Sunday, February 12, 2006

Exposing the Real Face of New Labour

Richard Gibbs has an excellent Blog called THINKING ALOUD. In today's Mail on Sunday he tells us of his experiences working for New Labour as a Regional Organiser last year. He likens his experience to the BBC comedy The Thick Of It. Some of what he says is hardly a surprise to us, but other bits surpass even our lowest expectations of our lords and masters. The complete article can be read HERE, but what I have posted below includes some material that the MoS did not publish in its print edition. Look in particular at the last piece on Pauline Prescott's hair! Needless to say the Labour spin machine has swung into action and tried to trash Richard Gibbs by accusing him of joining the Conservative Party. He says on his blog...

There are serious points about the way New Labour treats it's members;
about the contempt in which it's staff hold the democratic process, the media and the public; about the poor standards that prevail and about the way people gain from obeying the leadership as opposed to doing their job. But you can take it from me that The Thick of It is spot on.


The Ken Bigley 'problem'

It was on October 7, 2004, that I first visited Labour’s headquarters
in Old Queen Street, near Whitehall. It was also the day that terrorists in Iraq
murdered British hostage Ken Bigley. There are television sets everywhere in New
Labour’s HQ, and as the BBC broke the story I was thinking, like most other
ordinary people, of the atrociousness of such a killing and how terrible it must
be for Mr Bigley’s family. But within moments, different sentiments were
being expressed by some of Labour’s staff. "What marginal seats are near the
Bigleys?" asked one. "If they have a go at Blair, then we could be in trouble."
"You don’t think his brother or any of his relatives will stand, do you?"
another commented. "This could be really big. It could be a problem."
Such talk would disgust many ordinary Labour members. But the first thought of many
who work for the party was the possible electoral impact of this murder. In
2001, Jo Moore, a special adviser to Minister Stephen Byers, had stupidly
e-mailed colleagues to say the attacks of 9/11 provided a "good day to bury bad
news". At the time, I had assumed that this was simply one woman’s ill-judged
opinion. Now I can’t help but think that Jo Moore was more of a symptom of where
she worked than the proverbial bad apple in the barrel.

The Surestart Scam

Often the question arose: How can we get a Cabinet Minister to visit
party workers and activists but fix it so the taxpayer picks up the bill?
Surestart, the flagship Government childcare project, provided the answer. Since
it was a Whitehall initiative, we could have a Minister transported from London
to anywhere in the country. The cost would be paid by the Minister’s department
because, strictly speaking, this was Government, rather than Labour Party,
business. After spending ten or 15 minutes at a Surestart scheme, party
officials could drive the Minister to a nearby Labour club for a political
event. At the end of the visit, we would reunite the Minister with his
Government car and driver and he would be sent back to London, knowing that
Labour had not had to pay the transport costs. Once, in Edgbaston, I rode in the
back of a New Labour Rover briefing Alan Milburn en route to a political event
while his ministerial car and driver sat outside a Surestart scheme. It was
normal practice on these occasions for us to don earpieces Special Branch-style
and to do up our suit jackets to give the impression we were armed, undercover
police officers. It was a ludicrous fantasy. This silly macho culture percolated
everything. One staffer responded to every question with the same reply: "We're
locked, we're cocked and we're ready to rock" – his right hand forming an
imaginary gun.

Junk mail fraud

One of my tasks as a regional organiser was to arrange large mailshots
to constituents in marginal seats to find out who were potential Labour
supporters. We would prepare an innocuous letter from an MP about a general
subject – anti-social behaviour, street lighting or parking – and attach a
voting intention survey. Since we held MPs' signatures and photos on a digital
database, we were able to create these communications without even contacting
them. And we would use the Parliamentary postage allowance, which meant the
taxpayer picked up the bill. It was a naughty thing to do, since this allowance
was intended only for Parliamentary rather than party political business, but we
did it all the time.

Fix it for Blair

A week before polling day, coded messages about a "key campaigner
visit" were being muttered. This was New Labour’s way of telling staff that Tony
Blair was coming. The whole event was surrounded in hyper-paranoia. Party
members were invited, but in a twist that only New Labour could devise, they
were told only the date and the city it was to be in. Members who were thought
likely to ask the Prime Minister an awkward question were not invited. Names and
photos of ‘undesirables’ were given to door staff. This was nothing to do with
security – it was because the party machine was frightened of allowing the media
to see anything other than unquestioning obedience to the leader. The resultant
event had all the hallmarks of a North Korean rally. When I saw Walter
Wolfgang’s eviction from the Labour conference later in 2005, I was appalled but
not surprised.

Rent a mob

When Michael Howard, or Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy visited our
region, we would all be cheered up by the prospect of a day out. Off came the
suits and ties and out came the magic markers and sugar-paper so we could make
our very own demo with a suitably evocative title such as "No Tory Cuts!" The
plan would be to get near the visiting party leader and begin our "spontaneous"
demonstration, complete with helpful factoids that we could yell about the
damage their policies would do. Frankly, it was embarrassing. The press tended
to ignore us, so obvious must it have been that we were New Labour stooges. The
public looked bemused and appalled at our antics. In the run up to the general
election, Michael Howard paid a visit to Birmingham. We gathered a group of
staff together, pretending to be normal members of the public. Unfortunately,
one of Howard’s entourage spotted our flaw — we had used the backs of Labour
Party posters for our banners. The sharp-eyed Tory pretended to slip and grabbed
at our banner tearing it as he fell. As the words "Vote Labour" were revealed,
it was clear for all to see that we were frauds.

Short, fat and ugly

Image was always important to us. The party had to sound right, feel
right — and look right. As Chairman of the Labour Party, Ian McCartney was, in
theory, the most senior politician in the party. During the North East Regional
Assembly campaign, McCartney was due to hold a photo call at a Labour Party
street stall in Newcastle and the staff were keen to try and garner some
positive coverage for our faltering campaign. The press officers looked carefully at McCartney and began to voice concerns that we might end up with an "ugly picture" at the end of the day. This was before the five foot nothing Cabinet minister had been diagnosed with serious heart problems. By his own recent admission, he was at the time "obese". One press officer said: "The thing is, if the press get a picture of him from the front, he’ll look short." "Yeah,
but if it’s from the side, he’ll look fat," replied the second. "Is there a way
we can make him look not fat and short?" It was decided that the best course of
action was to steer McCartney into a shop just before we reached the media and
keep him talking for a while. While distracting him, we could get the press to
photograph some nice, photogenic Labour students on the other side of the road,
suitably prepared with "Vote Yes" badges and banners. That way, we managed to
avoid any ugly pictures, even if it did mean sidelining the Chairman of the
Labour Party.

The wife's hair

Back on my home territory of the West Midlands during the General
Election campaign, I tried to prevent another Prescott visit — but was not
entirely successful. Back on his battle bus Prezza was on mission to help the
marginal seats. But the truth was few of the marginal Labour candidates really
wanted his help. This was starting to become embarrassing for everyone. So, at
some point someone in the party decided that the best way to handle things, was
simply to tell the constituency when the Prescott Xpress was on his way. When
the warning came of a visit to my patch in Stourbridge, it was tempting though
just let him arrive and leave him untended. But I felt that this was probably
going too far. We contacted a film crew from the BBC Politics Show who were in
the area, and summoned a 'crowd' of Labour Party members pretending to be normal
members of the public. The venue was an open square in the centre of town, but
minutes from the appointed time, a call came from Karim Palant on the Prescott
Xpress: "Richard, is it raining with you?" "Well, it’s trying to, but it’s
nothing heavy. Why?" "Er, well, it’s Pauline. Her hair, it could be a problem."
"What are you talking about? And who's Pauline?" "Prescott’s wife! You remember
the whole thing at conference when it was windy? Well if she's gonna get her
hair wet, that’s going to screw up the whole visit." In my time working for New
Labour, I had learned that 'security' was a great catch-all phrase to cover
other problems. So I told guests and media, with the gravest expression I could
manage: "Look, we’ve got to move to another venue — security concerns." Assuming
that I had just been tipped off by Special Branch of a some terrorist threat
against Prezza, people nodded seriously and were very compliant.


I hope that one or two people will be asking questions about what Richard Gibbs says about the widespread misuse of House of Commons stationery. Let's hope he has kept some proof which he can show to the Serjeant at Arms. We all knew this was going onm before the last election. Maybe now something can be done about it.

15 comments:

Daniel Lucraft said...

It's incredible stuff isn't it?

Richard is a member of the Conservative Party, but I don't see how that can be considered 'trashing him'.

I mean, objectively speaking :)

alfie said...

I shouldn't think anything will be done - it never is.

Blair plays at being Caligula and everyone else rolls over. The list is scandalous, long and depraved - Mandelson and jobs x 3, peerages for cash, all of Cherie's partners at the Matric chambers getting jobs to die for in Government, the illegal war and the fabrication of evidence, Dr David Kelly, the immigrant scam whistle blowers getting the boot and being discredited, the Vaz affair, the scams on second homes by Gov ministers..... I could go on - but what's the point, in the morning, the writing on the barn wall will be subtley changed, 'Labour ministers can do no wrong, they are not equal with us, they are much better - even Ruth Kelly'

Tell me, does Blair own a horse? If he does, expect him to be a shoe in at the next bi-election....

Meanwhile Iain, What the hell are the Tories doing about it? we are slipping towards becoming a banana republic faster than you can say 'St Tony'..

Richard Gibbs said...

Should I be asked by the Serjeant-at-Arms, I would of course put what information I have at his disposal.

I hope Labour will address these issues; trying to trash me won't make them go away and it doesn't tackle the points raised. As I've said elsewhere, Ianucci's work is spot on - sadly.

mufc-lab said...

Whilst much of the stuff featured here is interesting whatever your political outlook this stuff is just dull and tired.

Life in all political parties and campaigns is like this mostly cock up with an occasional bit of conspiracy. Working as a political organiser is not at all glamorous in fact it is pretty boring. Of course its your job to make the politicians you work for appear in the best possible light. All news stories have a political impact. All governments use the machinery of government for political ends ( shock! horror! ).

So the list of astounding revelations is rather poor. To reveal that modern political parties want to exert as much control as possible during "public" appearances and meetings has about as much news value as "dog bites man". In an ideal world it would be great to return to the political leaders conducting direct debates with the voters but except when the strategists see some benefit such as Blair's so called masochist strategy it is not going to be allowed by any of the big parties. For years the tories had the slickest PR machine around in recent times Labour's been better at that's all.

As far as the usage of parliamentary postage facilities goes this is an ongoing bone of contention ( is it just coincidence that all this has been published just before the HoC admin committee is due to report on the whole issue?? ). Any system that can be devised is open to abuse but why shouldn't MPs be able to write to their constituents for instance sending out an annual report to all voters? Clearly parliament should no pay for political campaigning but it is not easy to draw the line and I have no doubt that all parties push the envelope on this.

mufc-lab said...

Whilst much of the stuff featured here is intersting whatever your political outlook this stuff is just dull and tired.

Life in all political parties and campaigns is like this mostly cock up with an occasional bit of conspiracy. Working as a political organiser is in fact not at all glamorous in fact it is pretty boring. Of course its your job to make the politicians you work for appear in the best possible light. All news stories have a political impact. All governments use the machinery of government for political ends ( shock! horror! ).

So the list of astounding revelations is rather poor. To reveal that modern political parties want to exert as much control as possible during "public" appearances and meetings has about as much news value as "dog bites man". In an ideal world it would be great to return to the political leaders conducting direct debates with the voters but except when the strategists see some benefit such as Blair's so called masochist strategy it is not going to be allowed by any of the big parties. For years the tories had the slickest PR machine around in recent times Labour's been better at that's all.

As far as the usage of parliamentary postage facilities goes this is an ongoing bone of contention ( is it just coincidence that all this has been published just before the HoC admin committee is due to report on the whole issue?? ). Any system that can be devised is open to abuse but why shouldn't MPs be able to write to their constituents for instance sending out an annual report to all voters? Clearly parliament should no pay for political campaigning but it is not easy to draw the line and I have no doubt that all parties push the envelope on this.

Antony Calvert said...

Richard... that is just spot on, mate. Here in Wakefield the Labour party are deploying the most odious campaign of misinformation in their desperate attempt to cling onto Ed Balls and the Normanton constituency. They have even apparently sunk to lying about what I was supposed to have said on my website.

Nothing surprises me about Labour. I just can't believe you went for your contract to be renewed. I would actually walk away from the Tory party if I ever found that level of cynical and almost illegal display.

Lady Finchley said...

If we are honest we would all admit to using some of the Labour wheezes - such as planting young attractive, people (really campaign workers) around the candidate or working out which was the candidate's best side although admittedly Mr. McCartney has no best side, poor sweet.

However, using Parliamentary writing paper is a huge no-no and if discovered can disqualify a candidate. However an offending MP need only apologise and cough up a reimbursement. There are Conservative MPs who do so with impunity, claiming that their extra-curricular activities are somehow related to their Parliamentary duties.

So, not to lessen the impact of Mr.Gibb's revelations but we need to get our own houses in order before we crow too loudly!

Lady Finchley said...

If we are honest we would all admit to using some of the Labour wheezes - such as planting young attractive, people (really campaign workers) around the candidate or working out which was the candidate's best side although admittedly Mr. McCartney has no best side, poor sweet.

However, using Parliamentary writing paper is a huge no-no and if discovered can disqualify a candidate. However an offending MP need only apologise and cough up a reimbursement. There are Conservative MPs who do so with impunity, claiming that their extra-curricular activities are somehow related to their Parliamentary duties.

So, not to lessen the impact of Mr.Gibb's revelations but we need to get our own houses in order before we crow too loudly!

BondWoman said...

So do those shouting loudest about this expect us seriously to believe that it does not go on in other parties? I find that incredible, and frankly do not, and cannot, believe it.

Bob Piper said...

Is there really someone called Antony Calvert, Iain, or have you made him up? Ed Balls is 'clinging on' to his Normanton seat? Is that the Normanton seat that, acording to Wikipedia, has returned Labour MPs for the last 100 years... since the party was created, in fact. If Antony is real and would care to partake in a little wager over the future of the Normanton seat, please, please, get in touch.

Iain Dale said...

Bob, I'm afraid you are a little out of date. Normanton disappearas as a seat at the next election....

Antony Calvert said...

Bob... You want to put a fiver on or a tenner?

Richard Gibbs said...

Far be it from me to interfere in the wager between Bob and Anthony Calvert, but in my time working for New Labour, I know that there was some concern about what Ed Balls' future would be.
At one point during the last election, there were thoughts that he could possibly go down if the swing against reflected private party polling.
Seeing as it disappears at the next election, it will be interesting to see the results in the 'new' seat. Gentlemen, place your bets

Anonymous said...

Iain, v saddened that you have been taken in by the lucid Mr Gibbs. As someone who was in the Conservative Party with him at Birmingham University five years ago, I think you would be interested to know he joined the Conservative Party, then publically defected to the Labour Party (try the Sunday Mercury) and now history is repeating itself! I have no qualms with his material apart from should you as a respected political commentator be giving credence to an evident self publicising fantasist? I would check your sources more carefully.

Antony Calvert said...

Believe me, Richard, I I'd have been allowed a crack at him last year he may well have done...

Or maybe not!

Bob's settled for a tenner, along with concrete proof that I do actually exist, for which I have sent him a lock of hair and grubby toenail for DNA purposes.

I expect him to pay up though!

Incidentely the word verification I'm expected to type is 'soiledas'.

Well it made me smile