I was fresh out of university. The job market was flourishing under Labour. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I felt that the world was my oyster. I was hungry for a job in politics and I was determined not to be the last of my friends to secure employment.
Browsing through the many adverts on W4MP, I suddenly came across a position to work for Philip Gould. The Philip Gould. Architect of New Labour and polling guru. I knew this was a golden opportunity but I also knew how competitive this position was going to be. Imagine my delight when I got called for an interview.
Wisely I spent ages preparing for my interview and staying up all night reading The Unfinished Revolution. I walked into Philip’s imposing house (coincidentally, in the same ward where I’m now a councillor) feeling a little nervous. Glancing around the beautiful but daunting room, I saw pictures of Philip with political heroes I had only read about.
That’s when it really hit me.
This wasn’t just any interview, this was an interview with Baron Gould of Brookwood. The man responsible for Labour winning three consecutive terms in government. The man who, despite leaving school with one O level, became a key strategic advisor to the Labour Party and one of the country’s most influential men. The man whose political expertise was relied upon by leaders like Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
My new-graduate brazenness depleted slowly and a dull, unfamiliar feeling of terror settled in the pit of my stomach. By the time I was ushered into another huge room stacked with Random House books , I was on the brink of panic.
Philip was on the phone giving some very complicated advice to someone clearly linked to the Clinton administration. With his cup of tea in one hand while pacing round the room, I soon learnt this was Philip’s usual mode.
After what seemed like the longest ten minutes of my life, Philip put down the phone, glanced at my CV on the table in front of him, cocked up one eyebrow and bellowed ‘Tulip – what kind of name is that?! You’ll never make it in politics with an unusual name like that!’
Suddenly my confidence resurfaced and I felt a surge of defiance, retorting: ‘Excuse me Mr Gould, Kitty Ussher has an unusual name and she won a landslide victory at the last election so that’s not true!’
Philip burst into loud guffaws and said ‘I see we have a feisty one here. Interesting! ’
Throughout the interview, Philip continued to pick holes in my life: where I lived, where I went to school, the internship I had done with Oona King (he decided it was my fault she lost her seat in 2005) and even my height. I gave as good as I got because I realised that he enjoyed the lively sparring.
Finally, we got on to the topic of polling. I regurgitated pearls of wisdom from his writing, which I was now well versed in. He looked at me with some element of surprise and asked ‘Have you read my book then?’ I responded confidently ‘Cover to cover’.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘You can start Monday morning, 9am’.
And that’s how I started working for one of the biggest political brains this world will ever have. Philip and I had our differences because we’re both strong willed and differ politically on several issues, but I learnt more in that job than I ever have in my life. His ability to predict and anticipate events in the political landscape was uncanny and a gift that I wish I had managed to learn from him.
Philip was demanding (text messages at 6am) and incredibly hardworking. He set himself impossible deadlines but still managed to meet them and he expected the same kind of dedication from me. He sent me on a course to learn how to conduct focus groups and polling soon after I started and assumed that I was an expert when I returned from the four-day course!
But even when he was at his most difficult, I could still appreciate that I was working for an actual genius. Very few people I’ve met in my life have the ability to analyse ordinary (non-political) people’s words the way he did, and then formulate political policies based on their thoughts.
One of the most exciting parts of my job was going to Downing Street to drop off policy papers. The first time I passed through security, a bored looking staff member asked me where I had come from. I said ‘Philip Gould’s office’. Immediately, there was a spark of admiration in his eye.
It was the first of many similar reactions I experienced whenever I mentioned Philip’s name.
After working for Philip, I moved to the Greater London Authority where I encountered the same admiring responses when my former boss came up, and these were echoed when I moved on to work in Parliament.
More recently, I moved to a private firm to work in their corporate social responsibility department. On my second day in the job, I was sitting at my desk trying to get used to my new environment (somewhere that had an actual HR department – amazing!), when a very senior partner in the company came over to me. ‘Did you used to work for Philip?’ he asked excitedly.
‘Yes I did’ I said.
Again, that same flash of admiration. My colleagues around the table looked up curiously. Who was this new girl that a senior partner was so interested in?
‘So did I’ he said. ‘He taught me everything I know. We should meet for lunch when you’re free’.
I smiled ‘Sure’.
‘Aha,’ I thought to myself. ‘That touch of Philip gold never fades. Not even in the private sector’.