Sunday, 30 March 2008

Mind your PMQs, Harriet

I imagine Harriet Harman is probably not having the best of Sundays today.

The confirmation that she'll stand in at the dispatch box for the PM on Wednesday will probably fill her with equal parts of pride, excitement and terror.

It's a bit like parachuting for the first time; you receive a lot of expert advice, you prepare to the nth degree but as you wait in the chamber for the first question, you'll give anything to pull out.

I used to be part of the prep team that briefed John for PMQs (unpaid I might add!) when he had to stand in for Tony. It would start the week before, preparing lines of attack against William Hague and second guessing what questions the chosen members would ask.

It's fair to say that while it never helped him at the ballot box, Hague is the best Commons debater of our generation; a formidable opponent whose rapier wit can bring any minister to his or her knees.

So we would spend a lot our time crafting 'bombs'; lines that would the highlight the Tories' incompetence or hypocrisy, stop Hague in his tracks and hopefully bring the House down.

Our greatest triumph was in March 2006. It was widely believed that John would get duffed up by William. But we had an arsenal of barbed traps ready for him to walk into. So when Hague brought up 'the punch,' JP could reply "I thought we had finished with Punch and Judy politics. I know I will be called Mr Punch. What do you think that leaves you as?"

As he left the chamber, MPs from all sides were patting him on the back and as we walked to the terrace for a quick drink, a voice called out from one of the bars. "Well done John. Great performance." Cameron had been watching and loved every minute of it.

So my advice to Harriet is firstly be yourself; John could never and would never try to emulate Tony. So find your own style. It's a macho environment and very tempting to go toe-to-toe like a couple of pugilists. Be different. Be yourself.

Secondly, craft your bombs. Humour is a great weapon and Hague (if it is he, it could be Theresa May) will have a long list of barbs ready to go against you. So get David Bradshaw in - the ex-Mirror hack wrote some belters for Tony and John.

Finally, don't believe the hype - zone out from the Westminster chatter. There'll be a lot of look-ahead pieces predicting you'll get hammered. You won't. So resist reading the papers for the next few days - you'll get all you need from the No10 PMQ team.

And remember my parachute analogy because as soon as you've done PMQs, you'll want to do it again, again and again!

So relax, make the most of the weekend and get Jack to do the Sunday roast!

Saturday, 29 March 2008

The exits are here, here and here

I find the T5 debacle a fascinating case study in crisis mismanagement.

Whilst the unofficial blame game reportedly continues apace between British Airways and BAA ('it was alright when he handed over the keys, guv') the decision to keep Chief Executive Willie Walsh off the airwaves was a bad move.

Hearing Jim Naughtie proclaim on Today on Friday morning: ''BA won't come on so we're going to speak to Ryanair" would chill the marrow of any PRO who's tried to get a CEO to be open and transparent with the public.

BA eventually got it right by allowing Walsh to deliver his Mea Culpa moment but it was all a bit too late in the day.

The problem is the news cycle is never ending. In a 24 hour news landscape, if you don't provide updates, or at least try, it looks at best like hubris and at worst, ignorance.

Mix in the fact that disgruntled employees were blogging on aviation forums that this was a crisis waiting to happen and angry passengers willing to be lost suitcase studies for rolling news, and you had a information vacuum which was quickly filled with speculation and bad will.

If I was Walsh, I'd sort this out from the bottom up by donning overalls and spending a week with the workers on the baggage carousels.

BA might not have been able to handle the bags and the fallout from T5, but by empathising with passengers and staff, they might be able to start to claim back their reputation.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Radio Guffaw

I really felt for newsreader Charlotte Green this morning. I occasionally bumped into her when I was on the overnight BBC newsdesk at Television Centre and I always felt she was a true professional.

But her corpsing during the 8am bulletin on the Today programme is the funniest thing I've heard in years.

Charlotte had been put off after reading the previous news item about the first recording of a human voice, singing Au Clair de la Lune.

Apparently while the clip was playing, someone whispered into her headphones that it sounded like a "bee buzzing in a bottle."

The way she tried to regain her composure and carry on is truly historic.

I'm sure her first response was to be mortified but she shouldn't be.
Charlotte, you've put a smile on millions of weary faces this morning. Thank you.

If you missed it, you can listen to it here.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

You've got to laugh!

Courtesy Tim Sanders, The Independent

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Thank You

I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who supported me during this selection.

All I ever wanted was to get to the final hustings to put my case to the members on how I wanted to build on the successes that Labour have achieved.

I give my full backing to the winning candidate and hope that he will build a mass membership party, support our candidates in the forthcoming local election, win back the council for Labour and retain the seat at the next general election.

This has been an unbelievable journey and I'm honoured to have had the chance to stand for my home town.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The Sloan Ranger and the Fib Dem

I don't like to intrude on personal grief, but as resignation statements go it's up there with Geoffrey Howe's cricket bat sabotage of Thatcher.

Former Lib Dem Cabinet member Andy Sloan has chosen to defect to the Tories in Hull's Guildhall.

He said: "I had once believed that the Liberal Democrat Party possessed a set of values and beliefs that were an alternative to the socialist Labour Party." POW!

"I see now that this view was misplaced and that the Liberal Democrats exist for a singular purpose - namely, to maintain bits of orange on a political map, no matter what the consequence." SPLAT!

"The Liberal Democrat party stands for nothing except to further its own electoral existence." BLAMMO!

This brutal but justified attack has been on the cards for quite a few weeks. Before voting against the Lib Dems proposed revenue budget for the coming year, Sloan said that council leader Carl Minns had deliberately used last summer's floods to "make political sunshine," describing his criticism of the Government at the time of the floods as "tantamount to criminal."

I've been saying this for some time but unfortunately the Lib Dems don't seem to be listening - they're still trying to kick the Government when they're trying to help.

Today Minns claimed the city has been excluded from a round of Government cash handouts because our roads suffered the "wrong type of damage" in the summer floods.

He told the press: "It appears that Hull's roads suffered the wrong kind of flood damage.

"After working with the Government-appointed advisers WS Atkins to assess the damage to the city's infrastructure, a claim for £1.3m was submitted to cover road surface damage caused by the flooding.

"The response was that the money was only available for structural not surface damage. This being the case, Hull was excluded from applying for the additional funding."

Unfortunately, that's not true at all. The Hull Daily Mail hasn't quoted the Department for Transport's response but if you click here you'll see the story from both sides.

The Department for Transport spokesman says: "It is wrong to say Hull City Council has had a claim rejected and has been excluded from applying for additional funding.

"The department has been quite clear that all reasonable claims for funding for flood road repair money will be considered and we would welcome further discussions with the council.

"The council did submit an initial estimate of damage in September after being asked to do so by DfT. Subsequently, Hull decided not to submit a formal claim. The Government's appointed technical advisers stand ready to offer further help to Hull should they wish to work up a claim.

"In total, Hull City Council has so far received £7.7m in Government funding to help communities get back on their feet following the floods."

So they only submitted a rough estimate because they were asked to by the Department for Transport, they didn't submit a formal claim and they haven't been excluded - in fact the DfT says it's still willing to help them claim money!

But Lib Dem party political hackery has spurned a Government's offer of help and graciously countered with a kick in the teeth designed to cover up their own incompetence.

These two stories just go to show what Hull sorely lacks is strong leadership and firm direction in the Guildhall.

A party that's prepared to work with all sides to get things down for the good of this city. A party that's prepared to really address the needs of local people.

The challenge for Labour is to prove to Hull people that we are that change.