Even when he entered what he called ‘the death zone’, Philip Gould brought hope and happiness to others – not accidentally, but deliberately, as one of his final, and selfless, acts of strategy. He was constantly asking himself not just how to make things easier for his wife Gail, and their daughters Georgia and Grace, but how in talking about his death he might help others, and what he might write and say now that could help the Labour Party in the future.
He was a team player, and his team was Labour. ‘Pollster’ doesn’t really say the half of it. He was an integral member of the inner team that worked to get Labour back into power, and stay there for more than the usual single Parliament breathing space for the Tories. His focus groups, far from being an exercise in PR, were a way of making sure that the kind of people he felt Labour forgot in the wilderness years had a direct voice to the top of politics. He was not a speechwriter but he was the most brilliant analyst of speech drafts. His notes on them always improved the final product. He was also great in a crisis, and always able to lift people and campaigns when they were low. He was that rare thing in politics – someone who was strategic, tactical and empathetic all in one. He was a rock.
But it is not Philip Gould the strategist, nor Philip Gould the gutsy fighter against cancer that I mourn today, but Philip Gould the friend who made our lives better, and Philip Gould the positive life force who brought hope and energy to all he did.
There are many ways to judge people you know. Two important ones for me are how they relate to my children, and what their own children are like. Georgia and Grace are wonderful young women who are a tribute to a mother and father who always led busy lives, but who were always utterly devoted to their daughters. As for Philip’s relationship with my own children, they loved him for the fun, the joy, the support and the friendship he brought into our lives.
TB could never understand how Philip and I could spend so much time working together, then go on holiday together as well. Partly of course it was a way of carrying on working. We shared workaholic tendencies and we shared an obsession with doing all we could to help Labour win and, once we had won the first time, win again. Some of our best strategies, ideas, lines and slogans came from long holiday chats occasionally interrupted by Gail and Fiona asking if ‘you two’ ever had a conversation that didn’t mention TB-GB. (answer not many, even to the end).
But more than that he was just enormous fun to be with. Though all too often he created mayhem by losing passports or wallets or jackets (just as occasionally he would lose our entire election plans on a train coming back from one of his focus groups) he was the organiser, the originator of trips and tournaments, madcap events that turned inevitably into holiday highlights.
And when times were tough, there was no better friend. Always loyal, but understanding that loyalty required honesty and frankness, and ideas about how to make things better.
Fiona and I saw him for the last time yesterday morning, and we knew we were saying goodbye. It was painful of course, but there was a magnificence to it all too. He had fought the cancer harder than anyone could. But he was reconciled, and he had helped Gail and the girls, and all his friends, to this point too. He always needed a campaign, and the illness became the campaign. We called the cancer Adolf, perhaps the ultimate enemy. Yes, I said, this means you are Churchill. He liked that. We had slogans for the fight. He had a grid of his chemo visits, when to take his pills. Early on in the illness, he told me he had had a petscan. What is a petscan? I asked. ‘It’s like the exit poll,’ he said. ‘And how is it looking?’ ‘Ok, but all within the margin of error’.
For once, he has lost a campaign. But he had a lot of wins along the way. He has viirtually written two books while ill, one on his cancer, which he was working on to the last hours of consciousness, and the other a wonderfully defiant update of his Unfinished Revolution, with the basic message that New Labour changed Britain and British politics for the better. We did, in no small measure thanks to Philip Gould