Sir Keir – duller than dull

GUEST POST: Peter Bingle is Director at The Terrapin Group. Connect on LinkedIn

There is no more thankless job in British politics than being Leader of the Opposition. This is even more of a truism during a pandemic when the public mood dictates that politicians put to one side petty partisan point scoring and do what’s best in the national interest. The normal rules of the game are suspended. It is difficult to be different.

That said, the case of Sir Keir Starmer is a curious one. There is no doubting him as a caring and thoughtful politician. His legal career confirms his academic acumen. And yet something is missing. Charisma. He doesn’t have any!

Starmer is Leader of the Labour Party because he isn’t Jeremy Corbyn. An understandable reason perhaps but not sufficient, particularly when the Prime Minister is somebody called Boris Johnson. Starmer suffers from an affliction called anonymity.

Starmer’s weakness is cruelly exposed every Wednesday at PMQs. He methodically dissects the government’s track record and highlights numerous mistakes. He uses the PM’s previous statements and decisions against him. The trouble is it doesn’t work against a PM who brushes asides facts and figures and answers questions he was never asked! Boris has panache. Starmer has none.

There will be some who point to Clement Attlee. Churchill once jibed: “Mr Attlee is a modest man, with much to be modest about!” Attlee then went on to win the 1945 general election. The comparison doesn’t really work today because of the crazy world in which we live. There is no private time for senior politicians. They are exposed to the public glare twenty-four seven. Boris loves it. I’m not so sure Starmer does.

Starmer’s other major weakness is his lack of connectivity to the common man. Despite coming from very ordinary circumstances (unlike Boris!), Starmer doesn’t seem to understand what really matters to working class folk. His (mis)handling of the Brexit issue was one of the principal reasons for the Tories smashing Labour’s red wall of northern seats. His suggestion that the way to win them back is for Labour to be more patriotic was rightly dismissed. It might seem a sensible idea in a large house in wealthy Camden, but further north it came across as rather patronising. And it was …

Supporters of Starmer will point out that more time is needed for him to start a conversation with the British people. They don’t really know anything about him. Once the pandemic is sorted, he will travel the country meeting the people. Perhaps, but remember the tragic case of Jo Swinson. The more the public got to know her the less they liked her to the point she lost her seat at the general election.

So, to summarise. Starmer is a good, decent and thoughtful man. He is probably destined, however, to join that list of Labour Party leaders who never win a general election. Up against the life-force that is Boris Johnson, Starmer just comes across as very dull. Who would you rather spend time with? The answer is a no brainer. Such is the brutality of British politics.

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This piece was written for our website.

Boris has won the Brexit war, now he has to win the peace

GUEST POST: Sir Robbie Gibb is Senior Advisor at Kekst CNC and former Director of Communications at No.10 Downing Street. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

A little over a year ago, Boris Johnson went into the general election promising the British public: “Back me and I will get Brexit done.” They did and he has. This momentous deal not only marks a new chapter in Britain’s history but will rightly stand as a historic triumph for a Prime Minister who has all too often been misunderstood and maligned.

We were told by critics it was impossible to get a deal of this magnitude done in this time frame, that the Government could not represent Britain’s best interests in Brussels while simultaneously battling Covid-19 at home, that there would not be enough time to negotiate new trade deals with other nations while fighting on these two major fronts.

We were even told that Britain would be putting its citizens at risk by not being a part of EU efforts to find a vaccine against the deadly virus.

Yet here we are.

We have a zero tariff deal that restores our sovereign rights in full. We will no longer have to align with EU rules nor will we be subject to the European Court of Justice.

Our Parliament will be free to set its own laws, we will no longer have to pay into the EU coffers and we can set our own immigration policy.

We have signed 61 trade deals with other countries and Britain leads the world in its vaccination programme – with 600,000 people already receiving their first jab by Christmas. Not bad for a Prime Minister who critics claim lacks an eye for detail and is indecisive.

He has led his nation through the unprecedented dual challenge of battling a pandemic while seeking to break free from the orbit of Brussels.

While Brexit prematurely ended David Cameron’s premiership and destroyed Theresa May’s, Mr Johnson has held his nerve and delivered, just as he said he would, for the country.

Sir Keir Starmer has instructed his Labour MPs to back the deal when it comes before Parliament next week and there are signs that all but the most diehard Brexiteers will support it too.

Mr Johnson has shown why the British people continue to keep their faith in him and why the polls have held up so well for the Government.

No one understood better than him why the public voted for Brexit and why it was vital not to sell the nation short to secure a deal.

But in his heart, the Prime Minister is a man who wants to unite not divide.

For of all the myths about him there is none greater than that which seeks to portray him as a leader who revels in controversy and division – the very opposite is the case. That is what his levelling-up agenda is all about – uniting our country by ensuring that no one feels left behind as we forge our own future outside the EU.

We should be under no illusions about the challenges ahead. Covid has decimated our economy, leaving hundreds of thousands out of work.

The vaccination programme may well free us from our current captivity but for millions this has felt like the darkest week of the longest year.

Two highly infectious super-strains have forced another lockdown in all but name for vast swathes of the country and we have all felt the pain of being kept apart from loved ones this Christmas. But there is, finally, hope that Britain may well be turning a corner in this battle.

Alongside the Pfizer vaccine a second, made by scientists at Oxford University, is expected to get the green light in the coming days.

And there are currently no signs that these mutated versions of the virus will be resistant to our vaccines.

Having achieved with Brexit what many thought was impossible, the Prime Minister now faces another set of seemingly impossible challenges – to free Britain from the grip of Covid, to rebuild our shattered economy and to bring prosperity to every region of the country.

He also needs to heal the divisions that opened up around Brexit and unite a country that has been at war with itself for too long.

Mr Johnson has four years before the next election to get Britain back on its feet and to unite the country. It would be an unwise man who would bet against him succeeding.

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This piece was written for The Telegraph.

In conversation with six mentees

Kayleigh Hadjimina

Adam: What’s your current role?  

Kayleigh: I am a Parliamentary Campaigns and Engagement Manager currently specialising in the built environment. My role is to develop and implement successful political engagement strategies for the organisation I represent.    

Adam: What do you want to achieve from the CiC-Start mentoring programme?

Kayleigh: I welcome all advice and guidance with respect to progressing my career. CiC-Start mentors are extremely talented individuals, all of whom have impressive careers to date, so any support they can give is invaluable and hugely appreciated.    

Adam: Where do you want to be in five years’ time?  

Kayleigh: I want to be working on campaigns either in-house or for an agency. Ideally, I would be operating at (or approaching) director level. I love the buzz of starting a campaign, pulling together the strategy and looking at innovate new ideas.    

Adam: What’s your advice for young people hoping to get into the profession?  

Kayleigh: Make sure you have mentors, even if it means reaching out to someone you’ve never met. I know it sounds like a cliché because of the scheme, but it’s essential. My first mentor was the head of the policy and public affairs team where I aspired to work. During that mentoring, I expressed an interest in opportunities to shadow colleagues and get involved in projects all of which added to my experience when first getting into the profession.    

Adam: What is your favourite campaign slogan?  

Kayleigh: Margaret Thatcher’s “Don’t just hope for a better life. Vote for one.” during the 1979 campaign. I think this is the strongest, most powerful political slogan ever used. Whether you’re a traditional conservative voter or not, it calls you to action and entices you to engage with politics. 

Chantelle de Villiers

Adam: What’s your current role?

Chantelle: External Affairs Adviser at the British Retail Consortium (BRC) which is the go-to trade association for all retail businesses in the UK. My role is to represent the industry to Government by telling the story of retail, to drive positive change and create an economic and policy environment that enables retail businesses to thrive.

Adam: Why did you join the CiC-Start scheme?

Chantelle: I always strive to reach my full potential and I am committed to developing my skill set. The CiC-Start scheme provides a fantastic opportunity to learn new skills from more experienced professionals and think differently about approaches to political or communications campaigns.

Adam: What do you want to achieve from the mentoring programme?

Chantelle: I’m interested in ‘doing’ public affairs differently, particularly now as we have all had to adjust to a new way of working and engaging with stakeholders virtually. I hope to get a different perspective as to how to deploy and utilise strategic communications to help achieve a campaign objective.

Adam: Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Chantelle: At some point I’d like to try agency life and get more exposure to working in different industries. I have a passion for campaigning and so I hope in five years I have achieved some big campaign wins and can move into a more advisory role.

Adam: What is your favourite campaign slogan?

Chantelle: The three most famous words of 2016, “Take Back Control,” that made what many thought was the impossible, possible. It was a genius strategy which packaged up many issues into one and resonated with a lot of people from different walks of life.

Alex Cassells

Adam: What’s your current role?

Alex: I’m an Account Manager in the corporate team at 3 Monkeys Zeno, a global communications firm. While my background is in public affairs and politics, I support a range of clients within the consumer technology, finance as well as recruitment industries; offering various aspects of corporate communications support. My goal is to become a leader that junior colleagues aspire to be and that senior colleagues know they can depend on.

Adam: What do you want to achieve from the CiC-Start mentoring programme?

Alex: We learn through observing and listening to those around us. 3 Monkeys Zeno has many positive leaders who I learn from each day, however, I’m always open to broadening the range of mentors that influence my career trajectory. I truly believe my assigned mentor is one of the best the industry has to offer, and I can improve as a consultant through taking on board the lessons they offer me.

Adam: Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Alex: Personally, I try not to plan too far ahead, as I think it has the propensity to alter your judgement on the immediate situation you are in and the opportunities that lie in front of you. Whatever road I do take, I aim to be pushing career boundaries and be proud of the achievements I’ve had by that stage in my career.

Adam: What’s your advice for young people hoping to get into the profession?

Alex: It is tough starting on the career ladder (especially in communications), but I cannot stress enough the importance of building your network. There is no benefit of being shy at a networking event, so get out there and meet people. You never know what opportunities might come out of just talking to new and old connections. Also, when crafting your CV, focus on those few things that make you unique from the other 100 CVs that your future employer may look at.

Adam: What is your favourite campaign slogan?

Alex: “Yes We Can” from Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. This is my favourite slogan because it is concise, simple to understand and inspires both hope and patriotism. Communications involves conveying a message to an audience in the easiest way. However, at times, it’s also about having your message create an emotion that results in a clear action. These three words do just that and contributed to his decisive victory.

Samir Dwesar

Adam: What’s your current role?

Samir: I’m a Senior Account Manager at Cavendish Advocacy, where I support our directors in managing client accounts across many sectors, including the environment, technology and travel. I also help the consultancy secure new business and work closely with junior colleagues on their professional development.

Adam: Why did you join the CiC-Start scheme?

Samir: Having only worked in an agency environment for a year (I have an in-house background), I was very keen to learn from someone who had considerably more consultancy experience. I also see the scheme as a hugely valuable opportunity to think a little outside the box about what I want to achieve in terms of professional and personal development.

Adam: What do you want to achieve from the mentoring programme?

Samir: During the introductory meeting with my new mentor, I outlined how I was keen to focus on tips and strategies for generating new business, how to successfully build and develop client relationships as well as how to become a trusted colleague and go-to person for my areas of strength. I would also like to build my confidence when it comes to writing proposals and pitching.

Adam: Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Samir: This is always a tricky question! Leaving in-house for agency was absolutely the right choice for me, and I hope to thrive and remain in this environment. In five years’ time, success for me would of course be a more seniority and a few new business wins, but above all having clients who I love working with and a continued supportive workplace environment.

Adam: What is your favourite campaign slogan?

Samir: “It’s Morning Again in America” from the 1984 presidential election. Not only does it come from one of the most effective campaign ads in US political history, it evokes a sense of optimism, patriotism and success.

Phoebe Sullivan

Adam: What’s your current role?

Phoebe: I’m an Account Manager within the growing public affairs team at Built Environment Communications Group (BECG). I help develop stakeholder engagement strategies and project management across London and further afield. My day-to-day projects range from masterplan housebuilding to DCO consultations. I’m also reaching the end of my master’s degree in global diplomacy.

Adam: What do you want to achieve from the CiC-Start mentoring scheme?

Phoebe: BECG has really helped me understand the role and importance of communications within the business framework. Many of the directors have already assumed the unofficial role of mentor, however I appreciate the value in learning from others beyond my immediate BECG network. I believe my assigned mentor from this programme will provide invaluable insight, which I can relay onto others one day.

Adam: Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Phoebe: I’d like to progress my career and gain new experiences in larger, more diverse projects and campaigns as well as develop further skills in both management and strategy. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve received so far and am looking forward to meeting more people in our field and getting further involved in different organisations and think tanks.

Adam: What’s your advice for young people hoping to get into the profession?

Phoebe: Practice great time management… every day. Having a full-time job, completing a master’s degree part-time and being heavily active within my local association (or any extra-curricular for that matter) can be straining at the best of times. However, it’s all worth it in the end and one must diversify when our CV’s may not be as solid as others. I would advise participating in as much as is possible, going for the difficult projects, the extra qualifications or getting more involved in your local association. In order to do this, we must practice the art of great time management – although that’s easier said than done!

Adam: Who inspires you and what one tip can you share?

Phoebe: My current favourite quote: “Do the best you can in every task, no matter how unimportant it may seem at the time. No one learns more about a problem than the person at the bottom” – Sandra Day O’Conner, Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

One tip which I’ve found useful: The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply. I only have limited experience, but I have found that when you’re starting out it’s imperative to listen to understand and not simply just reply.

Oliver Hazell

Adam: What’s your current role?

Oliver: I’m a Senior Account Manager at Cavendish Advocacy, where I support a range of clients to assess what they need to promote or defend their interests. I also support our team with various new business opportunities. My aim is to develop into a colleague who directors can trust to deliver high-quality proposals as well as guide junior colleagues on strategic queries.

Adam: Why did you join the CiC-Start scheme?

Oliver: I want to continue developing professionally, and that means discovering new ways to innovate, think differently and add real value for clients. Cavendish Advocacy offers excellent development opportunities, however I believe it’s useful to utilise industry networks too.

Adam: What do you want to achieve from the mentoring programme?

Oliver: I want to rethink about my professional development i.e. my career is more of a journey I will go on – with employers supporting me. I’ve had my first mentoring session and we’ve already set personal goals for me to achieve, which is really positive.  

Adam: Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Oliver: My mentor posed this exact question during our first session. I thought I had this mapped out in achieving a certain level of seniority. But through our discussion, I realised I need to look at which internal and client-facing roles I enjoy the most and what managerial skills I really want to develop.

Adam: What is your favourite campaign slogan?

Oliver: The Tory Party’s 2015 “Long-Term Economic Plan”. Having worked on that election campaign and seen firsthand the message discipline, it was a real learning opportunity.

What’s next – an early general election perhaps?

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector.

I recently blogged that Boris Johnson must articulate a detailed vision and appoint a sound team to execute on it. He is doing that – and in the process annoying the loony left and some in the mainstream media.

Like Johnson, Michael Gove studied at Oxford and graduated with an upper-second degree, has written for The Spectator and The Times, lists education among his political interests, co-spearheaded the Vote Leave campaign and ran for Tory leader,twice. While Gove served as education secretary under David Cameron, it is Johnson – as prime minister – who has put improving life chances at the heart of his political agenda. While Johnson is determined to deliver Brexit by Halloween, it is Gove who has been put in charge of overseeing preparations across Whitehall for a no-deal scenario. There are many overlaps between the two gentlemen, not least their overall abilities and most especially their ability to express themselves both orally and via the medium of the pen (or keyboard).

Over the weekend, Johnson revealed (in an op-ed for The Times) that – in addition to previous announcements on education, technology and towns – there will be further investment in the NHS. Plus, he confirmed new upgrades for hospitals and recommitted to improving social care. Gove, meanwhile, defined the purpose of this one nation government in a tweet: “Our most important priority [is] rejuvenating our democracy, strengthening our union and embracing new opportunities”. In other words, the referendum question was clear, as were the pledges made at subsequent European, general and local elections, and therefore the mandate to move forward is without doubt.

During his first days in office – rather than setting off for Brussels – Johnson explored the ‘awesome foursome’ that make-up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK); taking pit stops in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if, as the Policy Exchange demands, patriots could “display their area’s symbol or county coat of arms, or similar, on their number plate as is the case in many other European countries like Germany and Switzerland”? Simultaneously, our freedom-loving international trade secretary focused her efforts on life outside of the EU, including free ports and new free trade agreements with the US, Australia and New Zealand, among others.

At the time of writing this, Ipsos MORI and YouGov have the Tories on double-digit leads over Labour. In Brecon and Radnorshire, we saw Labour’s parliamentary candidate drop to fourth place and almost lose his deposit. All this indicates a clear Boris bounce and an electorate totally fed-up with Jeremy Corbyn’s ambiguity on the main issue of the day. Therefore, it’s perfectly understandable that two-thirds of voters now want to get rid of Corbyn before the UK goes to the polls again.

What else has Johnson been doing? In terms of protecting our nation and streets, we’ve seen him board HMS Victorious and appoint Johnny Mercer to head the new Office of Veterans’ Affairs as well as a plan to put 20,000 more bobbies on the beat over the next three years. This, combined with the home secretary’s vision to restore public confidence in law and order, should go some way to addressing the surge in gang violence, knife crime and moped theives affecting the capital’s residents, visitors and tourists.

Perhaps Sadiq Khan should’ve spent less time arguing for a second referendum and attacking the president of our closest ally, and more on the issues that impact Londoners. Is it any wonder that his approval ratings have tanked? Cameron and Johnson defeated Red Ken in 2008 and 2012; let’s ensure Johnson and Shaun Bailey – who has put addressing crime at the centre of his mayoral campaign – defeat Corbyn and Khan next year.

In 2018, almost a quarter of a million new homes were built in England – up from 225,000 12-months earlier and more than double the number when Labour was last in power. There have also been significant environmental milestones reached in England with a 90% drop in plastic bag purchases from the big supermarkets compared with just five years ago. As the environment secretary said recently, “We’re calling time on being a throwaway society”. We are investing for the future.

Borrowing from President Bartlett in The West Wing, I’ve asked myself this: ‘What’s next?’ Johnson’s current administration should build on these accomplishments and aspire to go even further in investing for a better future. I say current as, whichever way you look at it, it appears we are headed for an election this autumn.

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This piece was written for The Commentator (August 18, 2019).