Stephen Twigg and THAT election

19th March, 2012 12:27 pm

As well as interviewing Chuka Umunna ahead of the budget (which we published this morning), I also recently profiled Stephen Twigg for Total Politics magazine. (It’s one of two different covers for the latest issue – the other being Justine Greening).

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Twigg has always fascinated me, largely because he’s responsible for my first real political memory, watching the results of the 97 election come in as a kid. I asked him about that campaign, and I’ve posted that Section of the interview as an extract below.

Twigg also told me that he wants to see David Miliband (who he calls a “big talent”) back under Ed, and explains his “philosophical disagreement” with some in the party over schools, explaining, “I don’t think it has to be the state that directly provides the schools.”

But for all of that, you’ll need to buy Total Politics tomorrow – available at all good newsagents, and probably some bad ones too. The extract is below.

———————-

Stephen Twigg, and THAT election

For political anoraks of all stripes, Stephen Twigg stands at a pivotal point in British political history. It was 2 May 1997, 3.10am. Were you up for Portillo? Millions still were – celebrating or commiserating – and everyone was shocked. No one more so than the man himself. The image of him looking slightly overwhelmed on the stage at Pickett’s Lock Leisure Centre early that morning. The small ripple of laughter as the returning officer reveals that Michael Portillo’s middle name is Xavier. And then the result: the cheer, the beam growing brighter, Twigg telling the assembled audience that “there is no such thing as a no-go area for the Labour Party”. Portillo’s magnanimous speech. And the knowledge that Labour had emerged from the wilderness – a place with which the Tories were about to become intimately acquainted.

It’s a scene etched on the collective memory of the British body politic, so I didn’t need to watch it again. But I did. Twice. I couldn’t help myself. The topic stalks Twigg wherever he goes. It’s often the first thing that strangers want to talk to him about, but he wears it lightly, and is happy to reminisce when we meet in his anonymous but friendly Westminster office. “I didn’t think it was going to happen,” he confides.

A week beforehand there had been a poll that gave him hope. He recalls: “I remember a friend of mine was working on one of the Sunday morning political shows, and rang me late Saturday night and said, ‘There’s a poll out tomorrow showing that Portillo is four per cent ahead of you’… that put quite a lot of attention on us, so we produced a little leaflet that we got out, eventually, I think, across the whole constituency. It simply reproduced the poll as a bar graph, and stated: ‘In Enfield Southgate if you want to get rid of Portillo only a Labour vote will count’ – a classic Lib Dem squeeze message – and people turned up to help from all over the country. They asked, ‘Where’s your HQ?’ And we had to invent an HQ in my organiser’s front room.”

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  • AlanGiles


    Twigg also told me that he wants to see David Miliband (who he calls a “big talent”) back under Ed”

    They were the future – once, but now if Labour wants to stand any chance of electoral success, they need to get away from the expenses fiddlers and has-beens of 1997-2010 . There are far too many of them lounging about in the shadow cabinet already.

    What is needed is new, fresh untarnished talent

    • Jeff_Harvey

      Considering the importance of Education to most parents Twigg represents yet another bizarre appointment to an important role in the Shadow Cabinet by Ed Miliband. 

      • treborc

        God help us if he still the future

      • Chilbaldi

        I think he’s got some good ideas for education, as it happens. Generally parents who want the best for their kids don’t accept the status quo with regard to education, purely out of some misguided principle.

        • Dave Postles

           It’s a tricky one, that.  You and your children are consumers, but we without kids also contribute the funding.  As a contributor of funding, I’m all in favour of state comprehensive, co-educational schools.

        • ThePurpleBooker

          Here, here!

          • Jeff_Harvey

            Where, where?

        • Jeff_Harvey

          The best way to improve higher education in this country would be to scrap multi-board A levels and replace them with a more respected qualification like the International Baccalaureate.

          • Chilbaldi

            I agree Jeff. For years now politicians of all stripes have been grade inflation deniers, instead simply claiming that all British children are betting exponentially more intelligent. I tell you, if British children are getting more intelligent at the rate that successive governments are claiming then this is one of the most remarkable periods of human evolution.

            Michael Gove is the first one to acknowledge that grade inflation is a reality, and the first one to pledge to do something about it. I second your call for a new school leaving qualification. The current system is a bit of a laughing stock.

          • Redshift

            I think the major problem with the ‘grade inflation’ arguments is that everyone who makes it prefers to make the superficial assumption that exams and such are easier than looking at the actual reasons for why we are getting better pass rates. 

            Now I too don’t agree that the better grades is purely down to better teaching (although I certainly think that did improve massively under the Labour governments – and that is without mentioning the better buildings, equipment, etc). BUT the truth is that lessons have become too focused on narrowly trying to train pupils to pass exams (if they ask this, you need to say that) rather than gaining a genuine and comprehensive understanding of their subject areas. The result is improving grades, without necessarily making any educational improvements obvious to wider society. 

            The reason for this approach is actually league tables, and I know it would be a bitter pill to swallow for many parents but unless we come up with a better measurement, then this method of superficial exam-passing is going to be the result. 

          • Chilbaldi

            The proof is in the pudding. to get into any Russell Group university for a half decent now you need AAA or AAB. In my day AAB got you into Oxford…

          • Jeff_Harvey

            Agreed. 

            I think I’m correct in saying that since the mid 90s  the number of students achieving average marks in the International Baccalaureate increased by about 4.5%  while those sitting A levels in the UK went up by a staggering 24% over the same period. Both the IB and A levels were taken by a similar mix of young people of comparable academic ability.

            Obviously something is wrong.

      • AlanGiles

        I am afraid Ed M’s shadow cabinet increasingly reminds me of the mid 70s TV series “Reginald Perrin” – the story of a man desperate to escape from his past, he starts new ventures (bric-a-brac shops, a commune for the middle aged), but insists on dragging along all the people he previously worked for “C.J.”, “Doc Morrisey” “Joan” etc etc, so he just ends up being as frustrated and unhappy as he was at the start, becuase he is surrounded by the people of the past he longs to be free of.

        As for Stephen Twigg, Mark has really mentioned the one thing he will be remembered for – taking out Michael Portillo at Enfield,  – little else. A one-hit wonder, who had his greatest moment 15 years ago.

        • Jeff_Harvey

          Is it just me or does Stephen Twigg remind you a little bit of the late Danny La Rue, Alan? I don’t mean to be unkind to either of these gentlemen when making the comparison although I’m sure that shadowing education opposite the exceptionally annoying Michael Gove must be a “drag” at times in or out of a frock!

          • AlanGiles

            I’d better not reply Jeff – I might upset William too much! 🙂

          • William

            It’s OK. It’s just that I find your comments invariably upbeat, uplifting and positive about our party and you said we need new, fresh and untarnished talent. I was wondering if you were thinking of yourself  when you said this.

          • AlanGiles

            No William. I am neither new. Or fresh. As regards “untarnished”, well I certainly never fiddled my expenses, or claimed a food allowance, or made a false declaration on a mortgage application, but at my age I daresay I am tarnished in other respects.

            Seriously there is some old tat in the shadow cabinet well past it’s sell by date.

        • William

          Yet another encouraging positive contribution.
          When are you off to the Greens?

          • AlanGiles

            Never mind, Bill – keep your chin up.

          • William

            You said you were off to the Green party soon. Tell us when-I think we should know.

          • Jeff_Harvey

            How do you keep an idiot in suspense?

            … I’ll tell you later!

          • AlanGiles

            William. With all due respect you are the perpetual cheer-leader – applauding on cue to anything and everything the leadership says.

            I think Labour needs candid friends. Frankly, EM & co are going nowhere because there are still too many pieces of dead wood , too many of the old faces, even if you don’t hear much from some of them.

            Today we have been reminded elsewhere of Mandelson!  – he really should take all that money he’s made and retire. He should remember you’re a long time dead (by the look of him 🙂    ).

            As for my plans – I rather think that is my own affair. Don’t you?. Have a nice evening.

          • William

            Any suggestion that you’re a boring and negative slacktivist who neither moves the debate on here anywhere while persistently running our party down is and must remain pure speculation. 

          • derek

            Boring? you got to be shitting me William, Alan is Giles ahead.
            New labour lost the last general election and 200,000 members, don’t you think we should kindly ask people like Alan to represent what we need to do to win again.

          • AlanGiles

            You’re busy with me tonight, Bill. You must have been at the pep pills. Of course, your little notes to me to stay “on message”  are NEVER boring. Oh, no!

          • Redshift

            Agreed, but I really hope you keep the faith and stay away from the greens!

          • In fairness, William, Alan isn’t a Tory and there are prolific sock-puppet Tories on this blog, with time on their hands, who are more of a problem when they make it their business to distract and then try to either smother or commandeer debate.

            On reason why criticism of Labour is so pronounced on this blog (by people who, at heart, are Labour supporters) is because the democratic avenues for dissent within the Party have been closed off. I moan about Labour on here for the same reason. Apart from after-meeting huddles characterised by low muttering there’re not many places where disgruntled members or supporters can voice their dissatisfaction regarding current topics.

          • Jeff_Harvey

            Or in the case of Eric Pickles – keep your chins up.

        • Dave Postles

           ‘Great’.  ‘Super’.

        • Redshift

          I agree with you politically and am mortified at Twigg’s views on schools, but one thing I will say in his defence is that he doesn’t shy away from getting himself out there on the doorstep. 

          I think if more MPs did that, our leadership would be a lot more in touch with the public

    • William

      Like you perhaps?

    • William

      In the same way that you’re a new fresh and untarnished talent?

  • William

    @c920a01fd617259ad2e458af2f290d52:disqus  
    ‘New labour lost the last general election and 200,000 members, don’t you think we should kindly ask people like Alan to represent what we need to do to win again’.
    True and nobody is suggesting we revisit New Labour but neither should we revisit Old Labour either. Both political projects have had their days.
    I am not defending everything New Labour did at all,  but the fact is that in 1997 we had 419 mps and a majority of 179. In addition, we had 400,000 members- more than we had had since the 40s.
    The New Labour project propelled Labour into government for 13 years and that period came to an end not because the Tories won but because they knocked up a shady deal with a bunch of shameless duplicitous liars-namely the Fib Dems. Every political project whether it is Thatcherism or the post-war social democratic consensus (1946-76) or New Labour has to end sometime. That is the nature of politics.
    Alan repeatedly eulogises the Harold Wilson era -one that we all know is new, fresh and untarnished -while at the same time he is unswervingly critical of the current leadership. (Check out his post on the Chukka Umana story). Anyone with half a brain knows that Ed Miliband is/was not a close associate of Blair. In fact if anything he was closer to Brown and he has declared that the era of new Labour is at an end. I just wish Alan would make a positive contribution to a left of centre debate on here rather than relentlessly carping  the whole time. I’m not holding my breath though.

    • derek

      William, a good solid read on facts and figures, however the new labour project fell around 2003, many members say it was much earlier. Scotland was always a strong labour hold but things changed in 2007, the SNP grabbed the gaping hole left by new labour and went from strength too strength.

      @AlanGiles:disqus 
      , has made some wonderful contribution and has been extremely alert to the plight of the unemployed and those mindless changes that are creating an undeserving society. Some has too grasp the Wilson drive of creating hi-tech employment with good pay for all.Least we forget that Osborne’s 5 year deal and OBR figures say that by 2015 there will still be 1.5 million JSA seekers, no doubt that been revised upwards.

      Ed, has fallen short of the mark, from turning up at the summer protest to going silent and off colour with the trade unions. Many new labour ex- cabinet MP’s are still on the front bench and by god does Cameron hammer home that situation at every turn.

      On Twigg, the man who removed Portillo on that famous election win in 1997, seems oddly to married up to the Gove position on education (free schools and all) I always held the thought that selective and separate educations isn’t the answer and I truly believe that state education can and has the ability to deliver first class student, not judged by the size of their parents wallet but by their merit and educational value.

      William, I’d vote for @Alan Giles, Alan has shown he understand the vast majority of Northern feelings, we just can’t not let these rotten nasty tories create so much havoc with the vast majority of our nation and we need to express that as loud as possible with the unity of purpose it deserves.

      • William

        Nice Derek. But how productive and helpful is it  to trash Chuka Umunna?
        First of all he is a black man- born and brought up in Brixton Hill in the constituency he now serves as an MP. As someone who was born and brought up in the same area I can confirm that the general conditions of life in that area during the 1970s and 1980s were imperfect. In fact, they were so imperfect that many of the people in that area engaged in periodic widespread  rioting during that time. To me he always comes across as very intelligent, articulate, committed and politically talented.

        However,  for AG  all this counts for nothing as he has said that Peter Mandelson gave him some advice which he found helpful. Clearly this is a terrible mortal sin in AG’s book. Alan would rather we looked to Harold Wilson for inspiration. He’s been dead for 30 years for God’s sake and from what I remember oversaw the fag end of the post-war Keynesian boom with rip-roaring inflation, collapsing living standards and chronically sub-standard  housing. Nobody could make any money or get anywhere unless of course you wore the old school tie. IMHO life for most people in the 70s was crap.

        All I’m saying is let’s not carp and grizzle all the time. Let’s move forward in a positive way so that we can throw out these Hooray Henrys and Henriettas who want to privatise everything and drive down the living standards of everyone except the very rich a.s.a.p.

        • treborc

          First of all he is a black man:

          Think that says it all, I have to say your a real Pratt mate to even mention this chaps race or colour, to try and win a political argument.

          The problem with labour mate is you and your kind.

          • William

            When are you going to stop insulting people?

          • AlanGiles

            You are pretty good at insulting people yourself, Billy. Suggesting I was colour prejudiced is rather insulting, but again, your double standards come into play. Certain things are wrong, if the “wrong” person (or party) says it but perfectly acceptable to you if the “right” person says it. 

          • William

            When are you going to stop insulting people?

        • derek

          William, Chucka made some headway in the banker bonus dispute but if your going to challenge then have a complete plan.

          Most people have a business idea, some patten their ideas and some are successful while others just dream. My idea is quite a simple one? no-surprise there eh, it was based on a shopping idea? fitting a small calculator scanner on to shopping trolleys, so the public could count their shopping cost in advance of going to the final till but like most plans or ideas, it’s got to be full and by that I mean a complete plan, lets call it an E plan, that considers all aspects, the production, the cost and the buyer.

          Which brings me back to Chuka and the banking bonus E plan, Chuka had a bit of successful collective sway in one or two bankers given up their huge bonuses but Chuka didn’t have a complete E plan, he simply chopped the top of the E plan and was left with a simple C plan, a couple of bankers didn’t follow through with their bonuses but where did that pot of gold shares go? no where not even to the much needy charities, so in conclusions William, Chuka is untested and still slightly green and should of followed through with a complete plan.

        • AlanGiles

          William. You are pretty desperate if you want to try playing the race card (”
          to trash Chuka Umunna?

          First of all he is a black man-“).  I am colour blind. What a revolting low blow.  I think that is a very offensive comment, but as you appeared to be so overwrought yesterday, I suppose I must make allowance.
          I am surprised – let us put it no stronger than that – that a man untainted by sleaze, who entered Parliament after the excesses and transgressions of Mandelson should single out for praise such a devisive snob – a man who was disliked by many of his own colleagues  (ask ex MP Peter Kilfoyle what he thinks of Mandleson), a man who had to resign in disgrace more than once should seek out the advice of such a tainted individual who divided the party. Chuka is not naive- he must know his reputation. Perhaps he was being diplomatic “the advice – the constant advice”. Perhaps he wanted to say “interference”?.

          Harold Wilson died in 1995 – not 30 years ago BTW  – but he did preside over a successful LABOUR government. He said no to Vietnam when Lyndon Johnson tried to involve us – what a pity Blair didn’t do the same to Bush over Iraq. He was big enough to have all shades of opinion in his cabinet – Barbara Castle and Tony Benn on the left, Jim Callaghan on the right. He allowed open discussion and even allowed members of his cabinet like Peter Shore to campaign against our continued membership of the EU in 1975. Nobody got sacked for expressing their opinion. Can you really say the same about Blair with his yes men and Blair Babes?

          Your rewriting of history would be funny if it were not so spiteful. In 1973 we had the oil crisis and Ted Heath instituted a three day working week (at one point in the spring of 1973 I very nearly lost a job for the only time  in my life when the company I was then working for found it hard to cope with rationed electrical supplies and mounting bills and greatly reduced production. Perhaps you were not around then, but even our three day week was circumscribed by only having electricity for 6 hours at a time, useless when trying to keep a production line going). It was Ted Heath’s one man crusade against the unions that started our problems in the 70s. Harold Wilson won 2 elections in 1974 inheriting a truly dire set of books.

          Oh yes – as for “Nobody could make any money or get anywhere unless of course you wore the old school tie. IMHO life for most people in the 70s was crap.” – well, the 1966 Labour government gave the country the Open University, which meant that ordinary people who had been denied studying for a PPE at Oxford because they had didn’t have rich parents, got a chance – at any stage of their lives – to improve their lot in life. I remember reading of people in old age gaining qualifications having left school at 14.  There wasn’t an awful lot of money to be made by the time the disastrous Heath government got thrown out, for the reasons I have already explained. As for the “old school tie”, are you blaming Mr Wilson for all the ills of society?. I seem to remember to join the Blair Club you had to be rather well connected, or at least be a pop singer like Cliff Richard to be able to offer the Blair’s free summer holidays in the sun. 

          I am surprised at you – since you are such a great Labour supporter that “making money” appears more important than having a balanced cabinet, with people from all walks of life, who had held down real jobs in industry and keeping Britain out of unwinnable wars, which HW had, and did. So in the 1964-1979 period there wasn’t the chance to be a spiv and “make money”  like so many did under Thatcher, Major – and Blair, and in your opinion life was “cr*p”). I wouldn’t mind betting that post 2007 life was the word you chose for people battling illness, like Ms. marsh on LL thanks to Brown, Purnell, Freud and ATOS. You have nothing to say about that. Life must be pretty rotten for the parents of 19 year old soldiers blown to bits in Afghanistan, who will spend the rest of their lives mourning their deaths, or dealing with the trauma, physical and mental of their son having no arms or legs. But never mind it was LABOUR who involved us in those wars, and gave the unemployed and sick Freud and Purnell, so that is fine.

          If you will allow me to say so, William, people like you with your double standards disgust me – you know perfectly well that if it had been the Conservatives who had done these things, you would have been outraged, but because it was “Labour” that did it (and lots more besides) then you are content to turn a blind eye. You resort to tribalism with your peroration ” we can throw out these Hooray Henrys and Henriettas who want to privatise everything and drive down the living standards of everyone except the very rich a.s.a.p.”.

          Well, Blair and Brown had quite a fetish for privatisation – even inflicting the ludicrous PPP on London Underground, allowing the TVLA to opt out of the Post Office scheme, which in it’s turn was one of the reasons the Blair government oversaw the biggest closure programme of sub post offices throughout the country. Might not mean much to you, but think of all the elderly and inform people who now have to take a bus or walk miles to go to the nearest open office.

          Blair did a few good things (minimum wage, Sure Start) but he did some very bad – and dare I say it – anti-Labour things (responsible for involving us in more wars than any other peace time PM). Certainly lets not forget the minimum wage, but forget Iraq, Afghanistan, cronyism etc at your peril. 

          In the main it was the Right wing of Labour that caused more embarrassment than the left – Byers, Hoon, Milburn, Hewitt, Blunkett to name but a few, most of the big expense scandal culprits were on the right (Barbara Follett, Gerald Kaufmann, James Purnell, Liam Byrne etc etc etc).

          Can’t get over that “old school tie” jibe against Harold Wilson, Bill. Do you remember Lord Derry Irvine, with his antique lavatory and £500 a roll wallpaper, paid for by us?. As I recall Irvine was an early mentor of Tony Blair – more double standards from you, Bill.

          As for poor old Ed M – show patriotism in British manufacture by sticking a Made In England label on it, and “solving” long term unemployment by offering a six month job, cancelling meetings about NHS reform, by feigning illness to go off and enjoy himself at a football match – honest to God, I want him to succeed but I despair. He thinks small – fatal mistake

          • William

            This awful diatribe kind of proves my point.
            There are no positive ideas or suggestions offered anywhere. In fact there are no political ideas here at all. For AG  politics revolves around the errors of individuals.Politics is therefore ‘individualised’.

             So nothing is offered, individuals are personally abused and while there is a relentless and heavy critique of others no alternative is proposed. Everything the Tories do is Labour’s fault and there is no consideration or thought for those of us who are having our living standards murdered by this horrible government. 

          • AlanGiles

            Yes it is an awful government BUT – if you bothered to read what I said, I was pointing out that for people like Sue Marsh, their lives were made even more awful because “Labour” James Purnell instituted Freud before the Tories did, and Brown allowed that to happen as PM (Purnell’s predecessor Peter Hain kicked the Freud Report into the long grass.

            I am sorry that you are stupid enough to think that a Tory (Freud’s) report is perfectly OK provided it is a LABOUR minister who gets it on the statute book. If you really believe that, then you deserve the lily-livered bunch of incompetents that make up quite a proportion of the shadow cabinet.

            How can a bad policy be a good one as long as Labour propose it?

          • William

            I’ve given up reading what you say. All you do is insult people and most of what you write is absolute crap.

          • AlanGiles

            The feeling is mutual Billy. Have a good life

          • William

            This awful diatribe kind of proves my point.
            There are no positive ideas or suggestions offered anywhere. In fact there are no political ideas here at all. For AG  politics revolves around the errors of individuals.Politics is therefore ‘individualised’.

             So nothing is offered, individuals are personally abused and while there is a relentless and heavy critique of others no alternative is proposed. Everything the Tories do is Labour’s fault and there is no consideration or thought for those of us who are having our living standards murdered by this horrible government. 

  • Ianr Stewart

    Yes, yes, Twiggy has charm. What he also has is a record of vanity. From my student days I remember this man being ready to change his principles at the bat of an eyelid. I doubt this Oxbridge educated puppet has any idea what education means to the 90 percent who struggle in life. Nor does he care.

  • I’m considerably to the left of Stephen, but I have met him a number of times. I think that he is actually far more in touch than many other Labour MP’s. He is deeply involved with his local party which was moribund and is now anything but. He does take a genuine interest in the ordinary members of the party and doesn’t shy away from debate (I’ve publicly criticised his views on academies)
    I think he is well respected in Liverpool

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