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'Straight talking. Honest politics' - Labour Conference 2015

Government Affairs

'Straight talking. Honest politics'. The conference slogan said it all. Jeremy Corbyn wants to define himself - what new leader doesn't? Commentator and political strategist, John McTernan, comments on the Labour Conference 2015.

By John McTernan, commentator and political strategist

‘Straight talking. Honest politics’. The conference slogan said it all. Jeremy Corbyn wants to define himself – what new leader doesn’t? But, unusually for a political party, that definition of change is not against the Labour Party’s main political opponents – the Conservative Party – but instead it is in relation to Labour’s past, and, in particular, Tony Blair. There was a ghost haunting Brighton this week and it was that of the last Labour leader to win an election. That is the key to understanding what just happened – both in the Labour leadership election and the conference. Labour is a party as haunted by Blair as the Tories were by Thatcher for the fifteen years after they defenestrated her. Not a single fringe meeting passed off without a mention of him.

The ‘new politics’ is, then, a lot like the old politics. Remember, the first rule of political warfare is to put your enemy in the wrong and keep them there. Simple, you’d have thought. Except for the question who is the enemy? In politics it’s not normally your main competitor – they are simply the opposition. It’s the people on your own side who are the actual enemy. For all the emollience of Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell there is an emotional, psychological and ideological battle going on within the Labour Party. It is being conducted in code – but it is very real.

So, the trick is to see beyond the surface language to the underlying meaning. The most important concepts are ‘review’ and ‘mandate’.

Many conflicts were deferred this week under the guise of a review. Trident is the most high profile one. But other significant ones were the Financial Transaction Tax (the so-called Robin Hood Tax), the nationalisation of the railways, the mandate of the Bank of England (and the proposal to print money to fund public services) and the proposal for building 100,000 council houses a year. The review process was masked as a new commitment to pluralism, debate and dissent.

As opposed to the years of spin and message discipline. This has two problems. For one, there was no concession to the fact that the Tories who won the election were always relentlessly on message – ‘long term economic plan’, anyone? (But then Corbyn’s speech did not even concede that Labour had been devastatingly defeated in May.) For another, and more importantly, conflict may have been deferred but it has only been delayed not denied. Moderate, mainstream Labour had a majority at this conference. That is why there was so much rhetoric from the leadership about the decisive role of conference and the members in making policy decisions yet no votes. The right had the numbers. Next year the left hope to have taken over the party and we will see vote after vote to change party positions.

This is the coming conflict. And why the word ‘mandate’ was so ubiquitous. The election defeat was unmentioned by the leadership but that was not accidental. It was essential not to talk about the voters for fear of having to address why they rejected Labour and what they wanted. Almost all MPs – or at least the 90% who didn’t vote for Corbyn – will tell you that Labour lost because the voters didn’t trust the party on the economy, welfare or immigration. Facing up to that would see a substantial revision of party policy – and would not start with a leftward lurch. Against the views of the British public Corbyn wants to set those of his supporters. That is why his words were a chilling warning to MPs:

“No-one – not me as leader, not the shadow cabinet, not the Parliamentary Labour Party – is going to impose policy or have a veto.”

The country won’t matter only the Corbynistas. That is the battle to come not just for the soul of the Labour Party, but for its relevance to Britain in the future.

John McTernan is a commentator and political strategist. He was a Labour adviser on health, welfare, regeneration, defence and Scotland; and was Tony Blair’s director of political operations. He also worked as director of communications for the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard.

Dream Week
By Richard Edelman

Richard Edelman Malala

The past three days in New York City have been the stuff of dreams. Edelman President and CEO Richard Edelman shares a quick report on each of these fantasy events with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Malala Yousafzai and Pope Francis.

The past two days in New York City have been the stuff of dreams. I sat with the top environmental official from the French Government yesterday morning to discuss the COP21 in Paris in December. I was invited to the Fortune Magazine CEO dinner for Prime Minister Narendra Modi last night. I then went to the premiere of the film on Malala, for whom Edelman has done pro bono PR for the past three years. And to cap it off, I have just been to see Pope Francis at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Here is a quick report on each of these events.

The French minister, Laurence Tubiana, was clear in her assessment of COP21. She said that domestic policy is the key to the successful implementation of any global goals. She believes in the private sector and local government coming to the fore in 2016 to bring the targets within reach. There is no way to force countries to comply, but with proper transparency on progress toward the goals, the proper pressure will be exerted from the various stakeholders. There will be large investment needed to achieve the goals, especially in energy intensive industries such as cement and chemicals. She was clear that it is up to each country to decide its own energy mix to achieve the goals, from nuclear to renewables to carbon-based. I found her realistic, well organized and business friendly.

The Indian Prime Minister met with 50 CEOs and listened patiently to criticism of excessive regulation and red tape, slow bureaucracy, a crazy quilt of rules between states and the federal government, the protectionism streak and lack of IP protection. He gave a fifteen minute talk concluding with a definitive statement that this is India’s time. He said he wants to reform governance for speed, to simplify government processes to ensure transparency and accountability. He was clear that government should not be in business. He sees three sectors: Private; Public; and Personal. He envisages one third of the economy in agriculture, one third in services and one third in industrial. He intends to push for exports, to improve infrastructure at the ports and the roads from the internal parts of the nation. He will harmonize India’s laws, especially with the global standard. I found him deeply persuasive and committed to change.

The movie premiere was a lovely end to the evening. Malala was especially engaging in the non-scripted parts. She asked the film director how he could stand her brothers… who always make life a challenge for her… and made faces when the director said he really liked the boys. She was so clear both in the film and in her comments that her dad was the most important person in her life but that she had to forge her own way, whatever the outcome. I would highly recommend the film, especially for teens.

Pope Francis’ visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum was deeply moving and brilliantly orchestrated. The opening remarks by Cardinal Dolan focused on the melting pot that is New York City, the horror of the day of 9/11 and the determination to rebuild. He was followed by representatives of Judaism, Buddhism, Hindu, Islam and Christianity. Pope Francis made two comments that resonated with me. Having just met the children and widows of firefighters and police, he said, “Destruction is never impersonal or abstract; it is not about things. It has a face and it has names. The families of these first responders showed me the face of pain that screams to heaven. But they also showed me the face of love and remembrance.” The Pontiff looked at the diverse religious leaders behind him and noted, “We have been invited to say no to making us all the same. We must accept our differences.”

Those of us in PR have an important role to play in helping to explain these issues of tolerance, environment, and innovation, to volunteer as possible and to make connections for clients to causes.

This article originally appeared on 6A.M., Richard Edelman’s blog on trends in communications, issues, lessons and insights.

Image by United Nations Photo.

Written by: Richard Edelman, President and CEO at Edelman

Leaving My Shoes At The Door: Edelman Global Fellows Programme


Charlotte Paton leaves her shoes at the door and opens a window into her expectations and preparation before beginning her experience as an Edelman Fellow in Mumbai.

If you asked me six months ago whether I knew I was going to move to India, the answer would have been no. If you asked me if I would pursue spending a year living and operating in a completely different environment, the answer would have been possibly, but probably no. Ask anyone, I’m pretty set in my ways.

But like all good adventures, something changed. I now find myself embarking on a year-long placement in Mumbai, with little prior knowledge of India, little knowledge of how communications work there and the company I might keep. But that’s why I’m doing it – that’s part of the adventure and these are the things I am going out there to learn.

Since learning I was an FY16 Fellow, I’ve canvassed quite a bit of opinion from colleagues who have been to Mumbai before and from former Fellows who have gone to other markets in the Edelman network. The best advice I have been given (by nearly everyone) is don’t expect anything. Don’t come with pre-conceived ideas. Don’t come in like a bull in a china shop. Just go with it.

A wise colleague told me a few weeks ago that your career is like a pair of shoes. For every step you take in your career, your “career shoes” accumulate a morsel of the ground you’ve crossed along the way. After three and a half years in the London office, culminating in being an account manager; I think my shoes are looking less like a pair of heels and more like a pair of well-trodden walking boots.

I’ve read that in India it is courteous and customary when entering a home to leave your shoes at the door and that in the office, some people change their shoes when they come into work, some don’t.

I’m sure it all depends on the weather, but when I get to Mumbai in a few weeks’ time, I will literally and figuratively leave my shoes at the door. I hope to learn from what goes on around me – and just go with it. I’ll dust my career shoes off as necessary and wherever my previous experience could be valuable – but for the next few months, the aim is to break in a new pair of boots altogether.

A version of this post originally appeared on’s #FollowTheFellows blog. You can also #FollowTheFellows on Twitter.

Written by: Charlotte Paton, Account Manager at Edelman

Q&A with Heartbeat artist Charles Petillion

Consumer Trends & Insight, Entertainment
Covent Garden Balloons

It’s the last chance to catch Charles Petillon’s installation, Heartbeat which features 100,000 balloons. 3.74 million have already passed through Covent Garden to view the installation.

This weekend is the last chance to catch Charles Petillon’s installation, Heartbeat which features 100,000 balloons, which closes this Sunday. 3.74 million have already passed through Covent Garden to view the installation.*

What do balloons mean for you?

Balloons are universal and understood around the world, regardless or language or nationality. It’s amazing that something as simple and innocent as a balloon can be used to tell a variety of stories.

What does the installation mean to you?

The installation signifies how Covent Garden is the heart of the city. I want people to have an immersive experience, to get lost in the installation and lose the notion of time. I hope that it will encourage people to view the iconic space in a new light.

What do you hope people will take away from seeing Heartbeat?

The goal of my work is to use the balloons in a poetic way to ask questions about the space in which they are placed, so that the viewer considers the space from a new perspective. There are many layers you could go into, but the idea was to make it simple and accessible so that anyone can take their own meaning from it. The response will naturally be different whether you are a child, adult or art director – that is the beauty of the balloons’ simplicity.

What’s next?

I am in discussion about several new projects with partners around the world, but first we need to launch this installation!

I definitely want to do an installation for the public again. ‘Heartbeat’ is intentionally accessible and open for everyone to experience. I will continue to work with balloons as it’s become my artistic language and motif. It’s amazing how something as simple as balloons can be used to tell so many stories.

*Capco Covent Garden is an Edelman UK client.

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