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Mountaineers v Astronauts at the Summit

The weekly Prime Minister’s Questions has become more ill tempered and abrasive. On the face of it this seems odd, as Boris Johnson is closer to Keir Starmer on policy than he was to Jeremy Corbyn. Could the tension be about more than policy? Could it reflect the strongly opposing personalities and political strategies of the two men?

I spend a lot of my time coaching politicians and people who want to build a political career. A key element of my program is to work with what a candidate has, to play to their strengths and help to make a challenging task easier and more enjoyable. Essential to this is understanding their political style.

Successful politicians use different strategies to reach the top but they break down into two groups – the Mountaineers and the Astronauts. Starmer is a classic Mountaineer and Boris is a very successful product of the Astronaut strategy. Regardless of policy differences the two men are like chalk and cheese and it shows when they face off each Wednesday.



Sir Keir Starmer has risen slowly and carefully to the top, first in his profession and subsequently in the Labour Party. Each step has been carefully planned and executed with the support of an influential network. When he arrived at the top many in the media and establishment were already on his side. This was clearly not the case for his predecessor.


Political Mountaineers usually have a background in a large organisation. They are comfortable within a framework of rules and they are prepared to do the legwork needed to impress superiors. They thrive in large corporations, the public sector, trade unions and academia.


The most important tool for the political Mountaineer is their Network. As they climb towards the next ledge they identify and cultivate the powerful influencers who can throw them ropes from above and sponsor their rise.


The key strength of Mountaineers is teamwork. They will be good negotiators because they can empathise with others and they have an appetite for detail. They are loyal to colleagues and people they work for – notably Keir Starmer was able to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet even though he had little in common with the Leader and they disagreed on policy and campaigning decisions.


On the down side, Mountaineers are boring. They take time to reach decisions – indeed to many of them this is a virtue. They will often be seen working late as they believe that ‘Who Desks, Wins’. They are usually risk averse and at junior levels they can be accused of toadying to the boss.



Boris Johnson has risen in unpredictable leaps and bounds, recovering from various setbacks and grasping opportunities when he saw them. In the process he has become an instantly recognisable figure and has built himself a loyal following. It’s an approach that has far more in common with Corbyn than Starmer.


Political Astronauts reach the top in big leaps, flyting past the Mountaineers crawling on the rock face. They tend not to be team players so they have a background as successful entrepreneurs, barristers, entertainers and of course, journalists.


Political Astronauts build a platform for their success. They need to devote a lot of time and effort to raising their profile and attracting a following. The best of them have a recognisable political brand which makes it easy for voters to understand them. Whilst they are less reliant on networks, they do need a loyal support team to help their rocket get off the pad and make sure it lands in the right place.


The key strength of astronauts is their charisma. They are good at attracting followers and they develop an ability to delegate. They are original thinkers, risk takers and they will make decisions swiftly. They don’t like to have their time wasted.


Astronauts in politics are often mistrusted by colleagues. They are seen as unpredictable – although some of this can be attributed to professional jealousy. They are dismissive of detail, a weakness that often comes back to bite them. They can also be seen as mavericks and viewed as disloyal. Both Johnson and Corbyn caused problems for their own party leaders before they reached the top themselves.

Recent years have been good for political Astronauts – Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage have all risen to prominence as voters demanded a move away from the managerial status quo to more ideological politics.

This move may reverse as we emerge from the COVID lockdown, with a reduced public tolerance for risk. However prolonged absence from the office has not been good for Mountaineers, who have seen their networks stagnate. Astronauts have struggled to find the live audiences they thrive on but some have learned to build followings on line, teaching themselves some valuable broadcast and technical skills in the process.

For now, both Leaders look secure. Potential successors need to decide if they will climb or fly to the top.

Seven Rules for Handling Political Conflict

Politics is an adversarial profession. The whole essence of debate is conflict between two or more points of view. Cases are made with passion and often the winner takes all. Social media allows the conflict to be played out in real time. It is very tempting to respond immediately in the hope of brutally crushing an opponent but this can be unwise and you will have plenty of time for regrets.


A clear head and understanding of the situation will give you the option of a better response. Avoid the temptation to just get stuck in.


Having paused to collect your thoughts and emotions it is time to consider the situation. Why are you having this conflict in the first place? What do you hope to gain from it? Is your opponent preventing you achieving an objective?

If so, why is the objective important? Will achieving it get you power, money, recognition, position or the satisfaction of achieving something for yourself or others?

Or perhaps there is no objective and you are just fighting for the sake of it. It is good to be aware if this is the case, before you proceed. Some people go through life continually looking for fights – they are best avoided.


Discretion is often the better part of valour. With a clear understanding of your objective you can decide if it is worth the time, energy and cost of the likely battle. So save yourself the effort if the game isn’t worth the candle.

Of course I have known politicians who gladly pick fights at every opportunity. It is a strategy that raises their profile and builds a following – but it also builds a cadre of aggrieved people seeking revenge. In politics you will make enough enemies without adding to them with gratuitous conflict. Eventually you will stumble – everybody does – and you want people gathering around to help you to your feet, not to stick their own knives in. Julius Caesar is probably the most famous leader to learn this lesson the hard way.

And as you walk away you can take some comfort in the knowledge that your opponent has revealed themselves over something so insignificant. You are forewarned for future conflicts when the stakes are higher.


So you need to achieve the objective? Fine, but why not do it a different way? Often you can have it without a fight if you can grasp the bigger picture.

In the late 2000s Boris Johnson had risen to become a shadow minister and MP for the safe seat of Henley. He wanted more but David Cameron wasn’t prepared to promote him to full shadow cabinet status. Boris adopted a circuitous route around this intractable obstacle, becoming Mayor of London before returning to Parliament in triumph. The rest is history.


If there is no conflict free option, can you get something similar without a fight. This is easier to do if you have defined what you are actually seeking. You may find there are other ways to achieve the same basic result.

Another politician who was frustrated by lack of preferment was Buckingham MP John Bercow. After a short stint as a shadow minister it became clear to him that personality conflict with the Conservative Leadership meant he would progress no further. At Westminster there are other ways to progress and Bercow managed to charm MPs from all parties on his way to becoming a controversial but long serving Speaker of The House.


Senior managers and consultants will often advise negotiation as a first step in resolving conflict. That’s easy for them to recommend because they won’t be making the concessions. For that reason I leave this option to a later stage.

But be careful. Successful negotiation requires detailed planning. You need to understand what the other side wants and what you are prepared to give up. At this point it is useful to seek the advice of other people who may be aware of factors you haven’t taken into account.

The most famous political negotiation took place in the Granita restaurant in Islington in the 90s between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Brown agreed to let Blair run for the Labour leadership without opposing him and again, the rest is history.

Arguably Brown got the worst of that bargain – somebody usually does.


So we come right down to the line. You can’t avoid the conflict or negotiate your way out of it. The only option is to fight and because it is important, the only option is to Win. It’s time to Go Big or Go Home.

You need to have a detailed knowledge of your opponent – what are their strengths? What are their weaknesses?

And it’s No Holds Barred until hostilities are over.

But always try to leave a way out for the other person. They need to be able to walk away without losing too much face even though they lost the battle. That way you won’t leave foes behind who might give you trouble in future.

Managing your approach to Conflict is an important element of political goal setting and long term planning. I can offer individual advice so do get in touch if a neutral and objective point of view will help.

Resetting Your Goals After COVID

2020 is going to be a special year in many ways… There will be highs and lows…

I concluded my blog on goal setting with these words as the year began. Little did I know what would transpire and where we would find ourselves in the summer.

The restrictions around COVID have changed life for everyone and plans have been altered or put on hold completely. As we struggle to return to normality in August, it’s worth taking time to consider how we have been blown off course and where we have drifted to.

This is particularly true for politicians and candidates who find themselves six months closer to the next election with as much or even more to do.

It’s time to brush off those goals we set and revisit the six categories that I laid out as the year opened:


Your physical health is your greatest asset – as the COVID crisis has reminded us.

There seem to be lots of people on line who have set a fine example with their Lockdown diets and exercise regimes. But for many of us the experience has been less uplifting. With little to enjoy beyond food, drink and sedentary activities and restrictions on travel and going out, a lot of people will be less fit than they were in February.

For candidates, good physical health is particularly important because fighting campaigns can be a long grind. You also need to look your best at selection interviews so now is a good time to get back to the gym, control your diet and shed some pounds.


Having more money removes limits on your personal choices so whilst maybe not an end in itself, it can only help.

The Lockdown has had widely different effects on people financially. For some, with their incomes covered by furlough money and less to spend on, the period has actually enabled some saving. Banks and building societies have reported that people are putting more away for future. But if you are self employed and outside the furlough net or if you have lost your job, the financial picture could be catastrophic.

For candidates, financial security is very important. Some years ago, Conservative Home estimated that contesting a seat in Parliament cost each candidate an average of £40,000 in travel, accommodation and lost earnings. This sum is unlikely to get any less so candidates may need to urgently assess their resources and take steps to replenish them.


Career targets tend to be longer term, so whilst COVID will have put them back for many people there will be opportunities to catch up. For those who are able to work remotely, the Lockdown might even have provided an opportunity to progress. Nevertheless, with companies announcing job losses every day, options are likely to be more limited in the recovery period.

Time in Lockdown has also given people the opportunity to reassess their career priorities. Do you want to keep doing the same thing? Is returning to commuting an attractive option? Or is it time to make a break and try something new? In the current climate you should take time to plan ahead before contemplating career changes.


Relationships will have really suffered during Lockdown. A lot of people have lost contact in recent months.

For would be politicians, good networking is absolutely vital – so now is the time to get out there and re-establish the links and contacts you were building before the crisis hit. Campaigning for the delayed London elections is getting started again, so get involved!


Good politicians never stop learning. There’s always something you need to know about.

Lockdown has provided an opportunity for people to learn new skills on line and many have taken it up. For candidates it is particularly important to consider where your skills gaps lie and how you will bridge them before the next election and the selection round that will precede it.

One skill you may have acquired is communication via video conferencing. Many political meetings have taken place remotely and I even found myself delivering a 20 minute speech from my own home, via the camera on my laptop. It’s an unusual experience, not least because you can’t see your audience or judge their reactions. You also can’t warm them up easily because they won’t see one another’s reactions either. So in many ways it is more akin to broadcasting or video blogging – you might have a very useful new skill to add to your political armoury.


Those experiences you were planning for the coming year will have been put off. It’s time to reassess their importance and decide when and how you will do them.

For candidates, some experiences can be very useful as a way to illustrate your skills on the application form or at the hustings, so you should prioritise them as time is running by.

As always I’m available to help with goal resetting face to face or on line, so do contact me.

And my friends at Barndoor Strategy are now running a network for Tory Candidates to gain skills, build useful contacts and swap best practice. We look forward to working with you as we set out on the long road to recovery.

Meetings On Line – From Living Room to Boardroom

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Boris Addresses The Nation

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Tonight we are leaving the European Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not once but twice

And yet this moment is far bigger than that

It is not just about some legal extrication

It is potentially a moment of real national renewal and change

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

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

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

And with the biggest revival of our infrastructure since the Victorians

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

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

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

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

The power of independent thought and action

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

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

Between the EU and an energetic Britain.

A Britain that is simultaneously a great European power

And truly global in our range and ambitions

And when I look at this country’s incredible assets

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

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

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

And whatever the bumps in the road ahead

I know that we will succeed

We have obeyed the people

We have taken back the tools of self-government

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

Maiden Speeches

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

London Elections Looming

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Speechwriting for Staffers


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

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

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

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


In a half day session we will cover:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

So I can help you too.


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

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

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

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

6 Things We Learned From 15th Jan PMQs

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

Here are seven things we learned from PMQs:


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

Boris replied that ‘citification’ was ongoing…

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

Prime Minister’s Questions – 8th January

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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