpot (if you can call it that).

Harriet? I tried to remember how she had fared in the seven weeks of campaigning. An outsider with the bookies. Nothing particular in the curious Newsnight hustings with the six candidates. On the other hand, I had also noted her vivid metaphor, likening herself to Radio Two to Gordon Brown’s Radio Four, light and serious broadcasters respectively.

Gordon’s Speech

The speech will be analysed to death. Overall first impression: The about-to-be Prime Minister has produced a rather rich dish. It seems to have been condensed into its eventual format, in contrast to Tony Blair’s recent offerings, which seem to have been whipped up from rather lighter ingredients.

‘I know a lot of you [in and beyond the Party faithful] don’t trust me, yet’ he appeared to be saying ‘but I’m going to show you why that will change’. He spoke of winning hearts and minds. Also of The Health Service, The Middle East, Poverty, and Social Responsibility. The social commitment expressed with a rather muted delivery reminded me of grainy recordings of an earlier Prime Minster, Clement Atlee, captured sixty years earlier.

Coming down to earth

The flight to Manchester was unusually bumpy. On approach, we could glimpse newly-created finger lakes through grizzly grey clouds. There’s a bit of catching-up to do.

On the ground

Non-stop news summary from taxi-driver confirms that there has been very bad flooding but your house will be OK because the worse is over there in Yorkshire. He follows the official taxi-driver Union view that the ceaseless political news is even worse than the flooding and who ever gets elected it won’t make any difference and so on. And no one was doing anything about immigration. I said that if he was older he would be a grumpy old man. He replied that he was only grumpy in his cab, but he was in his cab ten or twelve hours every day. And the sort of people he had to deal with would make the Pope grumpy.

Susan cleverly moves the discussion on, suspecting she would have to endure a debate on whether being Pope was more likely to make you grumpy than being a taxi-driver.


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