The book, which so far has only a working title ‘Nick Clegg: The Biography’, is being written by the writer and broadcaster Chris Bowers, and will be published by Biteback in time for next year’s party conference season.
“We’ve been looking to appoint a biographer of this year’s breakthrough figure in British politics,” says Biteback’s managing director Iain Dale, “and in Chris Bowers we believe we’ve found an experienced biography writer in the perfect position to give the background on who Nick Clegg is and what drives him.”
The book will chart Clegg’s rise from MEP to deputy Prime Minister and lynchpin in the historic coalition government. It will also look at the extraordinary family history that helps define him as a politician.
Bowers, 49, is a journalist and commentator, and author of the recent best-selling biography of the tennis ace Roger Federer.
He also works as a communications consultant for the European Federation for Transport & Environment and is a Lib Dem district councillor in East Sussex, he worked loosely with Clegg on revising the Lib Dems’ environment policy in the run-up to the last Lib Dem leadership election.
Three Days Closer to a New Politics?
The 11.00 am from Euston to Manchester is heaving with politicos and hacks: a nod here, a hug there. The trip starts well with the man opposite leaning over to say that he had read Talking to a Brick Wall over the summer and really enjoyed it. Feel very chuffed.
At the Conference Centre there are already long queues stretching around the exhibition stands (fewer corporates and more campaigning groups reflect the harsh commercial realities of opposition).
I settle with tea and a sandwich in a café, and watch as all five candidates and their entourages sweep by. Broad smiles all round. They won’t all be smiling by the end of the afternoon.
It’s twenty five years since my first Labour Party Conference and I think they’ve been playing the same tape of eighties ‘inspirational’ music in the hall ever since. The atmosphere is tense.
When David Miliband’s final vote tally is announced it is clear that Ed has won, but there are no celebratory whoops, rather a stunned silence from both brothers’ camps.
Much later, as I head off to bed, David’s campaign team are settling into a corner of the bar of the Midland Hotel for a long night of commiserations, while the Ed team, equally exhausted, are already working on first drafts of the big speech.<!--more-->
Up early to Harriet Harman’s Women’s Summit. A room big enough to hold 150 had been booked back in the summer, but the delegates just kept on coming. On the day, the meeting was in the Town Hall, with 800 women registered – still so over subscribed that nearly that many again were turned away. Harriet, after her successful stint as acting leader, is the hero of the day.
Harriet has asked me for a polling presentation. I talk about the importance of the women’s vote. I update on voters’ views of the coalition government: it’s been a much shorter Honeymoon than Labour’s in 1997. Recruiting focus groups by September of that year, I simply couldn’t find anyone who would admit to voting Conservative.
Dozens of women activists queue patiently to speak. Then Oona King and Diane Abbott talk about their experiences as candidates. Diane is visibly moved by the warmth of Harriet’s introduction. She talks about entering politics in her parents’ memory. Then Harriet makes a shock announcement: ‘There’s a man in the room!’ We all leap to our feet as Ed Miliband walks through. It is, as he says, a rock star’s welcome.
Off next to be a Dragon at the Fabian Society’s Dragons’ Den (typecasting?). Fellow Dragons are David Lammy MP and journalist David Aaronovitch. Policy pitchers include blogger Will Straw (a land tax), new MP, Stella Creasy (Labour Party gap year from meetings) and Sadiq Khan, Ed’s Campaign Manager (review of detention without trial). The debate is lively.
Later that evening I opt for liver preservation, shun the various receptions and leave the Conference Centre early for dinner with my parents who live just outside Manchester.
Just as well I got a nice early night as I’m up at 5.30 to be on the Today Programme: what does Ed Miliband need to do? I identify the economy as the biggest issue for swing voters, especially those in the ‘squeezed middle’ that Ed has set his sights on. Labour’s reputation for economic competence was hard won and, right now, is shot to pieces. The Government’s consistent attack on Labour’s record has worked. Winning back voter confidence must be top of Ed’s ‘to-do list’.
The mood at Conference has changed. Most people have stopped picking over what happened on Saturday and started anticipating what Ed will say tomorrow. The consensus is that he needs to flag up a fresh start and a clean break with the past. Also that he must rap the Unions on the knuckles pretty firmly.
I bump into Ed walking back to the hotel and make a couple of suggestions to him. He thanks me “That’s great, really helpful - I don’t want to find myself Talking to a Brick Wall…”
A flurry of media activity, doing interviews for BBC and ITV news as well as the Daily Politics Show with the Times’ Phil Collins and blogger John McTernan. I say Ed Miliband is a blank piece of paper in the voters’ minds and that, shown photos of both Milibands, recent focus groups got them muddled up. He needs to use the speech to get people looking at Labour again and to start to define himself before others do.
The first Ed era poll gives Labour a lead for the first time in three years. 1% is statistically insignificant but psychologically highly significant. Delegates have more of a a spring in their step.
In twenty five years I have never seen such a long queue to get into the Leader’s speech. Is this a good sign for Ed? Or just chaotic organization? Either way I go for lunch first and thus fail to make it into the main hall. The atmosphere in the overflow hall is a bit flat at first, but Ed wins them over with some home truths about New Labour’s lost ability to challenge conventional truth, some stern admonishments to the Trade Union brotherhood and cheerleading for a higher banking levy (which won the largest cheer).
Best attack line painted Cameron, once a sunny optimist, as a "miserable pessimist".
The call for New Politics is close to my heart and Ed made a powerful case. “I’m in politics and I find it depressing” He pledged to support AV and House of Lords reform.
He also refuses to be "imprisoned by focus groups and polling". This is, of course, the right sentiment. Focus groups and polling should be an aid to decision making, not a substitute for it.
But Ed must not forget that focus groups are a unique and invaluable tool for connecting with voters. They help prevent politicians becoming imprisoned by vested interests like unions and big business.They give politicians a frank heads up on what people really think rather than a point of view expressed in meetings and surgeries, filtered and edited because a politician is in the room. They enable politicians to explore policy options and language nuance from the public’s perspective. Ed knows this better than most. In the early days of working for Gordon Brown he sat through dozens of them with me.
It’s a delicious irony that the "imprisoned by focus groups" line will have been very well received in focus groups.
I resolve to send Ed a copy of Talking to a Brick Wall when I get back to London in case he ever supposes that he might be able to stay in touch with voters without them.
Stay in touch and buy a copy of Deborah's excellent book Talking to A Brick Wall: How New Labour Stopped Talking to the Voter and Why We Need a New Politics now.
Journalist, and author of Why Vote? A guide for those who can't be bothered and Why Join a Trade Union? has been at Conference this week and here he offers his closing thoughts on the weeks events.
Thirty years of attending Labour conferences and this one has been as weird as they come. For much of the time, I couldn’t work out what it was all about.
The feeling in Manchester this week.was not of a political gathering but of a trade fair with nothing to sell so the people at it were wandering around bemused but still determined to have a good time.
There is genuine uncertainty and division of opinion about Ed Miliband, though I am a big fan and thought his speech was good in the circumstances (little time to prepare and he clearly needs media training).
Considering the Greek tragedy of David having the crown snatched from his lips (ahem!) by his younger brother, the reaction has been quite muted. It will pretty well pass by the time delegates leave Manchester and the media turns its attention to the Tories in Birmingham next week.
When you think that this is the first conference since Labour lost the election – a recipe in the past for intense bloodletting and open warfare – and saw the very narrow election of a surprising choice for leader, it has gone better than could be expected.
Ed Miliband’s most important task in the weeks ahead is to keep his party together and aiming its fire on the coalition rather than at its own ranks. He has made a reasonable start.
David's books Why Vote? and Why Join a Trade Union? are available to purchase here and here, each priced £6.99
...As does his new book Labour's Revival available now for £12.99
Newsnight last night saw Jeremy Paxman vetting Sadiq Khan in the aftermath of Ed Miliband's first speech as Labour leader, an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and, in Paxo's own words, we witnessed Michael Crick sent out around Conference to "annoy people".
Paul Richards didn't appear annoyed though and was all too happy to answer Michael Crick's questions and voice his opinions on the speech: "It was either brilliant or stupid, and we'll only know that in subsequent months."
Paul Richards has been at the heart of the Labour Party for 20 years, he's uniquely placed to shed light on the current issues facing the Labour Party. So if you're contemplating Labour's future why not just let Paul do it for you? Buy your copy of the moderniser's manfiesto here.
Rachel Sylvester hits the nail on the head in her review of Labour's Revival "the new Labour leader should read this book". She's not wrong I tell you!
And don't worry. Ed's already got his copy. So has David actually, but let's not get into that.
Biteback author, Francis Beckett is in Manchester this week for the Labour Conference, here's his take on the Miliband saga:
Stalin used to talk about socialism in one country, but Labour today seems to have opted for socialism in one family. Ed Milliband’s views are marginally to the left of his brother’s, but that’s not why they chose him. He may, as Neil Kinnock seems to be saying, have a more common touch than his brother, but that’s not it either. He is leader because he was not an MP when we went to war in Iraq.
The rejection of his brother is, quite simply, a way of putting two fingers up to Tony Blair. It’s a way of saying: we may have followed Blair for a decade and a half, but we hated his guts. Ed never had to make the career-destroying decision about whether to vote for war in Iraq or not. David voted for it; that’s why he’s not leader today. Harriet Harman voted for it; that’s why she’s so tainted by the Blair years that she sensibly decided not to run.
Robin Cook voted against it, which is why the most promising political career in the Blair generation petered out. John Denham voted against it, which is why he had to spend all those years in the wilderness – otherwise he’d have been in line for a pop at the leadership by now.
No one who voted for it would be acceptable. Anyone who voted against it had his career halted in its tracks by Blair. Ed can get the best of both worlds. He wasn’t there, and can claim he would have voted against it if he had been. So he’s got a chance – a slim one – of putting the grubby superficiality of the Blair years behind the Party. He’ll have to be an exceptional person to do it. I hope he is. We’ll find out.
Visit Francis Beckett's own website here. Or if you're keen to read more by Francis Beckett you can by a copy of his latest book, What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us? for £12.99 here.