Political friends and foes alike will have been saddened by the news that Philip Gould, Labour’s leading polling adviser and strategist for the past two decades, has lost his fight with cancer and has been told that he has just three months to live. He has been fighting cancer for two years and was thought to have been in remission, but his doctor, Professor David Cunningham, head of the gastrointestinal unit at Royal Marsden hospital, recently told him that he had but a short time left.
Typical of the man is his acceptance of the fact and his determination to experience fully this”most extraordinary time of my life, certainly the most important time of my life”. In a BBC interview he described himself as “being in the death zone, something which is so intense”. Philip went on to talk of the “intensity” of the presence of his wife, of his family and said that his home is the “natural place to be, the right place and the final place”.
In recent months Philip has published a reworked version of his highly acclaimed view of ‘New Labour, The Unfinished Revolution’, and a book about his struggle with cancer. In the first of the two he urges the Miliband brothers to rediscover friendship between “two real brothers”, so ending a cycle of difficult relationships that began with two Labour “near brothers”, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
His most telling reflections concern the problems of pragmatism in a politician. He believes that Blair’s private Christianity and spirituality made him a very pragmatic political leader, to the extent that he lacked purpose at times. This, he believes, was a failure. He believes that leadership depends on purpose, and politics depends on purpose. The world is so chaotic and so disordered, without purpose, you are lost. Purpose and political beliefs are an essential part of leadership and, Philip believes, Blair lacked them and consequently didn’t perform “absolutely perfectly”.
Philip Gould describes now looking through the window and feeling intensity, the like of which he has never before experienced. His summary of his years in politics are therefore both clear and important. And they say much that our present leaders would do well to note.
It has been clear from the outset of his premiership that David Cameron lacks a clear political belief or purpose. The result is that he bears a striking resemblance to Tony Blair. His constant U-turns and self-contradictions reveal a man unsure as to what he really believes in. Like Ramsay MacDonald so many years ago he faces allegations, to quote the old jingo, of doing anything, anything, just to get in. MacDonald tried to be everything to all men and he ended up alienated from all.
Not that Philip Gould would wish to help David Cameron. But he does offer advice to the current Labour leader, Ed Miliband. He tells him to be tougher, to nail down responsibility and to stand by what he believes in, come what may. It is good advice for right now Miliband looks suspiciously like Nick Clegg, a chamelion who changes his apparent convictions as regularly as most of us go to bed.
Philip Gould is leaving this world with sound advice for all who aspire to lead our troubled country. Margaret Thatcher was loved by some, loathed by others but one thing marked her as a different animal to those who have followed. She knew exactly what she believed in and would not turn. We, the electorate, knew what she stood for and what she would do if we cast our vote for her. Today, the three leading politicians seem to have no real convictions of any kind. On an issue like Europe they twist and turn as more and more MP’s demand a referendum and we have no idea whether they are in favour or not. In their obsession with popularity they have lost their sense of purpose and become evasive wheeler-dealers.
No one could ever accuse Philip Gould of doing that. His self understanding was, and is, absolute. He tells us that he was born under a Labour government and is determined to die under one. His sense of humour is still as strong as ever for he comments that; ” They’ll obviously have to get a move on”. But he ended his interview with a typical Gould punchline; “I suppose my message is have faith and try to change the world”.
Amen to that.