A touch of Gould

November 10, 2011 5:51 pm

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’.

  • Anonymous

    He’ll be missed!

  • Clare

    A refreshing tribute; affectionate and honest.

Latest

  • News A brief guide to David Cameron’s Christian “moral code”

    A brief guide to David Cameron’s Christian “moral code”

    As we approach Easter, David Cameron has talked about his “moral code”, called for a more strident Christianity that is “more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives” and praised ”countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ”. Meanwhile, a “Whitehall Source” was today smearing the Christian charity The Trussell Trust, who yesterday revealed that in the past year food bank use has reached […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour’s PPC for Colne Valley stands down

    Labour’s PPC for Colne Valley stands down

    Binnie Joshi Barr, Labour’s candidate in Colne Valley, has decided to step down due to health reasons. Barr announced her decision in a letter to local party members. She said: “Colne Valley deserves and will have a Labour MP in 2015. Unfortunately due to ill health, it is not going to be me. “Since the birth of my daughter Aarya eight weeks ago, my rheumatoid arthritis has returned and worse than before. I have regrettably come to the conclusion that […]

    Read more →
  • Comment How Putin shows the same ‘maskirovka’ as his own soldiers

    How Putin shows the same ‘maskirovka’ as his own soldiers

    Yesterday in the European Parliament the EU Commissioner at the heart of the Ukraine crisis told MEPs that the rhetoric from Russia was “worse than at any time in the Cold War.” Today in Geneva four-way talks are taking place which are bringing Europe back to the forefront of the diplomacy seeking to de-escalate the crisis. But the stand-off in towns across Eastern Ukraine remains at least as likely to trigger the very opposite. On behalf of Labour in Europe, we have continued to maintain […]

    Read more →
  • News NHS waiting list reaches nearly 3 million

    NHS waiting list reaches nearly 3 million

    The amount of patients waiting for NHS treatment has risen to 2.9 million, according to new referral to treatment times (RTT) figures. Meanwhile, the Health Service Journal reports (£): “The NHS has breached the target for 90 per cent of admitted patients to start treatment within 18 weeks for the first time since 2011, the latest figures from NHS England reveal.” With 550 of those patients having waited over a year for treatment, two thirds of England’s major A&Es missing their […]

    Read more →
  • Video “So long, it’s been good to know you” – Austin Mitchell’s farewell video

    “So long, it’s been good to know you” – Austin Mitchell’s farewell video

    As LabourList reported earlier, Great Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell has announced his decision to stand down at the next election. He won the seat in a by-election in 1977 – back when Jim Callaghan was Prime Minister. To coincide with his announcement, Mitchell has made a farewell video to Parliament and the people of Grimsby. There’s a healthy dose of sentimentality, a couple of jokes, and even a montage. Before entering Parliament, Mitchell worked as a broadcast journalist, and it […]

    Read more →