June 24th, 2017 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
Back in March, to mark the triggering of Article 50 (and before Theresa May called the snap General Election), I wrote a piece for the Telegraph. In it I argued that those who could help ensure the UK gets the best deal from the Brexit negotiations needed to stop criticising everyone who voted to Leave. Instead they should ‘build a bridge’ in order to be heard. You can read my article behind the Telegraph paywall by clicking here. (But as it’s now 3 months’ old, I think it’s safe for me to provide the full text at the end of this post for non-Telegraph subscribers.)
Once Theresa May announced the General Election, and before the Conservative Party Manifesto was published, I wrote a piece for ConHome outlining how I thought voters would approach this election. I argued that, because Brexit to ‘ordinary voters’ was less about Europe and more a vehicle for changing the imbalanced and unfair way “the system” works in our country, the basic question voters would ask themselves before putting a cross in the box would be: whose side are you on? In other words, who will deliver the change they want to see happen. To read that piece, click here.
After the Conservative Party’s manifesto was published and all hell broke loose about social care, I wrote another piece for ConHome explaining why that policy made such a negative impact on the polls: in short, because it did not fit with the agenda for change of those voters most likely to vote Tory; especially new Tory voters. You can read that piece here.
Finally, I wrote a long essay for CapX after the General Election about the chasm between ordinary voters and everyone else in positions of power which Brexit exposed and the General Election did nothing to close. The central point of the essay – as indeed the three other pieces – is that the most important thing we powerful and influential people must recognise is our role in causing the divide and our collective responsibility for closing it. That essay is here.
To coin a phrase (which was the most damaging in more ways than one to Theresa May during the election campaign), “nothing has changed”. The divide between us remains as large and as deep as before. And that is the problem that everyone who enjoys some power or influence needs urgently to do something about.
Telegraph Article published 29th March 2017
December 5th, 2016 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
There was a debate in the House of Lords today on the following motion: “That this House believes that its size should be reduced, and methods should be explored by which this could be achieved.”
This was my contribution to the debate:
“My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friends who lead the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber. That group’s discussions and the debate we are having today show that there is a consensus that we must make some changes to the House of Lords so that our important work remains relevant to the modern world. In doing so, we should have an eye to the message of change that many voters rightly associate with the Brexit result.
My message is that we—your Lordships—have all the power we need to make positive change happen. In this debate, the premise is that the size of the House is the problem that needs addressing and that we should explore options to reduce it. But we need to be careful about addressing symptoms before tackling the cause of this perceived problem. We cannot escape the fact that there are 400 fewer of us than there used to be overall, yet more of us attend more frequently. So, before taking steps to reduce the size of the House, we need to consider some basic questions. First, why are more of us attending more often? Secondly, why do we hear disproportionately more often from the same colleagues? Thirdly, how can we ensure that more of our colleagues with current and fresh professional expertise contribute to our work so that we do the best possible job of revising and improving the legislation before us?
This House is at its best when it is not overtly party political and when it works together to find solutions in the public interest. I would like to believe that all of us agree that we owe it to the people we serve to come up with some honest, non-partisan answers to those questions. I think the source of those answers lies in us reaching a consensus and clarity over this House’s purpose. I believe that our purpose is to complement the House of Commons and give people confidence in the laws that Parliament makes. That is why we are doing all this revising and scrutinising. But the fact that I cannot articulate that purpose, or any other, and know for sure that all Members of this House endorse it and are genuinely signed up to it is what will put our future at risk.
It is not by chance that the media now routinely ask how a piece of legislation will fare in this House. I am not seeking to lay blame on any side of the political divide for that—I am not. We all—and I include the Cross-Benchers and the bishops—have to accept some responsibility for the inescapable reality that for the past 15 years or so this House has become more political in its behaviour. Too often one side of the House is frustrating the will of the elected Government because it can; while the Government are so focused on getting their legislative programme through at all costs that they struggle to discern when to stop and listen.
I fear that if we start down a path of change towards a goal marked simply, “smaller House of Lords”, we could compound that problem yet further. Fewer of us attending more frequently would diminish our range of expertise, and using election results to determine the numbers in this House would encourage us to be even more political—with the result that it would be hard to tell us apart from the House of Commons. We would have all the vices without the virtues.
However, if we could reach consensus on what the House of Lords exists for and unite in promoting that purpose, I truly believe that we would become more effective. That is because it would become clear to everyone that the motive of this House collectively, wherever any Peer sits in this Chamber, is to improve—not block or hijack—legislation for the benefit of the people of this country; in other words, it would be clear that all noble Lords believe that the value of this House lies in its important constitutional role, which is different from that of the more political House of Commons. The other place should be more political because only it has the authority that comes from democratic legitimacy.
My noble friend Lord Cormack has expressed the urgency of us taking action. The action I urge is for all noble Lords to encourage my noble friend and distinguished successor the Leader of the House, the Lord Speaker, the other party leaders and the Convenor to seek consensus and clarity over this House’s purpose. That is what we need to be a more effective second Chamber. We hold all the power we need to make change happen. We just need to agree what this House is for and be united in working towards that common public purpose.”
November 9th, 2016 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
In my post last Saturday (Stay focused and mind the gap) I talked about the chasm exposed by Brexit and how Theresa May understands Brexit is a means to deliver change and not the end in itself.
The people angry enough to vote for Donald Trump, regardless of all he has said and done in the past, see him as a means to an end too.
The similarities between Brexit and Trump is that they exposed the chasm – they didn’t create it. The way I picture it, as I said in my last post, is that all the people who voted for him and Brexit are on the other side, screaming to be noticed and pointing to the chasm which everyone can now finally see.
After Brexit in the UK, Theresa May understood quickly and built a bridge to the other side: “Brexit means Brexit”. Or if you like, Theresa is the bridge. In my view, the rest of us in the UK have either to walk over Theresa’s bridge or build our own to get there. Until we’re all on the other side, and can see what life is like there, “expert” solutions won’t get a hearing because people need to be convinced first that the experts have understood them and the problem as they experience it.
In the US, Donald Trump was on the other side of the chasm already with the people who voted for him, but he’s not built a sturdy enough bridge yet for others to follow him. Trump voters knew that when they voted for him – but he was all they had, and as time went on more on more people became convinced this was the only chance they were going to get to be taken seriously.
I doubt any of them believes he’ll build a 2,000 mile wall to keep the Mexicans out and get them to pay for it. They are not stupid and that’s not what they really want. What they want, is to be taken seriously. And that’s what the Donald did. They believed that by voting for him the rest of America would finally take them seriously too. He’s their means to an end. He helped them blow everything up and now everyone else can see them on the other side of the chasm too.
What they and Trump now need is for experienced, clever people to build some sturdier bridges to help him make change happen so life feels more fair. They need a few Theresas of their own. That’s why the plea in his acceptance speech was so important and must draw a constructive response:
“For those of you who haven’t supported me…. I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country”.
I’m not saying all this is easy and everything is going to be honky dory just like that. There are people who voted for Hillary who are worried and need reassurance too. I get that, and the signs are that Donald gets that too.
But smart people – politicians, businessmen, journalists – need to get over the chasm and find out what’s going on. Understand and listen to the people who are there. It’s only by seeing the world through the eyes of the people who live there that “experts” can earn the right and respect to be heard and we stand a chance of uniting the western world.
I said on Saturday that we’ll find out on Tuesday if Obama and Hillary have been focussing on the right thing. They weren’t. Look what’s happened to them.
Doing nothing is not an option. Being upset that the US has elected Donald Trump to the White House is not only pointless (he’s there) it’s dangerous. Because rejecting him would feel to his voters that they have been rejected too.
Stop focusing on Donald and focus instead on his voters. He took them seriously. That’s all. And look what together they achieved.
Donald Trump and his voters didn’t create the chasm, they exposed it and, in doing so, have created the opportunity for everyone to do something about it.
November 5th, 2016 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
Even after the shock of Brexit, I still don’t think we understand just how badly divided the western world is, how angry some people are, and the risks of us not responding properly to them.
All that jovial talk after the referendum that the Vote Leave campaign was “only meant to blow the bloody doors off” missed the point. The people who voted ‘Leave’ didn’t want to limit the damage, they really did want to blow everything up – and start again.
Over in the USA, they are so angry that they will vote for Donald Trump regardless of what he says or has done in the past because people believe he’s their only hope of blowing everything up.
Here Theresa May, an experienced and respected politician, understood immediately what Brexit exposed and responded by promising to change the way our country works when we leave the European Union so it works for everyone.
For our new Prime Minister, getting out of the European Union is a means to an end. It is not the end in itself. And that’s why Theresa May is right to do nothing that undermines people’s belief in what Brexit means.
We should consider ourselves lucky that the people who are angry believe our serious-minded, experienced Prime Minister can deliver for them.
I went to the “Women of the Year Awards” a couple of weeks ago where the Prime Minister presented an award to the Hillsborough Women. What happened was fascinating and tells us a lot.
Margaret Aspinall, the woman who has been most vocal in the Hillsborough families’ cause, came to the stage to accept and gave Theresa May the most heartfelt embrace, even putting her hand on the back of the Prime Minister’s neck. Margaret Aspinall then said, to a room full of several hundred other women and in front of television cameras, that Theresa May was the first person in power she had ever trusted.
Let’s just stop and think about what that cameo tells us.
Theresa May can command the trust of people previously let down and therefore has the potential to unite.
Brexit exposed the massive chasm between those who have been ignored for too long and those who have the power to make change happen. The way I picture it, the people who voted ‘Leave’ are stood on one side pointing to the chasm between us and screaming at the other side for help. And Theresa May has crossed over to them.
That’s what the rest of us have got to do. This really is not about politics at all. There’s a mish-mash of parties and a coalition of all sorts of people on both sides of the chasm.
Until we’re all on the other side and working together to fix that gap, the one thing I know for sure is that the normal game of politics won’t work. A general election right now would be about politicians and their power to not make change happen.
There are many serious business figures, other professionals, experts, MPs and members of the House of Lords who want desperately to get the best Brexit for the whole of the UK and will work tirelessly to achieve that.
But the people who need our help don’t believe us anymore.
So what do we do?
We have all got to follow Theresa. That doesn’t mean people have to vote for her, agree with her, or not challenge her.
It means that if we want the people on the other side of the chasm to listen, to take us seriously and believe that we want a country that works for everyone too, we first have to walk over the bridge she has built, or build one of our own, and join them.
The judges were doing their job this week and they were doing it as they should. The newspapers were doing their job too. But the reason that judges are judging and newspapers are shouting is because powerful people – in business and politics – are not focusing on the chasm. Instead, they appear to everyone on the other side of the chasm to be focusing on themselves.
We have to accept we are coming out of the European Union. We will be triggering Article 50 by the end of March. Two years after that we will be out. I don’t know if that means a Hard Brexit or not, but I do believe the sooner talk of delays, second referendums and Soft Brexits stops, the better Brexit will be for everyone.
At an election rally in the US on Friday night Barack Obama told the crowds they have to stay focussed. He said it over and over again. He’s right. But has he and Hillary been focussing on the right thing?
We’ll find out on Tuesday night.
October 8th, 2016 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
“The powerful who abuse their position” is what Theresa May said when asked what made her angry by Nick Robinson on Tuesday morning.
That one sentence sums up why she is the right person to be Prime Minister at this time. It captures what people feel has been going wrong for years and what has led to this big divide between the people and power exposed by Brexit. And if Theresa May remains committed to addressing unfairness and goes after anyone who abuses their position of power she stands a good chance of bridging that divide.
But as we know, this massive gap between people and power is not exclusive to the UK. It’s a western world problem and it’s what is behind the rise of the extremist parties in Europe and the support for the non-politician US presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
That is, until last night’s release of the tape of what Donald Trump said about women. But as much as what he said about women is horrific, it’s that he bragged he could abuse his power to do things to women that would not be possible if he didn’t have that power that’s so abhorrent.
Donald Trump: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything”
If he’s a serious candidate (and I think he is) Donald Trump needs to be more specific than he has been so far in his broadcast apology, to show that he understands why ordinary people are angry having heard and seen that tape. If he doesn’t do that, surely he will damage the support he already has as well as kill the prospect of gaining more.
And if Hillary Clinton is smart, she’ll not use this opportunity to try to bring Donald Trump down because of what he said about women on that tape (because I don’t think she would succeed and it could even make things worse for her, especially if he does what I’ve just described). Instead, Hillary should use this opportunity to rise above Trump and deal with her own weaknesses.
The American electorate is not overly enthusiastic about Hillary because they think she and Bill Clinton abused their position of power in the past. Right now she has the perfect opportunity to show very directly that she understands that, and to tell the American people what she is going to change about her own behaviour to prevent what worries some American people will happen again if they are returned to the White House.
The events of the last 24 hours could be the un-doing of Donald Trump regardless of anything more he or Hillary does in the final few weeks of the campaign.
But whoever wins the White House will have to deal with the causes that led to this most extraordinary of presidential elections. And that will require the next President to show they understand why it happened.
I wonder what the 44th President will answer if asked: “what makes you angry?”
October 5th, 2016 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
I watched the Prime Minister’s speech whilst I was in Canary Wharf earlier today. In that part of the world there is certainly some unease and anxiety following Brexit. And Robert de Niro’s “you talking to me?” came to mind as I looked around me when the Prime Minister referred to “the privileged few” again.
If anyone had asked me I would have said, “yes – she means you”. And, as a baroness who had lunch in Boisdales today, she means me too.
But c’mon. What have we got to complain about, really? So it feels a bit blunt and when has anyone ever been in favour of serving just the privileged few? But to convince all the people who are “not the privileged few” that things really are going to change she’s got to reflect back that she understands. And they feel like no-one has taken much notice of how unfair things have been for too long.
The reason why in my previous blogpost I emphasised the risks for critics of Brexit is that – what that result exposed goes beyond Party Politics. Our society is seriously divided and we have got to do something about it. I think Theresa May’s plan as outlined this week is the right one and I support it.
Now, as far as debating what created this social divide, Labour and the Libdems can criticise the Tories, the Tories can criticise Labour, or we can have a never-ending argument between Leavers and Remainers about whose “facts” were worse than the other. But if that’s all that happens, the people who have every right to feel left behind and have been angry for a long time will stop voting for any mainstream party. This division has been created over decades and we are all to blame.
The person I had lunch with today is a CEO of a successful business he created himself and is a decent, good person who has worked hard all his life to get where he is. As we talked I wondered whether he might feel a bit hurt and worried to be lumped in with ‘elites’ as if they are all bad for being successful. I hope not, because we need good people like him to keep on doing what they do.
He mentioned that the recent G20 Summit ‘family photo’, where Theresa May was shunted to the back row and the side, was a telling illustration of how the UK is now marginalised and the impact of that on the economy.
I understand that. But I don’t think they’ll keep her back-and-side forever.
My point to him was that, the key word in the Prime Minister’s speech today and over the last few weeks has been “everyone”. Yes she is emphasising that those who have been marginalised for too long are going to get the change they wanted. And yes that might have to be at some cost to others who have had more than their fair share in recent times.
But if she is able to achieve what she has described today, and tip the scales so they are more balanced (without going too far the other way so people stop trying to be successful), the UK will soon be front-and-centre again. Because all those political leaders in the G20 face the same challenges as we do here in the UK. If we all help the Prime Minister succeed, they’ll want a “bit of what she’s having” and the UK will return to its rightful place.
Theresa May has a mountain in front of her and she is determined to climb it. There may be some miss-steps along the way, it won’t be easy, and she should face challenge and scrutiny. But like it or not, that challenge and scrutiny has got to be constructive and in the interests of addressing the social divide if it is not to be counter-productive.
What all good, decent people need to do – whether they are rich, highly educated, middle-income, just managing, or poor – is respect the contribution everyone is going to have to make to help her get there.
October 3rd, 2016 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
In a couple of tweets earlier tonight I tried to make a point about Brexit and how critics of the process to leave the EU could be perceived by the public. But it’s not always easy to be clear when you’re working with 140 characters. So for the sake of clarity, my point is this:
The whole process of the referendum has changed the order of decision-making and that’s the kind of change – a transfer of power from politicians to the people – that those who voted out were trying to achieve, and even more people now rather like.
Yes, on 23rd June people voted to leave without knowing precisely what they were getting. But they were clear in their instruction. And, quite properly, they placed responsibility on the politicians to interpret and implement that instruction.
Now at the moment we know little more than #brexitmeansbrexit. Businesses in particular are anxious to know more. But I get the feeling the people are content with just the certainty of exit and will remain contented whilst Theresa May keeps taking an orderly and nicely paced step-by-step approach. It is true that the Prime Minister and the Government face a massive challenge of getting Brexit right and the risk is they will fail to meet the people’s expectations.
But right now – and until and unless Theresa May fails to succeed, and I think she might well pull it off – the bigger risk sits with the critics. And that’s because the decision to come out was not Theresa May’s, it was the people’s. It’s true that responsibility for how it is done and what is achieved sits with the Government and they will and should be held to account for that. But any comment or criticism that seems to undermine the Government’s enthusiasm for getting this right on behalf of the people will be counter-productive. This tweet from Ed Miliband is just the kind of thing that will grate: it’s mealy-mouthed about what’s likely to be achieved and therefore sounds like he’s criticising the people who voted for out for being stupid.
52% of people voted for #Brexit, but even more people would have voted for a “transfer of power to the people” if that had been on the ballot paper. Yet, in reality and for the moment at least, that’s what it feels like they’ve got and it feels good. So what politicians have to understand is that far more than 52% of people won’t like hearing politicians who can’t get used to the idea of having to take instructions instead of telling us what they want. By all means scrutinise and challenge the Government, but don’t challenge the decision that has been taken to leave and do get behind making it a success.
October 19th, 2011 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
This is just a short post to say that – having now been appointed a Government Whip in the House of Lords – I don’t intend to write any new posts on this site for the foreseeable future. I started blogging occasionally when I went self-employed a year or so ago. My aim was to write about topical issues from a ‘comms’ perspective. I didn’t post that often, and I was hardly top of the blogging charts, but they are all still available below should anyone want to read them.
Banks: why dont you try and trade radical, real and relevant for ring-fencing? We might listen if you do
September 1st, 2011 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
During Lords Questions in May this year, I asked the Government to demand the banks always pass the full tax relief on cash ISAs to their customers.
I had discovered evidence of some banks offering lower interest rates on fixed rate cash ISAs than on their fixed rate bonds. The Guardian, Independent and Daily Mail reported my findings and that I wanted the Government to take action. I thought the Government might and hoped they would, not least because the tax relief is a ‘gift’ from the Treasury to the general public to encourage saving, not a commercial opportunity for the banks (though there is more than a little something in it for them, because 15 million of us hold £172 billion – yes billion – in cash ISAs which they can use to lend…). More importantly, in asking the question and highlighting the practice I wasn’t just giving an example of the banks taking advantage of their ordinary customers, I was trying to show how they needed to change and point to something they could usefully do to start rebuilding public confidence.
In response Lord Sassoon, the Treasury Minister, said my question had prompted him to check the banks’ progress since an OFT ruling in 2010 about some other bad practice in respect of cash ISAs and, according to Lord Sassoon, “their [the banks] noses are being kept to the grindstone”. But, as far as the government taking action, that was about it.
As to the banking industry itself, my question prompted a couple of meetings with very senior figures who tried to blind me with bond-cash-ISA-science. But no willingness on their part to understand my fundamental point to them which was this:
If you want to restore public confidence in banking, you need to do something radical, real and relevant which puts your regular customers before your own interest in making more money and getting rich.
Not surprisingly, but nonetheless disappointingly, that message wasn’t very well received. In response I’ve been told I don’t understand the complexities of setting interest rates for cash ISAs (I don’t, and I don’t need to because it’s their job to be clearer with us so we know we’re getting a fair deal); I’ve been shown charts as evidence of bank lending to small businesses and irritation that no-one is listening (I said we’re listening, the problem is we just don’t believe what we’re hearing); and I’ve been told that so-called opinion-formers should stop attacking the banks (and I said why, when the banks haven’t done anything radically different lately?).
I was surprised at their unwillingness to accept that taking action to restore public confidence was an important part of improving the regulatory framework.
The banks’ opposition to ring-fencing has been growing for months and now we have a massive lobby from them to halt it completely – or to at least delay. Personally, I think the clearer and sooner we make the distinction between investment and retail banks the better – and I’d be inclined to go for further separation.
But if the right decision is to delay ring-fencing for the benefit of the economy as a whole, I hope the Government extracts from the banks something very radical, real, and relevant to ordinary customers as part of the deal. The answer might not lie in full tax relief on cash ISAs, but it’s the sort of step the banks should take if they are serious about restoring public confidence and understand its importance to their own future.
The banks need to do something to show us they want the benefits of their commercial success to be enjoyed by everyone, not just themselves.
In May ePolitix.com asked me to do an article to explain the background to my question about cash ISAs and tax relief and today they reposted it as part of their focus on the economy and business.
August 17th, 2011 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
Yesterday MediaGuardian reported that BBC Four would be the main casualty of the BBC’s budget cuts: its schedule and range of genres are to be “scaled back”, making it a shadow of its current self. I’ve no idea if the wonderful Tara Conlan’s report was inspired by an official bit of kite-flying or someone ‘in the know’ doing a bit of free-lancing, but it’s certainly generated a lot of comment and concern amongst BBC Four fans.
Indeed, in a pithy blogpost on Huffington Post, my old friend and erstwhile colleague David Skelton (now Deputy Director of the thinktank Policy Exchange) makes all the relevant points about the quality and distinctiveness of BBC Four; why it is such an important part of what the BBC exists to do; reminds us of the 6Music debacle; and demands the Corporation think again.
I can understand that kind of reaction. On the face of it, this decision (if true) doesn’t make sense. Why spoil and effectively ditch the service that so clearly represents the core purpose of the BBC and is so obviously not available elsewhere? But – and please hear me out on this – it could actually be a sensible decision if, and it is a big if, the BBC can convince us that what they are planning instead will not only protect but strengthen the BBC’s delivery of the kind of programmes we currently find and love on BBC Four.
Many people have argued in the past that BBC Four is what BBC Two should be and that those two channels struggle to sit alongside each other because they have similar remits. Some would go as far to say that the existence of BBC Four gives BBC Two an excuse not to be the serious channel it should be. If it helps to give this some perspective and context compare BBC Four to Radio 4: axing Radio 4 would create an apocalypse because there is no alternative; no other BBC radio network exists to do a similar job; the same is not true for BBC Four.
Therefore, I would be interested and willing to listen to what a new BBC Two would look like if its purpose was to offer the kind of programming that currently sits on BBC Four. Or if you like, if BBC Two were to become BBC Four. Especially if – and at the same time – BBC One became home to some of the ‘popular docs’ currently on BBC Two and if BBC Three really stepped up to the plate in serving young audiences (ie, has a schedule which doesn’t rely on movies and repeats of EastEnders). Put simply, if the management tell us what they are trying to achieve, it’s a 21st century version of the Reithian purpose, and they come up with a coherent plan to deliver it, I am all ears and I’d like to think many others would be too.
I have to admit that the BBC’s got recent form for selecting the wrong service for the chop, so people’s confidence in the BBC making the right decision when it’s got to make savings is pretty low. I think my friends and former colleagues at the BBC know this, but I hope in reaching their final decision they understand that the most important thing they need to do in light of that low public confidence is not blindly to save every single service, but to present us with a plan for the future that makes sense. A plan that is so clearly going to deliver quality programmes with real purpose for all its audiences that – even if it takes us a bit of time to get used to the change – we will be prepared to give it a go.
As to everyone who is jumping up and down about BBC Four and pushing BBC Three forward for the axe instead I would just say this: after last week’s events I think that, now more than ever, we need a focussed BBC Three and Radio1 committed to serving young audiences with programmes with real purpose. When they do their public service job properly they are incredibly powerful and important.
In short, the BBC can fulfil its responsibility to everyone by doing its – always current, never out-of-date – inform, educate and entertain thing with a reduced licence fee and fewer channels and what we should be demanding is it do just that. In other words, what’s important is what the BBC is for, and that’s not just BBC Four.
As to the BBC, I would simply say this: please don’t let us down.