Blog & Articles

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!

Mountaineers V Astronauts

The political world is highly competitive. Hundreds of ambitious people are struggling to reach the top but at each stage many will fall by the wayside and only one person can stand on the summit.

Strategies depend on the skills and temperament of candidates but they can all be broadly classified as Mountaineers or Astronauts.


Political mountaineers always plan their next step with great care. They are aware that one slip can lead to a long fall.

They need to work in teams and really benefit from sponsors further up the cliff face who can lower ropes to help them. If you are a Mountaineer it helps to be well connected.

A successful mountaineer will need to apply dedication and hard work because this is a strategy that takes time and planning to reach fruition. Patience and an attention to detail are essential.

Mountaineers tend to be successful in the public sector or big corporates where they can develop networks and a reputation for team working.

They tend to be good at following rules and they value an objective, evidence based approach to policy making. Mountaineers are usually politically loyal.

The mountaineer’s most valuable asset is their network.

Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson is an obvious political mountaineer as are Theresa May, Gordon Brown and John Major.


Political astronauts like to make their advances all in one go. Theirs is a risky ‘all in’ strategy that requires careful preparation and meticulous planning to ensure a safe lift off and arrival at the intended location.

Astronauts tend to be outsiders – there’s not much help from higher up for them. But you can’t launch a successful mission on your own. They need a good team on the ground who will do all the necessary back up work. The best astronauts will recognise and value this support.

Political Astronauts are uncomfortable in corporate structures. Often they will have been successful entrepreneurs or they may come from journalistic or legal backgrounds where teamwork is less important than individual flair.

A disregard for rules and accepted norms means that they are viewed with suspicion by the climbers on the cliff face but they can inspire uncritical adulation amongst their own supporters. When making policy, they take greater account of emotions than evidence. Attention to detail can be a problem.

Astronauts are often political rebels.

The astronaut’s most important asset is their platform.

Current political astronauts include Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson as well as Nigel Farage who built a Eurosceptic movement from small beginnings.


Since 2015 the political climate has been changing.

Almost thirty years of managerial politics which started with the arrival of John Major in 1990 and continued through Blair and Cameron, is coming to an end. It’s a period that delivered prosperity and success for the UK but also saw the transfer of political power away from elected representatives to institutions like the EU, the courts and various quangos made up of experts.

It was a good time for political mountaineers and a lot of people built successful careers on networks and careful planning.

The down side of this culture is that people feel disempowered and disenchanted when they can’t control the change that affects their lives. Politicians are usually much more comfortable with change in society and workplaces than their constituents.

In 2015 the first signs of discontent started to show when Labour members rejected centreist candidates in favour of Corbyn’s leadership. This was followed by a revolution on the right with the vote to Leave the EU in 2016 and the unexpected arrival of US President Donald Trump.

Across Europe and the wider world we can see signs of discontent with the current political model which is out of step with the rise of new powers like China and India and their changing relationships with neighbours and trading partners.

The advance of new technology is also getting faster. The creation of new business models like Uber and the global reach of the internet is leaving legislative processes struggling to manage and regulate the risks.

This is now a good time for political astronauts to launch new ideas and create new movements to support them. Many will explode on the launch pad or land on the wrong planet but some will arrive at their destination successfully.

It’s time to Go Big or Go Home.


Budding astronauts and mountaineers need different strengths but both strategies require some common elements:

A website – essential in the modern political world for raising your profile and engaging supporters.

A set of goals – if you don’t know where you are going, you will never get there.

A political brand – if you don’t know what you are about, how can you let other people know?

I will be delivering coaching on branding and goal setting for ambitious politicians in 2020, as well as speaking about the evolving political culture and its consequences for policy development. Please do contact me to book an exciting session.

So What if You Didn’t Get a Seat to Fight?

Nominations have now closed. Many of my clients got selected and I’m looking forward to seeing them elected to Westminster at the end of the campaign.

But what if you didn’t get a seat? I’m hearing from candidates who missed out in selection finals by as little as a dozen votes. Some people got selected at the last moment but not for the winnable seats they wanted. Others got nothing at all.

So what next?

It’s only natural to feel bruised. Rejection is never a good experience, particularly in politics. Some candidates will be wondering if it is worth all the grief. Perhaps it is time to walk away…

The best way to deal with your doubts is to put them on hold at least until the end of the campaign. You get a lot more lows than highs in politics – but the highs are fantastic! That’s why Resilience is one of the key attributes we test for and there is no better opportunity to demonstrate that resilience than an election campaign. Leave big decisions about your future until the polls close, rather than acting in haste.

Because different results will throw up different opportunities…


A Conservative Majority is looking like the most likely outcome as I write this piece, but memories of 2017 are still too raw for me to take anything for granted. Labour have a large campaign force and they might orchestrate a last minute surge of support.

But assuming there is a Conservative Government with a safe majority, there are unlikely to be many opportunities to enter Parliament for up to five years. Of course there will be by elections – if you fancy a really exhausting and high profile battle.

Otherwise, I can see many opportunities to take on public appointments as the new government makes changes. Politics has become less managerial since 2015 but our quangos are still full of reappointed Blairite managerialists from the 2000s. A sensible government will want to appoint new members who are more willing to question the current orthodoxy and press forward with fresh ideas.

You can sign up for the regular Public Appointments newsletter at the Cabinet Office Website.


If there is still no overall control after the election, I predict a Parliament with a relatively short lifespan. The SNP and Liberal Democrats will only support a government that is willing to ditch Brexit – a short term objective that, once achieved, will leave several parties with little in common and no agreed long term agenda.

In this case there could be a lot of Westminster seats up for grabs within a couple of years. For the people who nearly made it this time, a final push could see them on the green benches. So keep those CVs dusted off if there is no conclusive result.

A consequence of remaining in the EU will be another European Parliament election in less than 5 years. With Brexit off the table, the Brexit Party will not be as strong so there will be a good opportunity for candidates who want to fight for the seats that the Conservatives lost in 1999.

Remaining in the EU will see more powers transferred to Brussels so in five years time this option could look quite attractive to politicians who actually want to make big decisions.


A working Labour majority cannot be dismissed. I know some people who will be leaving the country in these circumstances but that option isn’t open to many. Most of us will stay.

It’s safe to predict that a Corbyn government won’t be a runaway success story and they will soon feel the consequences of broken promises and a contracting economy. Even good Labour governments lose a lot of support once they attain power and there will be a significant protest vote to be tapped.

The length of time a Corbyn government can last will depend on the resistance they face from Blairite rebels within their own ranks. Without much resistance, they could soldier on for a full five years, much like John Major’s unpopular Tory government did from 1992. We all know how that ended, so there could be a lot of Parliamentary seats up for retaking in 2024.

Meanwhile there will be opportunities at a more local level. These will include the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and London, and the Police & Crime Commissioner posts. There will be lots of council seats that can be won back and those council leaders arguably have more power and influence than MPs. We may even see another Conservative Mayor of London…


So it’s worth taking a long view – a political career isn’t just for Christmas.

Some of my most successful clients this time had been working with me on their goals and objectives for several years. Having a road map really helps when it comes to navigating the UK political maze.

I’m running political branding and goal setting sessions for successful and unsuccessful candidates over the coming weeks so please get in touch for more details.

Safe Seats – What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

As the election approaches a lot of relatively safe Conservative seats are coming free as the incumbents decide to call it a day. There hasn’t been such a bonanza since the timely clear out in 2010 which followed the expenses scandal.

Despite the challenges of the role, a lot of able people still want to become MPs – so what are the five things you need to get straight right now to land that safe seat?


Faced with hundreds of CVs, the local selection committee need a way to make the numbers manageable. In the past anyone without an Oxbridge education might have been excluded but commitment is now seen as most important so the key factor is experience of fighting an unwinnable seat.

Almost everyone – even Boris Johnson – has had to fight and lose before being allowed to fight again and win, so if you have not contested a safe Labour seat perhaps you should lower your sights and get the ordeal out of the way. You can put up with anything for six weeks…

Of course, life is unfair and two groups of people can get through the sift without gaining the scars of losing in Liverpool:

First, Local Candidates will often be shortlisted for safe seats – but they fail more often than they succeed. This is because they are a known quantity and bring their own opposition with them. And the local strategy is a risky one as it is ‘all or nothing’ – you can only be truly local in one place.

Second, Celebrities will often make the cut because they are known widely and the selectors are interested in them. Sometimes their CVs aren’t even all that commanding because name recognition is doing their work for them. Becoming a political celebrity is hard work but it pays off at selection time.


Celebrities all have a really strong political brand, built up through years of media appearances and public engagements. You may not have a strong brand and there certainly isn’t any time to develop one now, but you should have a clear idea of how you present yourself.

How would you describe yourself in one sentence? You should take time to consider this because it is the foundation of a brand you can work on and amplify between elections. Meanwhile, you can place the description at the start of your Candidate CV.

Political Branding is important – both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn get this. A strong brand will create expectations and help to manage setbacks. Remember when John Prescott punched a demonstrator? The incident did him no political harm because such behaviour was already priced into his unique brand. ‘John will be John’, as Tony Blair put it at the time…


The question ‘Why?’ is the most powerful one in the interviewer’s arsenal. This goes to the heart of your motives and is almost certain to be asked in some form at every selection interview.

Being rational thinkers, we tend to come up with some quite dry answers about value for money, economic freedom and aspiration. It’s good stuff but hardly in the heart string tugging league of most socialist responses. Many replies to this question are well considered, accurate – and entirely unmemorable.

You are going to need more, particularly as this question tends to crop up early in the process, whilst the panel are trying to decide if they even warm to you. So, consider how you came to join the Conservative Party. What experience brought you here? What was powerful about it? How has it changed your life and the lives of others?

A storyboard like this is more memorable and it has the bonus of sharing a common experience with the interview panel members. Interviewers tend to like people who are like themselves…


This is such an important question that it usually forms the terms for your initial speech. ‘Why are you a good MP for this seat?’ is almost always asked. They key is to realise that the question comes in two parts:

First, what traits and experience make you a good politician? Second, how will they benefit this seat?

The temptation is to present yourself differently on every CV. I have seen some applications for different seats that present exactly the same candidate in unrecognisable ways.

But the first part of the answer should never change – because you remain the same person. How are you going to build a strong political brand if you can’t present yourself consistently and honestly? You need a crystal clear understanding of your own unique strengths to answer this question, but it is worth taking the time to do the background work because the question is ALWAYS asked.

For the second part, you need to understand how those strengths will help to resolve problems for this particular constituency. If there is very little overlap you should avoid forcing the matter and apply elsewhere.


If you are selected, what is your plan? How much time will you devote to the campaign? Will you live in the seat? How will you manage your other commitments?

Again, they will ask you this – so you need a clear answer with specific commitments. General waffle and even begging won’t cut it.

And as the question invites you to explain your current activities, a well planned answer might even give you the opportunity for some stealth boasting about your achievements.

I am coaching candidates right up to the close of the selection process so Contact Me for help with your CVs, speeches and interview questions.

Strong Candidate CVs Are Important

“Many thanks. I regret not doing this sooner! It is a form I can now have confidence in.”

As well as Mock Interviews, I also review application forms and Candidate CVs for my Clients.

A strong candidate CV is vital because it gets you through the door of the interview room. With hundreds of applicants for safe seats your 3 page document really needs to stand out from the pack. It must convey your key strengths and valuable experience as well as any positive endorsements – all in a way that encourages the shortlisters to read the whole thing rather than skipping sections. You have limited space so use it well.

But many candidates fail to consider that the CV will also be presented to every person at the selection meeting. It’s the only on paper record they have of your achievements, so it needs to be easy to read. There should be no off putting blocks of text and the typeface should be large enough for older people or members with poor vision to be able to see.

Your CV will follow you through the interview process like a faithful puppy – so make sure it is properly house trained!

For a comprehensive review of your candidate CV please Contact Me

Boris Johnson’s First Months

Here is a piece that I wrote for Vaahan Magazine’s Autumn Edition. It examines Boris Johnson’s first months as Prime Minister and makes some observations on political ladder climbers and leapers.

In early July, as the Tory Leadership contest got under way, I penned an article about my experiences of working with Boris Johnson. I made some predictions about how his leadership would manifest itself. With the first month under his belt, we can now see how things are developing.


I noted that Boris did well at City Hall when he surrounded himself with experts who could deliver his agenda rather than just debating it. Some people felt that this showed him as a leader rather than a manager.

The difference between leaders and managers is often over played. When I work with political clients, I prefer to ask them if they are Ladder climbers or Leapers.

Ladder climbers like to plan ahead carefully. They make progress when their abilities are recognised by more senior people who pull them up the ladder. They do well in the public sector or large corporate organisations but when they reach the top they can be uninspiring. Many rely on their expertise but are uncomfortable with change. In politics David Cameron, Theresa May, Gordon Brown and John Major were all Ladder climbers.

The most important tool for successful Ladder climbers is their Network.

Leapers tend to be more mercurial and less organised. Their private lives can be quite chaotic but often by dint of strong public performances and disciplined personal branding, they make it to the top in large jumps. They understand that a good fifteen minute speech is more valuable than six months of beavering away at a desk. Their success confounds the ladder climbers who view them with some suspicion. In politics Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Michael Heseltine are all Leapers.

The most important tool for the Leaper is their Platform.

After twenty five years of managerial politics, ideology has returned to the stage. This is a propitious time for political Leapers.

The victory speech in Downing Street was classic Boris. This was the optimistic, tub thumping approach that he developed during the run up to the 2012 Olympic Games. It was full of new ideas and policy commitments, some of which will be easier to deliver than others. The message and the performance were right on brand.


In 2017 Labour knew that they had a leader with many weaknesses but also some great strengths. They brilliantly decided to bypass traditional media to promote Corbyn’s programme. In the past political leaders have drawn crowds around the country but this has made little impact at the ballot box. Labour changed the game by filming Corbyn’s speeches along with the cheering audience, then placing the best bits on social media. They appealed directly to voters, over the heads of traditional media outlets.

Boris is already doing a lot more direct communication. The videos from Downing Street are professional and the feed is regularly updated with new material. His team have learned from Corbyn and are using social media to cut out the middle man and talk directly to Britain.


As Mayor, Boris was notoriously reluctant to be the bearer of bad news. This was particularly the case when it came to moving people on. Often the axe had to be wielded by his deputies – and I was concerned that this tendency would hamper his first days as PM.

The blood drenched Cabinet reshuffle has put to bed any doubts I had on that score. Having observed the morale sapping disloyalty suffered by his predecessor, Boris clearly decided to send a message to colleagues. The removal of Penny Mordaunt was particularly brutal and unexpected – it also left her putative replacement Jeremy Hunt with the choice of leaving the Cabinet or looking like he had sacrificed a popular supporter to save his own career. He made the right call.

At City Hall, Boris collected a Cabinet with quite varied political views. He was comfortable sharing a table with Labour MP Kate Hoey, Livingstone Advisor Neale Coleman and left leaning journalist Rosie Boycott – indeed he seemed to relish his debates with them.

He has recognised that the binary nature of Brexit doesn’t permit the same plurality. Ultimately everyone is either a Leaver or a Remainer and most people feel quite strongly about it. Whatever happens, in October a large number of people will be angry and disappointed. Politicians try to avoid getting into these situations, but we are where we are…

With Brexit out of the way, I expect Boris to become much more collegiate. One early indicator was his pledge to respect the rights of EU citizens residing in the UK. This is good politics as well as being the right thing to do.

Like most politicians, Boris wants to be loved. In this respect he is very different to Donald Trump who seems to measure his success by the number of political enemies he manages to collect.


Leapers like ideas people. They are drawn to fellow optimists and thinkers and Boris is no exception. Often the City Hall advisors with most influence on the Mayor were those who were coming up with the most eye catching ideas.

This led to some excellent work on young people, spearheaded by James Cleverly who has made it into the PM’s top team as Party Chairman. Andrew Gilligan promoted some great cycling advances. Sir Simon Milton presided over a vastly improved London Plan.

But it wasn’t always good news. The new Boris Buses were a great concept, marred by an over emphasis on the way they looked and an unrealistic attachment to the dated Routemaster features. The Garden Bridge failed by focusing on design over deliverability. Wise Downing Street staffers will need to be alert to such bear traps.

The new team at Number 10 contains some City Hall figures, notably Sir Edward Lister and the fiercely intellectual Munira Mirza. However, the Leave EU team have made a more recent impression and been rewarded with senior roles, with Dominic Cummings dominating the Whitehall special advisor cadre.


Conservatives have traditionally been accused of ignoring Northern England but Labour have come to take their support for granted in these great towns and cities.

In London, Boris presided over a regeneration of previously run down areas like Stratford, Shoreditch and King’s Cross. This was helped by market forces which were running the right way of course, so City Hall can’t take all the credit, but we learned valuable lessons about the importance of innovation and public infrastructure.

Boris has made the North a priority for his administration, suggesting that the policies which were so effective in London will now be deployed in the Northern Powerhouse regions. Brexit has shifted voters’ political allegiances and highlighted the plight of places left behind by London. It is politically and morally right to focus attention on these communities.


One of the most depressing features of the May government was the profoundly un Conservative tendency to ban things and interfere in peoples’ life decisions.

It’s right to use less plastic, but did we really need bans and taxes to achieve that? The expansion of the hate crime concept to include actions that may – just not yet – be criminal has fostered a corrosive reluctance to cause even the slightest offence. The government’s attempt to control internet content looks like a twenty first century version of Napoleon’s doomed march on Moscow.

Boris has made a great start, burnishing his libertarian credentials. The encroachment on personal liberty ends here and hopefully will be rolled back.

However, he will need to keep a careful check on pressure groups and experts who have become used to advocating for bans and controls. Public Health England should be an early target for reform. At City Hall, Rosie Boycott successfully made the case for an unnecessary and ineffective sugar tax which applied in the staff restaurant. Of course, most people just went and bought their chocolate and fizzy drinks outside, providing a welcome boost to local business.

In summary, I believe he has made a good start – and current opinion polls show an improved Conservative performance. A failure to Brexit or a badly mishandled No Deal would end the new honeymoon, but otherwise I see no reason for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to be leaving office any time soon.

I deliver speeches as well as writing them, so I am available to speak about the New Government and the New Age of Political Populism for conferences and other events. Please Contact Me with your requirements.