The leader we have: inside the leaders’ office

“And all the sons I might have had mean nothing, for I have a son.”  So wrote James Baldwin.

And so it is with the leadership.  While Diane and the boys spend the summer in a four month penalty shootout, Harriet has quietly slipped on the captain’s armband.

If the coalition collapses in August – which is very unlikely, but not impossible – it will be Harriet who leads Labour’s reponse.

It’s now three weeks since she moved into the suite of offices in Parliament’s Norman Shaw building which was previously occupied by David Cameron and his people.  In those days, there were two dozen people squashed into the baker’s dozen rooms: Cameron himself was in one, his diary secretary in another, Andy Coulson in another. “The chiefs of staff” held court in the big, main office.  The speechwriters had an office, as did the two constituency staff, and the correspondence unit, and George Osborne, and Osborne’s staff, and Oliver Letwin’s two staff.  And so on.

The atmosphere then was serious to the point of being stressful. According to one former staffer: “doors closed meant not to be disturbed. Something was always going on, but nothing ever seen.”

“Sitting on the couches in the thoroughfare you could see it was busy even if you couldn’t hear it. Everyone walked at a fast pace, heads down. Not rushing.  You couldn’t look like you were flustered.”

“It was extremely official; full suits all week including Fridays. You were an ambassador, and always felt like you had been entrusted with a secret.”

“Everything was done meticulously.  The shredding, the newspapers precisely laid out on the table in the hall,  the table set out perfectly for lunch after pmqs, how letters were folded so the addresses fit exactly into the envelope windows. I always felt like there was something strangely royal about it.”

It is not like that now.  Team Harman is smaller and rather less intense.  There are more rooms than people.  The people come in pairs.

The first pair is the two who worked for Harriet as deputy leader. Chief of staff, Anna Healey, has worked in Labour’s back rooms, on and off, since the Callaghan Downing Street. Enobled in the dissolution honours, several newspapers amusingly listed her as a “Labour activist”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  She is a real insiders’ insider.  Labour’s inner circle thinks of Jon Cruddas as being married to Anna Healey, rather than vice versa.

She is joined by Ayesha Hazarika, Harman’s spin doctor, who will return with her, come the autumn, to the deputy leader’s more modest accommodation.

The rest are on contracts which end the day the new leader is appointed.  The second couple comes from the Brown Downing Street.

Jonathan Ashworth – Jonny Sparkle to his friends, after his sometimes sombre demeanour – is the political secretary, having been number two to Joe Irvin under Brown.  He is one of several Brown staffers who was widely expected to be rewarded for long-suffering service with a seat in Parliament, but wasn’t.  The consensus is that, in this respect, Brown failed to look after his people.

The other member of the previous regime is Stuart Hudson.  He used to prep Brown for prime minister’s questions, and is now doing the same for Harman.  From a terrible start, Brown improved massively at PMQs, such that during his last twelve months in office he won more than he lost.  It is reasonable to believe, in which case, that Hudson knows what he is doing.

The third couple has returned from the past.  David Clark began as a student politician in the 1980s.  He was then a young House of Commons researcher to Doug Hoyle and John Home Robertson before becoming special adviser to foreign secretary Robin Cook.  Subsequently, he seemed to go on something of a philosophical journey from the old right to the fringes of the compassite left.  Now he is writing the acting leader’s speeches.

Gez Sagar has had almost as many Labour incarnations as Anna Healey.  His most notable were in the Prescott inner circle when the latter was a powerful deputy prime minister, and as a spin doctor for the dome.  He will be doing ‘political communications’.  Strategy.  That sort of thing.  He is able, user-friendly and well liked by those who remember him.

The final couple are the two who aren’t in a couple.  Seema Malhotra will be doing ‘equalities’.  A long campaign to be selected for a Parliamentary seat in the West Midlands failed to coalesce in the closing stages.  She had powerful patrons in Liam Byrne and Labour’s influential West Midlands regional director, Ian Reilly, and worked hard for them both.  In the end, though, she didn’t manage to convert.

In George Osborne’s old room is Stephen Twigg, the newly elected MP for Liverpool West Derby.  He is Harman’s Parliamentary private secretary. Previously MP for Enfield Southgate, to which office he famously beat Michael Portillo in 1997 before losing in 2005, he will expect a swift return to the front bench proper.

In Osborne’s old office Twigg found the only thing team Cameron had left behind: a slim blue-silver can of the yoof energy drink, red bull.

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2 Responses to “The leader we have: inside the leaders’ office”

  1. antigone says:

    and they’re running a pretty good show

  2. David Clark says:

    Congratulations to Labour Uncut for producing an entertaining and informative new addition to the Labour blogosphere.

    However, I can’t let the reference to my political ‘journey’ (above) pass without a small comment. I actually think my outlook has remained pretty constant over the course of my adult life. I believe in a mixed economy, a social Europe, civil liberties, a more decentralised and pluralistic political system, a republican style of politics and a foreign policy that reflects an ethical world view.

    If those are now heresies of the left – when they were once considered heresies of the right – that probably says more about Labour’s journey than my own.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. Iconoclasm is another principle close to my heart.

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