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Philip, Baron Gould of Brookwood

 

 

I first met Philip shortly after the 1987 election at which Labour had been hammered for the third time in succession. I was writing my PhD and Philip agreed to an interview. We met in what I hazily recall as a rabbit warren type office in Soho, I think. My first memory of him is almost the same as my last; he was bristling with nervous energy, generous with his time, eager to explain his work for Labour, and impatient for change.

 

 

Philip was one of the first and one of the few professional political consultants in the UK. He always hated it when I called him a "political marketer"; he said his job was all about connection, linking the Labour Party and its leaders to ordinary people. He believed that the Left too often lagged behind the Right in the arts of campaigning and he was passionate about sharing his knowledge in the hope of creating a new cadre of skilled progressive campaigners.

He jumped at the chance when I invited him to give some guest lectures on my Political Communication course. But it was nowhere near enough for him. He became visiting professor at the LSE and ran a series of lectures bringing in such as Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and Stanley Greenberg (Bill Clinton's pollster) and then he set up his own MSc course, Modern Campaigning Politics.

Philip certainly connected with the LSE. He told me on several occasions that he much preferred classes with our students to those at Oxford; the LSE students were more grounded, more real-world, he felt. And, something that I liked so much about him, he loved it when the students gave him a hard time. "There were a few questions there that I couldn't really answer", he'd say, delighted and invigorated, and with an eye for likely interns. He'd been a Masters student here himself, and was hugely influenced by Michael Oakeshott. He'd introduce his lectures with a quote from Oakeshott, that the art of politics was like sailing in a boundless, bottomless sea. It was one of Philip's mantras; politics was a "flow", constantly changing. Yesterday's strengths are tomorrow's weaknesses, and so Labour had to be in a state of permanent adjustment, from New Labour to new New Labour to mature new Labour and so on.

He was a self-confessed political nutcase and probably he needed to be at time when his marketing skills were often derided in his party. His persistence was extraordinary and his memo-writing legendary, constantly warning Labour about dangers to its "brand". It was the type of language that grated horribly for party traditionalists. He was part of the group John Prescott once dismissed as the "beautiful people", and Prescott again after yet another leaked Gould memo declared that "all that glitters is not Gould".

Yet, there is no doubting that Gould was one of the select few who created New Labour. "There has been no figure quite like him in British politics," according to Tony Blair's biographer, Anthony Seldon. "He is more than just a pollster who provides research: he is a tireless proselytizer for what that research means. He inspired and encouraged Labour's change from a doctrine/tradition driven party to a values/market-driven one. A political advertising man has taken the place of generations of socialist philosophers."

 

The more I got to know Philip the more I liked him. He was genuinely kind and instinctively on the side of the little guy. He could be deliciously gossipy on occasion and let students feel they were being let into a secret political world. He made politics real and human. He could be disarmingly self-deprecatory, both about himself and New Labour. I always felt at ease with Philip; he never swanked his status, either as a peer of the realm or as one of the world's leading political consultants. He felt like a good friend although we only ever saw each other professionally. His death is a huge loss.

Dr Maggie Scammell

7 November 2011

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