Philip GouldNovember 7th, 2011
I am really gutted that we have lost Philip Gould to cancer at such a young age. He was a great personal friend and support, across a generational divide, first for me, then for Louise and I, then for the two of us and the boys. I will miss his humanity and passion for finding and doing the right thing – and his ceaseless determination to elect Labour governments, because he never forgot that one day of Labour in government was worth 1000 in Opposition. He is a huge loss – above all to his inspirational, amazing immediate family, but also to the rest of us who knew and loved him.
Philip has been described – and maligned – as a pollster, because in the 1980s he brought a dose of focus group reality to Labour’s other-worldly musings about the state and future of the country. I suppose the professional category is “political consultant”. But he was much more than that. He was a sociologist and strategist, always trying to think through the world’s trends, and chart a political course through them. He was onto disillusion with politics before anyone else; he was fascinated by how power was shifting; he was hungry to know how other people did things (better).
His book the Unfinished Revolution is a masterclass for another reason. For Philip, the political was personal through experience not theory. His description in the early pages of the book of his failure of the 11-plus is crushing. But it did more than help him understand social class and economic aspiration in Britain. It inculcated tremendous respect for what he called ‘the new middle class’ – above all those who try hard with modest means (whose large numbers conveniently also make them the electoral sweet spot). His childhood in South London and Woking was not wasted.
His working style was unique. He produced a torrent of notes and comment that were his own emerging thinking, but he really really listened to people, and because of that he managed to bring tactics and strategy together in a remarkable way. He read the political runes in a way that adjusted for his own bias, and so was often right. He modestly played down his own contribution to the electoral successes of 1997 and 2001 and 2005, but they were important. He never substituted his own views for those of the politicians who he worked with, but he did find ways to crystallise their core and magnify their impact.
Philip was also tremendously brave in a personal way. It may sound corny, but frankly it was brave not to say mad to stake your reputation in 1985 on a political consultancy with the Labour Party as a key client. He was not a cab for hire; he was someone deeply committed to a view of the good society, and so the rejuvenation of the Labour Party was the only place for him to be. His courage was most evident in his battle with cancer, described in extraordinary detail in a series for The Times earlier this year. He wanted to know everything, and explain everything, and even when the medical prognosis was hopeless do everything to infuse love and meaning to his last months.
The afterword of the reissued version of The Unfinished Revolution was a ‘Letter to the Next Generation’ because he wanted his life’s work to put down roots that would eventually grow into tall trees. He ends by saying “I want you to be proud of what we did, but impatient about what we did not do.” That is an injunction we should heed.