The lesson of Philip Gould: give your life to Labour

by John Woodcock

Much has already been written about the wonderful man that Philip Gould was, and the amazing tributes that his family and friends paid to him at his funeral last week.

I knew Philip late in his life, and comparatively slightly. He was always so kind and encouraging to me, as he seemed to be to everyone – however junior – who played a role in the fight to get Labour re-elected. The iPod he bought me as a reward for a particularly good week as a researcher in the 2005 election campaign has long since bitten the dust, but I hope the infectious joy he brought to the task to which he dedicated his life will remain forever.

Right up to the end, Lord Gould was a recruiting sergeant to the battle for a modern Labour party. His last words to me – as I am sure to many others – were basically just to get stuck in.

So the funeral gathering at All Saints church in London was striking not only for the way it captured people’s love for a very special human being and one of Labour’s most dedicated and important servants. It was a reminder of just how much breadth and depth of talent and experience the Labour party has – talent we need to make sure we fully harness for the battle ahead.

This is not primarily about the principal characters of the last generation, from Tony and Gordon downwards, who founded New Labour and have led the tributes to Philip, the man who did so much to help them achieve great things. More, it is those that served in various ways alongside him through New Labour’s time in government; they too have the opportunity to help define Labour’s next generation.

Fortunately, many of Labour’s best and brightest stayed as we fell out of power  – whether breaking through to elected politics or saddling up for life in opposition behind the frontline. And many brilliant people have been attracted in for the first time since Ed Miliband became leader.

But the chopping and changing of Labour in government inevitably saw so many great Labour people go off to other things over the years. They need to be reeled back in for their own good, whether they have admitted it to themselves yet or not. I have had so many conversations with former colleagues who have found that life outside politics never quite matches up to the drive of slogging your guts out for what you really believe in. They had been burnt out by long years of service, but are now – consciously or unconsciously – itching to get back.

Excepting perhaps Steve Hilton and Michael Gove, the people who gathered at the church on Tuesday had the Labour party in their blood. That never truly leaves you: you can take time out but you can never really walk away.

Commentators, and sometimes participants, can become fixated on the sense of different tribes within Labour. Yet this is emphatically not a case of one tribe in exile: those on a temporary career break from full time devotion to the quest to build the new Jerusalem represent a broad spectrum of beliefs and past allegiances.

And anyway, thinking in those terms is baloney. What came across so powerfully in what Philip said publicly in his last months, and what was said about him, was how frustrated he got by the idea of taking sides internally. For him, the only side that mattered was Labour, and the only fight to which it was worth devoting any energy was the fight against the Tories.

Ed Miliband is determined to lead Labour back to government after only one term out of office. To stand the best chance of doing that, he knows he needs to do whatever it takes to get all hands on deck.

The water isn’t always lovely in opposition. But I suspect there were many people who gathered to say goodbye to one of their own this week who will never be satisfied unless they can find a way to come on in again.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.


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3 Responses to “The lesson of Philip Gould: give your life to Labour”

  1. Nick says:

    Party first. Who cares about the citizen so long as the party wins.

    Some people are more equal than others.

  2. John P Reid says:

    you can’t do anyhting if your not in power or have an alternative to teh party that’s in power ,Nick

  3. Give your life to Labour?

    It’s likely that most of the three million plus pensioners and working poor who were hit by Brown’s abolition of the 10% tax band had given their votes at least for most of their lives. These are exactly the sort of people who traditionally look to Labour for a helping hand. Instead, even before the effect of this on them had fully sunk in, they saw Brown move on to cut 2P of the basic rate of tax for the better off.

    Give your cash to Labour more like.

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