Blog & Articles

Meetings On Line – From Living Room to Boardroom

With the UK on Lockdown more and more people will be working from home. Meetings will no longer take place in person but via Skype, Zoom or other communication packages. The slow drift to change has taken on a new life in times of crisis.

Yet there is nothing new about home working. Almost a decade ago I produced a London Assembly report with Transport Researcher Jon Hollis extolling the virtues of remote working as a way of relieving the overloaded transport network and rocketing property prices in London.

And in the late nineties I led a project to introduce video conferencing at the Spring Group, a company with UK wide sites that it was seeking to bring together.

Beyond the advancing technology, on line meetings require some changes to interpersonal skills that can present a challenge. I’ve dusted off some recommendations from the past:


At home you should ideally set aside a separate room for home working. It needs to be free from background noise which can be a distraction as well as having good natural light for the camera to operate.

If you do need to share a room, make sure it isn’t the bedroom. As far as possible you should keep your sleeping space free of other uses and concerns.


In most cases you will be using the camera on top of your computer screen, so it needs to be level with or slightly above your face when you are sitting comfortably. Remember that the screen is not in the same place as the camera so you need to look into the camera when making your point and into the screen when listening – the further apart the two are, the harder this becomes.

In films dramatic footage is often taken from the desk top, looking up at a speaker. The intention is to make them look sinister or dominating. Be aware that the camera will create this effect if it is pointing up at your face.


Check out what is behind you and in shot before you go on line. Politicians and academics often like to be interviewed in front of a bookcase because it makes them look more educated. If you do this, you should remove any titles that might not reflect your personal or company brand.

If you do have items with the company logo on them, consider placing them in the background where they will be visible. Actual products are even better. There’s nothing wrong with some free advertising if your efforts go viral.


Avoid interruptions during conference calls and meetings. Noises from outside can be distracting. Children and pets should be kept out of the room.


Remember that your colleagues can only see what is on the screen. If you have more than one person taking part in the room, you will need to move the camera or the people to ensure everyone can be seen when they make their point.


Waving documents in front of the screen doesn’t work. If you are sharing complex information you need to send it to everyone beforehand or invest in some document sharing software.

When I work with clients on speeches, I find it useful to number every line on a draft before I share it with them. That way, we can quote line numbers if we want to make changes, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.


Meetings with a large number of participants are bad at managing detail. My own experience is that six participants is a good number but more tend to lead to less focus on the key objectives. This is even more the case on line where screen size will restrict the number who can participate at any time.

You need to be clearer than ever about the roles of each team member and why they are taking part.


Good meetings require some preparation beforehand and this is even more essential on line.

Have an agenda and agree who is going to chair the session and how long each item will take to discuss.

Cue each person in. Speaking one at a time is vital on line as it is easy to overlook contributions if several people are speaking. Take time to make sure everyone gets a say because it is also easy to overlook the quieter, more thoughtful members if they aren’t in the same room.

Circulate notes of the meeting with action points soon afterwards. On line it is easy for misunderstandings to occur or action points to be overlooked, so an accurate agreed record is essential.

It is tempting to record the meeting but make sure you get everyone’s agreement. Remember that you are intruding upon the private space at home and they have a right to know if the footage is going to be circulated more widely.

Going on line for meetings can be a daunting prospect so please contact me for advice on making meetings work for you.

Boris Addresses The Nation

On 31st January, Boris Johnson delivered a short speech to mark the UK leaving the EU. It wasn’t carried by many broadcast channels but the speech has been viewed millions of times on line, demonstrating the continuing rise of new media and the decline of traditional institutions.

Downing Street have issued a transcript so I have reproduced the whole speech at the end of the article. There are some noteworthy features in what is a very professional production:


The whole speech comes in at under four minutes. With communication via the media it is essential to get your message across without losing the audience who can click elsewhere at any time. Delivering short speeches is becoming the new political norm.


The speech has a classic chess game structure with an Opening, a Middle and an End. This ensures that nothing is forgotten and everything is in the right place.


The opening three lines demonstrate great rapport building. In a matter of seconds he acknowledges those who see Brexit with hope, those who feel anxiety and loss, and those who want to get it over with. This signals that his statement will be all inclusive, a coming together after the discord of the last three years.


The Middle is for Messages and Memorability, and he manages to achieve both. He states an intention to control immigration, create freeports, protect fishing and do free trade deals as specifics.

The imagery of a breaking dawn with the curtain going up is memorable and positive.


He recognises the EU’s strengths even though it has evolved in a direction that no longer suits this country. This sets a positive tone for ongoing relationships with our nearest neighbours.

Later he will return to invite a new era of friendly cooperation between the EU and the UK.

He also claims that Brexit has been confirmed in the polls – not once but twice. Thus appropriating the 2019 election for Brexit, although many other issues were debated during the campaign.


Boris signals that he no longer accepts that your life chances should depend on where you grew up. It is time to Unite and Level Up.

The message won’t be lost on Northern constituencies who leant their votes to new Conservative MPs this time.


Boris lists his priorities as defeating crime, transforming the NHS, education, technology and infrastructure. A lot of these priorities will be familiar to those of us who worked with him at London’s City Hall from 2008 to 2016.


Boris lists climate change, human rights, female education and free trade as his diplomatic priorities. This is far from a right wing message and signals a return to his more inclusive City Hall style of politics.

The promise to Rediscover muscles we have not used for decades is a very powerful piece of imagery.


The final section of the speech is delivered in shorter lines. This is a very good way to pick up the pace and ensure a strong impact – always leave them wanting more.

I have a rule of thumb that no sentence should run over beyond the end of a line in a platform speech and this final section follows that approach quite strictly.

Of course, the earlier material is longer but it matters less in a conversational piece to camera.

I can help you to design commercial or political speeches just as good as this so contact me for more details.

Very professional – and I recommend watching it for the full effect. Meanwhile here is the official transcript:


Tonight we are leaving the European Union

For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come

And there are many of course who feel a sense of anxiety and loss

And then of course there is a third group – perhaps the biggest – who had started to worry that the whole political wrangle would never come to an end

I understand all those feelings, and our job as the government – my job – is to bring this country together now and take us forward

And the most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning

This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama

And yes it is partly about using these new powers – this recaptured sovereignty – to deliver the changes people voted for

Whether that is by controlling immigration or creating freeports or liberating our fishing industry or doing free trade deals

Or simply making our laws and rules for the benefit of the people of this country

And of course I think that is the right and healthy and democratic thing to do

Because for all its strengths and for all its admirable qualities, the EU has evolved over 50 years in a direction that no longer suits this country

And that is a judgment that you, the people, have now confirmed at the polls

Not once but twice

And yet this moment is far bigger than that

It is not just about some legal extrication

It is potentially a moment of real national renewal and change

This is the dawn of a new era in which we no longer accept that your life chances – your family’s life chances – should depend on which part of the country you grow up in

This is the moment when we really begin to unite and level up

Defeating crime, transforming our NHS, and with better education, with superb technology

And with the biggest revival of our infrastructure since the Victorians

We will spread hope and opportunity to every part of the UK

And if we can get this right I believe that with every month that goes by we will grow in confidence not just at home but abroad

And in our diplomacy, in our fight against climate change,

In our campaigns for human rights or female education or free trade we will rediscover muscles that we have not used for decades

The power of independent thought and action

Not because we want to detract from anything done by our EU friends – of course not

We want this to be the beginning of a new era of friendly cooperation

Between the EU and an energetic Britain.

A Britain that is simultaneously a great European power

And truly global in our range and ambitions

And when I look at this country’s incredible assets

Our scientists, our engineers, our world-leading universities, our armed forces

When I look at the potential of this country waiting to be unleashed

I know that we can turn this opportunity into a stunning success

And whatever the bumps in the road ahead

I know that we will succeed

We have obeyed the people

We have taken back the tools of self-government

Now is the time to use those tools to unleash the full potential of this brilliant country and to make better the lives of everyone in every corner of our United Kingdom.

Maiden Speeches

Over a month into the new Parliament many MPs are writing and delivering their Maiden Speeches. I’ve had a few requests for help, so here’s a short list of things to consider and objectives to achieve when creating your first masterpiece.


Everyone gets to do one Maiden Speech before they make regular contributions so you should try to get through it swiftly and not let the understandable urge for perfection cause a long delay. On the bright side, you will get lots of support from colleagues and you shouldn’t have to face interventions or heckling.


This is your opportunity to say some nice things about your constituency. There is good everywhere if you look hard enough. Try to make it more of a labour of love than a tourist board shopping list. Refer to places by name and make sure you pronounce them correctly.


It’s traditional, and courteous, to praise your predecessor even if they were tossed out by the voters on polling day. Perhaps there is something important they achieved in Parliament or even a good anecdote which highlights their warmth and intelligence. But time is limited so keep any stories snappy.


This is an opportunity to make yourself known to everyone and to lay down some markers about what you want to achieve during your term of office. You can highlight any areas of personal expertise that might be useful to The House.


Your Maiden Speech will take place during a wider debate so you should try to make it relevant in that context. You can say how a piece of legislation or a proposed motion will benefit your constituents. Dovetailing the speech to the subject being discussed will give the Minister and other Members an opportunity to refer to your comments – hopefully in a positive way. It also provides good material for local media outlets.


Every debate is closely watched by the whips. There will be at least one in the chamber making notes and trying to manage the business. Those notes will collect against your name and are considered during reshuffles where competence and loyalty are rewarded. It’s never too early to start making a good impression.


If you can refer to the contributions from other Members it demonstrates that you have been listening to the debate and you value their views. Politics is an intensely competitive business so it is good to gather people to your side. Everyone stumbles at some time and you want colleagues helping you to your feet rather than kicking you when you are down. In the longer term you are going to need their votes to attain some positions – ultimately including Party Leader or Speaker.


Some politicians achieve considerable respect for their contributions to debate – often across party boundaries. A memorable Maiden Speech will set the standard so it is worth the effort of preparation. This is one of those instances where a good six minute speech can do more for your reputation than months of campaigning or casework. The Chamber provides some great opportunities and you should grasp them whenever you can.


Your Maiden Speech should provide some material for press releases so don’t forget to chase up media opportunities after you sit down. A particularly good performance can even be clipped and broadcast on your website or more widely. You want to squeeze every last drop of juice out of this peach.

I am often asked for help with speeches and in politics a good performance can really boost your career, so contact me for a free consultation if you think I can help.

London Elections Looming

Hot on the heels of the 2019 General Election, comes the 2020 London contest. On 7th May the capital goes to the polls to decide who will be the Mayor for the next four year term. The 25 Member London Assembly will also be up for grabs with its 14 large First Past The Post seats and eleven Members chosen from party lists.


The Mayor of London has considerable executive powers over some services in the capital as well as a high profile pulpit to argue the case for his city.

In budget terms the largest part of the role is transport. Sadiq’s fares freeze has been delivered as he promised every year since his election in 2016 but the damage to TfL’s finances has been harmful and with Crossrail delayed until 2021 at least, there are questions about retaining the freeze for his next term. The Mayor is seeking more powers over mainline rail services but he needs to convince national government that he will be a responsible custodian.

The most controversial issues lie within the policing and crime brief. Knife crime has risen to its highest level in history with deaths also going up despite improved trauma care and emergency response. Crime had been going up around the rest of the UK, giving the Mayor some political cover but this trend is now reversing. We can expect violent crime to be a leading issue in the campaign.

The property market in London remains strong despite a slowdown during the recent Brexit uncertainties, with unattainable prices for most people. The Mayor has been pushing for more housing supply but it is difficult to buck a market that seems intent on driving prices higher.

Sadiq has also made it his priority to tackle poor air quality but this is a long term project which won’t yield results before May. Brexit may also play a role in the election with London’s remain voters looking to punish the main political parties.


The Assembly election is more important than ever because the body that scrutinises the Mayor has been acquiring new powers of its own. With a strong Labour Group these present no problem to the Mayor but if they lose seats, the Assembly could assume a more pivotal role.

In particular, the Assembly has the power to reject the Mayor’s budget if it can scrape together a two thirds majority. This presents some interesting possibilities for smaller parties to extract promises in return for their support. The power to reject Mayoral strategies has been added in recent years, so Sadiq could find his Transport Plan and London Plan in danger. Labour require at least 9 Members to defend the Mayor from hostile amendments so they would need to lose 3 of their current 12 seats to relax their grip on the Assembly.

The Assembly appoints scrutiny committees to keep an eye on the Mayor’s executive functions as well as investigating wider issues that affect London. The most important committees cover the budget, policing and transport but the rest of its structure could change to reflect the priorities of Members elected in 2020.

The Assembly holds Confirmation Hearings to approve key Mayoral appointments. Even with Members from the Mayor’s own party, these can be a rough ride for the nominees who appear before them.


Is Sadiq safe? London is a Labour supporting city which bucked the national trend to the Conservatives in December. Sadiq has backed a lot of causes which are dear to the metropolitan left and he has steered clear of Corbyn – despite nominating him for the Labour leadership in 2015 – so he should return to office. However the knife crime epidemic and failure to deliver Crossrail on time may dent his majority.

Rory vs Shaun? To win, the Tory candidate needs to drive up turnout in outer London whilst holding it down in Labour’s Inner London redoubts. It’s a challenging task, only achieved by Boris Johnson in 2008 and 2012. Independent candidate Rory Stewart will be bidding to take some of Shaun Bailey’s softer Conservative voters but he may pose more of a danger to the Lib Dem’s Siobhan Benita. Bailey is a good motivator and he is making violent crime his number one priority.

Lib Dem resurgence? In 2016 the Lib Dems did badly, falling to just one seat on the Assembly. For Caroline Pidgeon it has been a lonely four years but she should expect to be joined by more colleagues in 2020. Brexit has driven a resurgence of the Lib Dem vote in London, particularly the South West and inner London boroughs. The Lib Dems should be able to grab votes off both Labour and the Conservatives to increase their share of the List seats.


I’m providing briefings on the London contest – which Assembly seats might change hands, how the key policy issues will play out and how City Hall will manage its relationship with the new government. Contact me for more details.

Speechwriting for Staffers


Political researchers are often asked to create speeches for their MPs and Ministers – ranging from simple messages of thanks to constituents, to Parliamentary debates, to full conference performances.

Speeches are important moments in a political career. A good performance can really boost your profile in front of a lot of people in a way that days of campaigning and casework never will. So it is important to get them right.

But not everyone has experience of writing key speeches. Civil servants tend to produce informative but dull tracts and researchers usually have more knowledge of campaigning and policy development.

That’s why I am hosting a half day workshop to help political staffers who find themselves drafting a speech.


In a half day session we will cover:

Planning – You don’t want to waste valuable time, so what are the questions you should be asking before you even sit down to write the first draft?

Structures – My structured approach ensures that you say everything you need to and say it in the right place, at the right time. I will also share templates for several common types of speech that you will be asked to draft.

Editing for Space and Pace – How to add dramatic impact without running over time or losing important content. The editing and redrafting process is really important and I can give you some useful guidance.

Speech Writing Surgery – You may already have a speech writing project under way, so I will be happy to give you advice and answer questions.


I have helped dozens of candidates through the demanding selection process and many of them are now sitting on the Green Benches in Parliament.

With 26 years in politics at two big London Boroughs and in the London Assembly, I discovered how to draft attention grabbling speeches the hard way, using speaking opportunities to build my reputation.

As Deputy Mayor to Boris Johnson, I learned much from his approach including the use of humour and flexible, modular speaking styles.

And I won the debating prize during my time at the Middle Temple studying for The Bar.

So I can help you too.


The workshop will take place on Friday 14th February at a Central London venue, running from 9am to 1pm.

It will be an intensive experience with lots of learning and some practice, so I’m keeping the group to no more than ten people.

You need to be prepared to work hard and learn fast.

If you are interested please contact me for more details and to reserve your place.

6 Things We Learned From 15th Jan PMQs

PMQs on 15th January was a calmer affair than the ones we saw last year. The House is coming to terms with the Election result and a government with the sort of majority that hasn’t been seen since Labour lost in 2010.

Here are seven things we learned from PMQs:


This time Jeremy Corbyn chose the NHS as his subject. This is as close to home turf as Labour can get so he had the opportunity to highlight the rise in waiting times both at Accident & Emergency and for long term cancer treatment.

Boris acknowledged that the times were unacceptable and gave reassurances about the government’s investment plans including the construction of new hospitals.

Corbyn spoiled the attack by referring the Prime Minister to Labour’s election manifesto – which of course gave Boris the obvious reply that the voters had read and rejected Labour’s offer just a month ago.


Ian Blackford went in harder on Scottish independence than he did last week, demanding another referendum and referring to the Prime Minister as a ‘Democracy Denier’.

Boris responded by quoting previous SNP leaders who had stated that the 2014 referendum was a ‘once in a generation vote’ and he told Blackford to ‘change the record’. I suspect we will be hearing the same tune from the SNP for months to come.


The Conservative MPs for the Cotswolds and Arundel both asked about the roll out of broadband to rural areas.

Boris took the opportunity to state that £5 billion was being spent and that the roll out would be completed by 2025.

CCHQ followed up with a press statement, suggesting that this exchange was pre planned by the whips.


Sir Desmond Swaine asked about the constitutional balance between the Legislators, the Executive and the Judiciary. Unusually, this question was on the order paper in full rather than a supplementary to a more anodyne diary question – something that they wanted on the record.

Boris replied that he was planning a Commission to review the relationship and that whilst they would protect Judicial Review, they would also aim to prevent people using it as ‘politics by other means’.

The Brexit episode shone a powerful light on the way that the courts interpret and develop Law without much in the way of democratic engagement. Judicial activism has been a problem for some time and it is good to see the government seeking to reign it in.


As 31st January looms, MPs are asking about the opportunities raised by Leaving as well as its consequences. Andrew Rosindell urged the PM to improve animal welfare laws and to ban the live export of farm animals.

Helen Grant drew attention to the UK Africa Investment Summit on 20th January, which will encourage trade outside the EU.

The SNP’s Douglas Chapman mourned the loss of the Erasmus educational exchange scheme but Boris reassured him that Erasmus would still be available in some form after the UK leaves.


This question time saw Boris in the conciliatory mood that we all recognise from our City Hall days.

Asked by Ed Davey to review the decision to reduce payments to bereaved families to 18 months, the PM offered a meeting and constructive dialogue. He was equally positive to several other MPs who raised campaign initiatives. It reminded me of the old Peoples Question Times that City Hall hosted, where people presented many problems to Mayor Boris and he offered them his support and often met them personally afterwards. It is a very different approach to many politicians – and quite refreshing.


Sir David Amess asked about city status for his constituency – Southend On Sea.

Boris replied that ‘citification’ was ongoing…

I’m available to give briefings on the new government, Prime Minister and coming London Elections so contact me for details.

Prime Minister’s Questions – 8th January

Prime Minister’s Questions on the 8th January was the first of 2020 and it provided a number of indicators for where politics is heading in the New Year.

So here are the eight most important things about the session:


Jeremy Corbyn used his questions to attack the government on its handling of the Iran crisis, following the US assassination of General Qasam Suleimani and the shooting down of a Ukraine International Airlines passenger plane over Iran.

The key word used by Boris was De-escalation, with the UK urging restraint on both sides.

Corbyn tried to portray the Prime Minister as Trump’s lapdog, restrained by the need for a trade deal with the US post Brexit. His backbenchers were largely silent and appeared unenthusiastic about the line of questioning.

Corbyn is making it too easy to portray Labour as supporting enemies of the West like Suleimani. Labour need to change their strategy if they are to rebuild trust with the voters and a clearer focus on domestic issues would be a good place to start.


SNP Leader Ian Blackford, called for another referendum on Scotland’s future in the UK. This call was repeated later on by two more of his colleagues. Their case is that Scotland has elected a nationalist government three times and opposed leaving the EU, so circumstances have changed since 2014.

The PM replied that the 2014 referendum is still quite recent (it was referred to as a ‘Once in a Generation’ vote) and that the SNP should concentrate on improving the quality of services they offer to Scotland. He also highlighted the £9 billion per year they receive from the Treasury, which they would have to make up if they left.


There are some justifiably unhappy MPs when it comes to rail services.

Labour’s Yvonne Fovargue laid into Northern Rail and Conservative Harriett Baldwin had some strong criticisms of West Midlands Rail.

The PM replied that he was considering changes to the franchising process and the ‘The Bell Was Tolling’ for some operators. It was a not very coded criticism which should encourage operators to raise their game.


Brendan O’Hara from the SNP started his question with the words ‘Margaret Thatcher’, which provoked an unexpected burst of cheering from the government benches.

Aside from any questions about behaviour, this would have been unthinkable not so long ago. It shows how Thatcher’s reputation has enjoyed a revival in recent years – no doubt helped by opposition members who claim that Boris is ‘Worse Than Thatcher’ when many people don’t see him as being at all unreasonable…


Tory MPs David Morris, Steve Double and rising star Dehenna Davison all raised constituency issues which required investment or the reversal of government decisions. Boris had warm words for them all, and promises of action.

Investing in regions outside London is going to be a priority for the new government, not least because they need to convert temporary Conservative voters into permanent supporters.

It’s a good time for backbenchers to bring their investment plans to London.


We didn’t hear much from the defeated Lib Dems this time.

However the new Conservative Eastleigh MP Paul Holmes, did encourage the PM to criticise his Lib Dem council’s house building projects which are unpopular with local residents. Boris gave a somewhat half hearted response which came as no surprise – at City Hall he was always reluctant to attack Labour or Lib Dem councils when Conservative AMs urged him to do so.

Boris is less confrontational than opponents like to portray him – he is certainly no Donald Trump.


Lindsay Hoyle is a very good Chair, making very few interjections unlike his predecessor.

The debate flowed better without the constant interruptions and it enabled more backbenchers to raise questions – which should be the priority for a good Speaker.

Having chaired Boris Johnson’s Mayor’s Question Time, I know it isn’t easy to master this situation. To do so with such a light hand is a great accomplishment.


Labour’s Karl Turner concluded the session by seeking the PMs support for the actions of his constituent Steven Gallant. He is serving a life sentence but on 29th November he was one of the brave people who tackled the knife wielding terrorist on London Bridge, saving many innocent lives. Boris quite rightly expressed the nation’s gratitude to Mr Gallant.

A good note to conclude Prime Minister’s Questions on the 8th January.

Finally, I’m available to give briefings on the new government, Prime Minister and coming London Elections so contact me for details.

Boris Briefings


The Political Earthquake on December 12th has reshaped the Westminster landscape for at least a decade.

Yet so many political commentators are struggling to understand the new rules of the game. Why did Labour suffer a historic defeat? Why did the smaller parties fail to capitalise on the Remain vote to achieve the hung Parliament that so many in the media predicted – and desired? Why was Boris Johnson so popular?

And what can we expect from Boris? What is he like to work with? What are the new MPs like? How will they shape the priorities for the first Conservative Government elected with a secure majority since 1987?

The stale crop of go to ‘experts’ are mired in the past. To understand what happens next we need to look forward beyond 2020, not backwards to Cameron and Blair.

That is why I am now offering Boris Briefings, based on my experience of our PM and my work with many new MPs.


Attempts to compare Boris to Trump are doomed to fail because they are lazy and shallow.

I worked with Boris Johnson at City Hall for eight years both as Chairman of The Assembly and Deputy Mayor of London – and he’s no Donald Trump. Personally, he prefers to gather support whereas Trump seems to glory in confrontation.

Politically, Boris is socially liberal but economically Conservative. As Mayor of London he made a point of freezing and even cutting council tax but he also recognised the need to raise transport fares to pay for much needed investment. He took a tough approach to knife crime, presiding over a fall in violence that seems a distant memory just five years later – yet he also introduced measures to encourage changes in behaviour including City Hall’s first ever sugar tax.

Boris has a very tightly controlled personal brand and a Rockstar campaigning style. It was not unusual for him to take over an hour to campaign down a suburban high street because of the number of people – often young people – who wanted to be photographed with him.

He is often portrayed as dishonest by political opponents – yet one of the things that constituents told me about him repeatedly was ‘He keeps his promises’.

With Brexit done, what will his personal style and policy preferences mean for the UK? And why has he brought so many of his staffers from City Hall and Vote Leave along with him? How does he inspire so much loyalty amongst colleagues?

I can share my own experiences and insights to help answer these questions.


The collapse of Labour’s Red Wall has handed Boris a majority that his predecessors could only have dreamed of. But it has also changed the face of the Parliamentary Conservative Party.

The patrician Remainers and Corporatists who thought there was something wrong with letting people make their own decisions are largely gone. In their place are new, grass roots politicians, often hailing from the very communities that elected them.

Meanwhile tribal voting patterns have given way to a new voter consumerism. People who lent their vote expect to see something in return. How will the government repay their trust? How can the political focus be moved away from London to drive regeneration in left behind towns and cities? How can the public sector – still very much in thrall to the Blair years – be reformed to do things For people rather than doing things To them?

My candidate clients had their best election so far, with many people I coached winning seats right across the country – from Runnymede to Ynys Mon. How they think and behave will shape government priorities going into the 2020s.


2020 also sees the elections for a new Mayor of London and London Assembly. Whilst Sadiq looks to have a commanding lead, his achievements haven’t been resounding and there are some interesting candidates seeking to dethrone him.

This year the London Assembly will be more important than ever, with powers to change not just the Mayor’s budget but also his key strategies – including the Transport Plan and the all encompassing London Plan, setting the pattern for the growth and development of our capital city and its services.

What are the main policy implications? Which assembly seats are in play? How will the Mayor’s relationship with the Government compare to those enjoyed by his predecessors – Boris and Ken?

With 16 years on the London Assembly, I can bring real insight on the way London Government works, the challenges it faces and the relationships it needs to build both in the UK and internationally.


I am offering briefings – one to one, to small groups, or even after dinner speeches for audiences looking for a thoughtful and bang up to date contribution.

I’m better informed and more entertaining than a lot of the historical big name speakers, and much better value so please contact me to find out more.

Goal Setting For Politicians – and Others


I was sceptical about the values of Goal Setting.

In my first job I had one of those 80s managers who would bang on about ‘There’s no I in Team’ and ‘making an impact’, whatever that meant. One of his innovations was forcing us all to set personal goals for the coming year – it was a good way of getting us to sign up to impossible objectives and tedious tasks without appearing to be imposing them. Of course, he was always on hand to tell us to be ‘more stretching’.

Several years on, I was feeling somewhat disillusioned and I took refuge in self help books about career progression. They reiterated the importance of goal setting, not as something imposed by managers, teachers or parents but as a way of bringing order and meaning to your life. One quote in particular stayed with me:

If you don’t work towards clear objectives in your life – there are plenty of people who will use your time and effort to help them to work towards theirs.

I decided to give it a go. Setting my own objectives and dreams was much more satisfying and exciting than doing it at someone else’s behest.

And with my aims written on paper, it became much easier to see ways of achieving them. Opportunities had been things that I missed, but now they became things I grasped.

Usually I help politicians who work towards demanding targets but goal setting is so powerful that it can help people in every walk of life – so here are some ways to make New Year resolutions that you will actually value and stick to:


It is worth understanding your strengths before you set goals. Success is much easier if you are working with your own unique skills. You’d rather push a boulder uphill than push it downhill wouldn’t you?

Start with two questions:

First: What are you good at?

This should be an objective assessment, so no cheating!

You need evidence of ability. Perhaps you have won awards or other people have praised your efforts in a particular field. Gather it all together and make a list.

It may be a short list, so perhaps you need to get out and experiment more. Or your friends may not recognise your achievements, in which case you need new friends.

Second: What do you enjoy?

This is the Subjective part. It’s much more fun and may call for a glass or two of wine to help your imagination.

What has given you the greatest pleasure in the past? How would you feel if you could do it every day? It might be something that others would disapprove of but you need to set that aside – these are your dreams and you don’t have to share them or seek permission.

Of course, there will be areas that overlap in the answers to both these questions after all, we tend to enjoy things that we do well. Look for those overlaps, because these are the places where you need to focus your efforts.

Many people live their whole lives without enjoying their work – because they didn’t ask themselves these two questions. The answers will tell you a lot about where you should be going.


So, here are some suggestions for setting your 2020 goals, keeping in mind what you are good at and what you enjoy:

  1. Physical health – do you want to be fitter, to lose weight, perhaps to dress better? Here’s your chance.
  2. Money – are you saving or spending? How can you cut costs and improve your earning potential? If you did have more money, what would you spend it on? Your resources are important because without them your personal choices will be more limited.
  3. Career – do you enjoy your job? Does it use your skills and reward you adequately? Career targets tend to be longer term so the sooner you begin, the better.
  4. Relationships – who have you lost contact with? Who do you enjoy spending time with? Are there some people who bring you down or hold you back? Surround yourself with people who want the best for you in 2020.
  5. Learning – What do you need to know? Would some new skills be useful? Are you still curious? We may get older but we should never stop learning.
  6. Experiences – Is there something you always wanted to do? Somewhere you always wanted to visit? Make this the year when you finally do it – and don’t forget to take lots of pictures so you can look back on it and share the joy.


2020 is going to be a special year in many ways. We have a new government and we will be embarking on new relationships with the rest of the world as we leave the EU. There will be highs and lows but you will be better equipped to spot the opportunities and survive the downturns if you have some clear goals to work towards.

And if you need help with goal setting please do contact me.

Happy New Year – Now Let’s Go and Live It.

Media Food Chains

One of the best ways to raise your profile as a candidate is gaining media attention. Broadcast opportunities are particularly valuable – but they can be hard to secure.


The traditional way to trigger a story is to send out a press release. Thousands of these are received every day by national broadcasters and newspapers but busy journalists are chasing deadlines and they don’t have time to read them all.

A lot of releases go straight in the bin. Some lie in an in tray for a few days – then they go in the bin. If releases are sent as attachments to emails they will probably never even be opened.

If you are lucky, someone might find your release interesting and call you back – but this can happen many days later, when they have found time to glance through the in tray.

Unless you are a regular source, press releases just don’t work at the national level.

Although for local newspapers and free sheets which struggle to find content, releases have a much higher success rate.


A few years ago, I was a guest on a current affairs TV show. They were running late so I got to sit in the busy newsroom where I could watch the journalists at work. It was a revealing experience.

They had other TV outlets running on screen and were clearly interested in pursuing stories that were being broken by their rivals.

They also had copies of all the national newspapers which were combed for stories that could make great TV. The most popular of the papers was The Guardian – perhaps because the broadcast media is left leaning but more probably because The Guardian is a go to source for media job opportunities.

If you can get your story in The Guardian, it is much more likely to get broadcast coverage.

There is a Media Food Chain out there so understanding who feeds off who is vital to raising your profile.


When I was at City Hall, we would often get stories featured on BBC London and its ITV equivalent. We were lucky because The Guardian covers London issues more closely than other newspapers, so the food chain worked for us.

I ran a blog which regularly reported on the committee hearings that took place at the London Assembly. Writing them up was detail driven, hard work, but it was rewarded when The Guardian website started to include my own blog on their sidebar of recommended reading.

I knew that I could break a story by placing it on the blog, where Guardian journalists and bloggers were more likely to read it. From there it was more likely to progress to BBC and ITV coverage as well as London’s popular radio stations.


After I left City Hall, I was asked to write some pieces for the political website, Brexit Central. One of my most read articles covered my experiences as a Member of the cumbersome European Committee of the Regions – experiences that had eventually convinced me to vote to Leave.

The story got a lot of responses – many from Remainers suggesting that I must be ‘uneducated’ to hold such a view.

But more importantly it was picked up by the Express, who ran it on their website with a slightly different slant – which resulted in responses from Leavers suggesting I was ‘treasonous’ for having taken part in the first place.

I had managed to anger the two opposing groups with the same article!

The media food chain continued to do its work, with the story moving up to feature in TV broadcasts. It helped me to build valuable contacts that continue to offer me broadcast opportunities and also bagged me some slots to speak at conferences about democracy and devolution.


Obviously, I believe very strongly in writing and promoting your own content via blogging.

Many years ago a seasoned campaigner advised me against – “99% of the time nobody will read it and the remaining 1% you will wish they hadn’t” was his take. I understood his concerns but I think it sold candidates short on their creativity, diligence and common sense. If you can’t be trusted to run a blog, you really shouldn’t be trusted with political power.

I recommend that you build and run your own website. The initial investment of time and effort is well worth it. Using WordPress or other packages isn’t difficult and if you have built the site, you will understand how it works and won’t be at the mercy of IT experts.

The most important thing is to publish regular and informed content, so that you become a go to source for media outlets. Look at your blog as the first step on an escalator that will automatically carry some of your stories right to the top.


You need to think carefully about the sort of headlines you use. Often the headline is the only thing that gets read so it needs to drive interest in your article.

Numbers are particularly useful for this e.g.

“Here are the Top 10 London bus routes for crime.”

“Eleven ways to fail a selection interview.”

People are drawn to lists and are more likely to click on the story. Keep the paragraphs relatively short too – long paragraphs can look intimidating and will be skipped over by the reader’s eye.


If you understand the media food chain, you are more likely to get stories to feature at national level. On the way up they will gather extra pace and coverage that a simple press release can’t provide. It’s like skimming stones across the surface of a lake – trying to get more bounces each time.

A vital element of political branding is understanding media opportunities and raising your profile. I am coaching candidates during and after the current Election so please do contact me for more details.

And Take Care Out There!