Blog & Articles

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.

The Three Most Common Political Interview Question Types

Hundreds of different questions have been asked at political selection meetings. Candidates often find it challenging to predict the line that questioning will take and to prepare adequately.

“Who was your favourite James Bond?”

Some questions are frankly bizarre, so much so that they are unlikely to be asked again, so you don’t need to waste time preparing for them. You could well get a surprising question but it will be a different one and you will just have to deal with it. If you are smashing the other questions you will ride over it like a bump in the road – but if you are already struggling it could spell your doom.

Most questions can be categorised by type and this will give you a good clue about how they should be answered. The three most common types are listed here:


“What sort of a Conservative are you?”

They want to know about your political views. This should be easy if you have prepared and if you are comfortable with your own beliefs. A soft question like this gives you space to expand on your own achievements – it often crops up at the start of the interview, so hit it out of the park and move on with confidence.

You get extra points for talking about how you came into politics. Your selectors have made that same journey and it is always good to talk about common experiences as you can build a rapport which could save your chances if things go awry later in the meeting.


“What will you do to help reduce knife crime?”

Policy questions can be very wide ranging. They occur most often in finals when the moderator throws the session open to random questions from the floor. The audience are interested in your political views but they expect politicians to try to avoid direct questions.

That is why you should answer immediately – then provide an explanation or give some context. It feels unnatural to make an argument this way around but the danger of concluding with your answer is that some people could have switched off before you get there.

Be straight about your views on important matters and don’t try to second guess the audience or lie to them. If you lie, they might select you but it won’t be a positive relationship and you could be stuck with each other for years…


“Tell us about your campaigning experience.”

This question is certain to crop up in an Executive Stage interview and it will probably feature in the Final too. Smaller selection meetings tend to contain a higher proportion of committed campaigners and they are looking for someone who can lead them.

Campaigning experience includes canvassing, leafletting, broadcast and print media, public meetings, fund raising and of course social media – so there’s plenty to talk about. The danger is you might go on for too long and force them to drop other questions. Time is limited so use it wisely.

Throw in some numbers when talking about previous campaigns – vote swings, doors knocked, funds raised – for example. You might include a story about a voter you met or a campaign you ran as this will make your answer unique and memorable.

If you are fighting for a safe seat, every one of your competitors will have good campaign stories to tell – or they wouldn’t have got this far. So, it’s not enough to present yourself as a great campaigner. You will need a stronger and more high profile political brand.

What got you here – won’t get you there…


Most candidates view the questions as a row of hurdles that they must clear to reach the finishing line. The flaw here is that almost everybody finishes the course but only one person gets selected. So you need to do more.

Winning candidates view the questions as a row of platforms that they can stand on to promote their greatness. This takes confidence and preparation – but anyone can do it. I can help so Contact Me for advice on CVs, speeches and interview techniques.

“So, what three words most accurately describe you?”

“Often bad at arithmetic!”


I rather like Jo Swinson. She seems to be the sort of person you could trust to look after the cat whilst you head off to Portugal for a week. You could return confident that your treasured pet would be in good health and wouldn’t have run off. Indeed, if she was following current Lib Dem Parliamentary tactics she might have taken in a few strays as well.

This was her first speech to the conference as Leader but she had to follow in the bootsteps of political giants like Guy Verhofstadt and Chuka Umunna – so how did she get on?


The speech lasted for just over 40 minutes. We know that the optimum length of any speech is 20 minutes and anything longer is an ordeal for the audience but longer performances are expected at party conferences. It does create a dilemma for the speaker who has to keep the audience alert long after the twenty minute deadline has passed. Varying your tone, pace and having a structure can help.


Jo started by paying tribute to Ed Davey who she defeated in the leadership race then to previous leaders Tim Farron and Vince Cable. She led the applause herself which is a very good move at the start of a speech to such a big audience. Large crowds have a frustrating inertia so you need to get them used to clapping and laughing at jokes right from the start. This is hard work initially but it pays off later.

She also paid tribute to the late Paddy Ashdown, managing the emotional change of pace well.

She talked about the ‘Shared endeavour to make politics bold, fearless and determined’ and celebrated the election of their MEPs, their 7 new MPs and over 700 new councillors. She asked new members to stand up or raise their hands – a risky move with some audiences but a conference audience responds well to this sort of involvement.


Having warmed them up effectively, she opined that the Tired Old Parties Have Failed. This is where she stated that there was ‘No limit to my ambition for my party or my country’ and added she was ‘Your candidate to be Prime Minister’, gaining lengthy and sustained applause. Good, strong lines that subsequently made the right headlines.

She quoted a letter from Olivia, aged 14, who was worried about the effects of Brexit on younger people and had joined the Lib Dems to campaign against it.

We Must Stop Brexit’ she stated, promising that ‘A Lib Dem Majority Government will Revoke Article 50 on Day One’ to loud applause. This was a careful choice of words, leaving the way open for a more probable minority government or coalition to set this controversial pledge aside.

Jo turned to Scotland, stating ‘I am Scottish, I am British, I am European’ in a clear bid for Scottish Remain SNP votes. The implication is that she will fight her Scottish seat at the election rather than seeking a safer berth – good for her.

She talked about her visit to the Northern Ireland Border then addressed the risks of Brexit including delays to medical supplies, loss of car manufacturing jobs and the Yellowhammer report.

Turning her attention to Boris she stated that he ‘lacks commitment’ which got a laugh from the audience. At 20 minutes in this was the first attempt at humour and there would be no more laughs – the Lib Dems take themselves seriously.

Being a woman isn’t a weakness – as he’s about to find out’ she declared, to very loud and enthusiastic applause.

She then turned her fire on Corbyn, condemning his record on the EU and claiming he is ‘Brexit by Nature’ to more applause.

Moving on from Brexit, Jo talked about her father and quoted great Liberals from history. Referencing their big ideas was a good way to introduce her own innovation – the Wellbeing Budget. This will set targets well beyond basic GDP to include the economy outside government and focus on wellbeing. It’s the sort of thing we used to hear from Labour under Blair.

The Climate Emergency would be tackled with a green investment bank, a climate risk register and a UK Citizens’ Climate Assembly all aiming to create a zero carbon UK.

Knife Crime would be tackled with a public health approach which was successful in Glasgow – once the ‘murder capital of Europe’ with 39 deaths in one year. There would be investment in youth services and a violence reduction unit.

Mental health also got a mention with a commitment to ring fence existing funding and a hat tip to retiring MP Norman Lamb.


With the policy statements concluded, the end was in sight. Jo recognised she didn’t have all the answers ‘We have enough Know It All Politicians’, pausing briefly for the laugh which didn’t come……… Landing a joke in the middle of a serious speech is difficult as the audience don’t expect it and don’t know if they should laugh.

It was time to ‘Gather the forces of Liberalism’ and to ‘Welcome Fellow Travellers’ – a coded appeal for more MP defectors.

The Lib Dems are here to build a society for everyone – she listed them from babies to children, to youths to those with the ‘Wisdom of Years’, then added a few more groups. The list seemed endless and was quite cumbersome for a conclusion but she didn’t want to be accused of leaving anyone out  – a good example of the Diversity Deficit.

At the Next Election they would fight to win a ‘Brighter Future’ she concluded to loud applause and some unexpected whistling.


Jo delivered the speech standing and without any obvious notes but the scripting was very tight and professional. She had good short lines so that she didn’t appear rushed or trip over her words. Her delivery is serious and business like, Blairite but without the messianic qualities of Blair. Middle managers will recognise and respect the style.

There was very little humour, only one joke and I suspect they agonised about putting that in as it was effectively an attack on the moral character of the Prime Minister. It felt out of place when set against her wider personal branding.

Some of her lists of policies and people were quite long and that makes the content hard to remember. I always suggest that speakers use shorter lists, usually no more than three points as people naturally remember things in threes.

But a Lib Dem audience likes lists of commitments so it was all good for them and the rest of us got to see her best lines on the news. The speech worked with the crowd and it was a good, solid first outing for a new leader.

What Makes A Good MP?

The Election is coming!

A large number of experienced MPs have decided to call it a day and move on. This is creating some very tempting vacancies for ambitious Conservative politicians – but what are the six key attributes we look for in our Parliamentarians?


A politician who tells the public “You don’t understand” is really saying “I can’t explain”, as I once told a senior EU panjandrum. You need to be able to make clear points in broadcast interviews as well as at public meetings. Often you have to deliver a speech at the drop of a hat, so it is important to practise creating a three minute speech from scratch with just five minutes of preparation – on any subject.

Clear written communication is also very important as you will have to draft letters to constituents, press statements and if you are lucky you might be asked to write a column for your local newspaper.


You will need to be comfortable with complex material including budgets and academic reports. This needs to extend beyond just understanding these things to being able to question them forensically. Scrutiny work on select committees is an important component of an MPs role and Ministers who don’t question their officials are no more use than an (expensive) empty chair.

It is important to understand the difference between intelligence and education. Possession of a good degree is helpful but not essential. Far more important is an understanding of critical thinking and causation.

You also need to be enthusiastic about learning new things. Once at Westminster, Number 10 could offer you a ministerial post but this may not be in a field you are familiar with. Experience of constantly learning and adapting is useful. Most people are uncomfortable with change but MPs can’t afford to be hidebound.


As an MP, you will meet senior business figures and leaders of other countries but you will also deal with ordinary constituents every day and you have to empathise with their difficulties. Far too often people regard their politicians as out of touch or ‘not interested in my problems’ and the recent antics in Westminster haven’t helped.

Experience of voluntary work is a good way to demonstrate that you are comfortable with people from all backgrounds, rich and poor, friendly and hostile.


During the campaign you will have to lead and motivate a team of political activists. This is probably the loneliest part of the job as the candidate is often the worst person to ask to predict an election result. It’s just human nature to take the last dozen people you spoke to and extrapolate the result from them – which means you can have some pretty depressing days. Nevertheless you need to be able to put on a brave face and coax your campaigners out for the next day’s door knocking.

You may be seen as a great leader at work, oozing charisma, but in politics it often comes down to leading by example. In essence you shouldn’t expect your campaigners to do anything that you aren’t prepared to do yourself.


In politics there are far more lows than highs – but the highs are worth it. Most politicians lose an election before they can find a winnable seat and there are a lot of rejections along the road. Once at Westminster there will be many reshuffles but most of them won’t see your unique skills recognised.

So you need to be able to bounce back swiftly from disappointment and defeat. It’s worth considering times when you changed career or had to recover from a setback. Why did it happen? How did you find your way back? What did you learn from the experience?

A degree of maturity and self awareness is essential.


Political parties are a broad church but even the broadest churches have walls – and outside is the graveyard.

The question ‘Why are you a Conservative?’ is one you need to be able to answer with insight and enthusiasm. It’s not a politics exam either – we want to know why you hold these values and how they are reflected in your political brand.

Also remember that politics goes through changes. In the 80s we had ideological politics but Major, Blair and Cameron presided over a long period of managerialism. That effectively ended in 2015 with Corbyn and Brexit heralding a new age of ideological politics. The ground is shifting so you need to know where you stand.

Demonstrating these essential attributes is vital for application CVs and interviews. The good news is that I can help you – as I have already helped dozens of candidates – so contact me for more information.

Bring Your Candidate CV To Life

The Election Is Coming! Every week sees a new list of available seats rolled out seeking prospective candidates. Some are a more tempting prospect than others but all require the completion of a three page ‘Candidate CV’. This is the vital first stage in the selection process so it needs to be done well.


The Candidate CV is all the selectors will know about most applicants when they sit down to sift up to 300 starters down to the dozen – at the most – who will be called to interview. Local candidates or well known celebrities have a massive advantage but anyone else needs a CV that will stand out from the crowd. The purpose of the CV is to get you through the door of the interview room and if it can’t do that you have a serious problem.

But the CV will also follow you through the entire process like a faithful dog. At the interview, every selector will have a copy. If there are two interview stages, everyone who attends the final public meeting will have a copy too. There could be hundreds of them in circulation by the end so be prepared for copies to pop up in surprising places after you have triumphed and won the seat.

Any typing errors, obvious mistakes or untruths in the document will also follow you – and they won’t help your chances.

That’s why it is so important to plan the CV, draft it several times and eliminate all of the errors. A second pair of eyes is really helpful when it comes to picking up mistakes.


You need to think about the constituency and what they need – then match those needs to the experience and skills you have to offer. There’s no point majoring on knife crime in a predominantly rural constituency or on farm subsidies in Inner London.

Use local names and examples to illustrate the points you make. A session researching on line should turn up some useful indicators.

Use your own experience to explain how you would approach and solve those problems. Make it unique to you so that you stand out from the field.

Remember it’s not an exam or an essay. Long blocks of text telling them what they already know are really off putting, so break it up into manageable paragraphs that are easy to read.

Put the strongest points at the beginning and the end of the page. These are the parts that naturally draw attention and are most likely to be read.


List the things you hope to achieve but keep it manageable and readable. Make them relevant to the constituency and to your own experience.

In my opinion there should be no more than three key pledges. People remember things in threes but they struggle with larger numbers.

In the current climate resolving Brexit should be one of the top priorities for anyone seeking election anywhere. Leave or Remain – be completely open and honest about where you stand.


Remember that achievements are about more than the job titles you have held. Sitting in The Big Chair isn’t enough – they want to know how you used your political power to help people and get results.

These results can of course include successful campaigns. How many votes did you get? What was the majority, or the percentage swing? How many members did you recruit? How much money did you raise? And how did you achieve all this?


Most applications now include endorsements from supportive public figures, so CVs can look naked without them.

Obviously, existing politicians make good endorsements but don’t overlook political commentators, media figures or senior business people who may be willing to help you. Political activists can also give good endorsements to back up your campaigning claims.

Think carefully about what an endorsement says. Too many are little more than name dropping with no attention to the actual content. Well used endorsements can praise you for things you might not be able to say about yourself without looking immodest. If you are hard working, caring, and likeable it looks much better to get other people to make those claims for you.


Ultimately the only way to see if a Candidate CV is effective is to put it out there, so apply for seats and take notice of any feedback you get.

For most candidates the selection process is a bruising journey. You can afford to lose an interview but you should never lose the opportunity to learn from it and be better next time.

I have helped dozens of successful candidates with their applications and CVs so contact me for more detailed advice.

How To Fail A Political Selection Interview

Since 2006 I have been advising clients facing the ordeal of a political selection interview. I like to keep my advice positive and upbeat but I’ve seen a lot of howlers committed, some more often than others. One error might not lose it for you but several together will guarantee you another rejection letter. The good news is that basic errors are easy to avoid, if you can recognise them.

So, here are eleven easy ways to fail a constituency selection interview:

  1. Define Yourself Against the Audience

‘Unlike typical politicians I work hard, I care and I’m honest.’

Your average selection committee will include councillors, ex councillors, wannabe MPs and lots of people who admire politicians enough to give up their weekends to campaign for them. Setting yourself against them like this will cost you votes, as will telling a room full of Conservative activists that you are not a ‘typical Conservative.’ As far as possible you should seek to define yourself With the audience – people give more credit to candidates they can identify with.

2. Tell Not Show

‘I’m a young candidate so I’ve got lots of energy.’

You don’t have much time to impress them and this is at best a waste of it. Your youth should be obvious as soon as you step into the room. Instead, you can talk about all the campaigning work you have done and demonstrate your energy in your presentation.

If you are a local candidate there is no point saying this to people who should already know you. Show you are local by mentioning lots of local place names and issues rather than just stating the obvious.

3. Betray Self Doubt

‘This is my first interview and I didn’t expect to get this far. I really hope you will select me tonight.’

The committee members expect you to lead them confidently through a long and gruelling campaign which will certainly have its low moments, so you need to exhibit the necessary self confidence. This is one of the reasons that ex military officers do so well in selections – but you don’t need to have been to Sandhurst to ruthlessly weed out examples of self doubt.

4. Dictate From Behind the Desk

‘You don’t have as much crime out here as they do in London so of course you won’t get as many police on your streets.’

This is a common mistake amongst candidates who are already council leaders or who hold senior management positions. You are accustomed to explaining tough decisions to the public but on this occasion, you need to be standing in front of the desk alongside your constituents rather than behind it. There are over 600 MPs in Westminster but this constituency will only have one so they expect you to represent their interests to officialdom, not the opposite way around.

In this case you should be talking about how you will make the case for more police officers and what else you might do to help them to reduce local crime levels that they are quite right to be concerned about.

5. Passive Aggression

‘I answered that question earlier and it’s mentioned in my CV.’

This can be easy to slip into but it looks peevish. Bite your tongue and repeat the answer. Also pause to consider that you might have heard the question wrongly – perhaps you should politely ask for clarification.

6. Needlessly Court Controversy

If I had to choose a piece of legislation to promote, I would introduce the Death Penalty for Abortion.’

Some issues generate such strong feelings on both sides of the argument that people will refuse to vote for you even if they think you are the best candidate in every other respect. Of course, if you are asked directly about them you must answer clearly and honestly, but otherwise why go there without prompting?

If you make contentious statements and lose by one vote, you will be kicking yourself all the way home.

7. Waffle and be Unclear on Policy

‘This is an interesting question and it is important to grasp both sides of such a complex issue.’

Everyone just naturally expects politicians to dodge questions. An unclear opening response to a policy question will lead some of your audience to switch off and miss your conclusion even if it becomes crystal clear. So, when dealing with policy questions, answer them very clearly first then explain the reasons for your response. This can feel unnatural so you should practise with some dummy policy questions.

8. Lose Emotional Control

‘I’m just so pleased to be in the final tonight. It’s been really challenging (sob).’

Emotion can be very powerful in speeches. Used well it is a winning tactic but the weapon has two edges. The closer you get to the emotional cliff edge, the more you feel yourself losing control, until finally the tears or the anger just well up…

It’s a selection interview – not the Oscars.

This can be a very challenging situation to manage. That emotional cliff edge is going to be in a different place with adrenaline coursing in front of a packed audience to where it was when you were practising alone at home.

If you can’t talk about something close to you without losing control, perhaps you should stay away from it. Remember, Discretion is the better part of Valour. 

9. Poor Taste Humour

‘An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman walk into a selection meeting…’

If you are not sure a joke is funny – that’s because it isn’t.

A lot of contemporary humour is actually much too risky to use in politics. You could easily cause offence and there is nothing worse than delivering your one liner and pausing for the laughs that don’t come……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Again, unless you are naturally amusing or an experienced humourist, Discretion is the better part of Valour.

10. Lie

‘I voted to Leave the EU and I would support a Hard Brexit.’

A lot of people who said this at selections before 2017 must have had their fingers crossed behind their backs. It’s impossible to guess the political opinions of a selection panel so don’t even try. Often, they are looking for the opposite of the MP or candidate they fielded last time.

If you lie to them, the worst thing they can do is select you! A lengthy campaign alongside people you fundamentally disagree with stretches ahead – and if you win then you could be stuck with each other for years. It won’t end well…

11. Fail to Prepare

‘Hi Roger, I understand you advise candidates so I thought I’d give you a call for some tips. I’m at the selection meeting now and I’m delivering my opening speech in 30 minutes…’

Yes, I actually had this call.

It takes time to write a compelling selection speech and to create a winning Interview Plan so contact me well in advance to get the best out of our work together.

I won’t wish you good luck – because interview success is all about preparation, not chance.