Political strategist and adviser;
Born March 30, 1950 ; Died November 6, 2011
LORD Gould of Brookwood, better known as the communications guru Philip Gould, who has died aged 61 after a long battle against cancer, was one of the key architects of New Labour.
Often described as Tony Blair’s private pollster, he was instrumental in creating the modern communications revolution within the Labour Party during the 1980s and which helped form the basis of a formidable political machine that secured three General Election victories.
It was Lord Gould’s break with traditional polling and the adoption of US-style focus groups discussing core issues and involving small numbers of voters, which led to public input feeding directly into party policy.
It was these groups in the early days, which highlighted a widespread perception that while Labour was strong on social justice, it was weak on economic competence. This led to Mr Blair and others concentrating on the need to be strong on both to broaden the party’s appeal from its traditional base to Middle Britain.
In terms of media presentation, Lord Gould helped to devise the red rose emblem and established Excalibur, the party’s rapid rebuttal unit, which set the tone and content for much of the campaigning in the 1990s and beyond.
Alongside Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, the peer was a key figure in formulating New Labour’s communications strategy for the General Elections from 1987 through to 2005.
However, after the 1992 election defeat he temporarily fell out of favour and was sidelined by John Smith. He left for America, where he joined the team supporting Bill Clinton, where the presidential campaign tactics would form the basis of New Labour’s when Lord Gould returned following Mr Blair’s succession to the leadership.
However, not everyone in the party appreciated what some traditionalists regarded as an obsession with spin. Lord Prescott once declared: “All that glitters isn’t Gould” and Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown’s spin doctor, once recalled: “Whenever we received anything from Gould it went straight into the bin.”
The peer was also involved in the battle for Scottish devolution and in helping secure a Labour victory in the first Holyrood election, although his input did not always go smoothly.
During the 1990s, Lord Gould played a huge role in restoring Labour’s fortunes, which had fallen to a desperately low ebb in the previous decade. Although he was little known outside the political sphere, he was probably New Labour’s most valued and effective behind-the-scenes figure during those critical years.
In 1998, William Hague, the then Tory leader, sent a copy of Lord Gould’s book about Labour’s rebirth, The Unfinished Revolution, to every member of the Shadow Cabinet with the words, “know thine enemy”.
Born in London, Philip Gould, the son of a teacher, was a dyslexic, who failed the 11-Plus and left school at 16.
However, he returned to college to study his A levels and won a place at Sussex University, where he studied politics, and later the history of political thought at the London School of Economics, where he was to return to teach a course in politics and communication. After a career in advertising, in 1985 he founded his own polling and strategy company Philip Gould Associates.
In the same year at a dinner party, he met Lord Mandelson, a friend from his university days, and at the time Labour’s communications director, and was shortly thereafter recruited to what was called the Shadow Communications Agency, a team of volunteers, which masterminded Labour’s unsuccessful 1987 election campaign. All this helped to secure him a position of influence in the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock and then Mr Blair, both of whom relied on him more than anyone else in the sphere of political communications and strategy.
He also told Mr Brown, before he became Prime Minister, that he needed to be “a powerful, muscular modernisation politician”.
However, the master of communications sometimes came a cropper. In 1995, a memo from him was leaked, which suggested Labour was not yet ready for government, while in 2000 he was shown to be the author of a leaked memo which described New Labour as contaminated.
Lord Gould was widely regarded as a dynamic figure but in 2008 he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus, which he later partly put down to the intensity of his political life.
He underwent chemotherapy and surgery but this year he was told the cancer had returned.
Lord Gould, who became a life peer in 2004, died on Sunday night at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London with his family at his side.
He leaves his wife Gail Rebuck and two daughters, Georgia and Grace.
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