Philip Gould: 1950–2011

Tributes have poured in to Philip Gould, one of the architects of New Labour, one of the great modernisers of British politics, who has died from cancer, aged just 61.

Philip Gould, one of the architects of New Labour, one of the great modernisers of late 20th century politics, has died from cancer, aged just 61. He passed away last night at the Royal Marsden, his wife Gail and daughters Georgia and Grace by his side.

Throughout this morning, tributes have poured in from across the Labour family; here are the most poignant:

Tony Blair:

“Philip was such a huge part of the renaissance of the Labour Party. I feel very proud and privileged to have known him. To me he was my guide and mentor, a wise head, a brilliant mind, and a total rock when a storm was raging.

“He became indispensable. He was always a constant advocate for the British people, their hopes and anxieties. So his political contribution was immense. I feel very proud and privileged to have known him and to have been his friend…

“But then as his illness gripped him, he became something more. In facing death, he grew emotionally and spiritually into this remarkable witness to life’s meaning and purpose.”

David Miliband:

“I am really gutted that we have lost Philip Gould to cancer at such a young age. He was a great personal friend and support, across a generational divide, first for me, then for Louise and I, then for the two of us and the boys.

“I will miss his humanity and passion for finding and doing the right thing – and his ceaseless determination to elect Labour governments, because he never forgot that one day of Labour in government was worth a 1,000 in Opposition. He is a huge loss – above all to his inspirational, amazing immediate family, but also to the rest of us who knew and loved him…

“Philip was also tremendously brave in a personal way. It may sound corny, but frankly it was brave not to say mad to stake your reputation in 1985 on a political consultancy with the Labour Party as a key client. He was not a cab for hire; he was someone deeply committed to a view of the good society, and so the rejuvenation of the Labour Party was the only place for him to be.

“His courage was most evident in his battle with cancer, described in extraordinary detail in a series for The Times earlier this year. He wanted to know everything, and explain everything, and even when the medical prognosis was hopeless do everything to infuse love and meaning to his last months.”

Ed Miliband:

“Philip Gould was an exceptional man and his death is an exceptional loss. He was Labour to his core, and today, as the Labour Party, we mourn for one of our own. He was rightly known as a pathbreaking political strategist. His friends will also remember an extraordinary human being…

“In an age when people are cynical about politics, he was someone who was in it for the best of reasons: because of his deep rooted concern for the people of Britain and his wish to make Labour their voice. I know from our conversations over the last year he would have made a big contribution to Labour in the years ahead because he had an extraordinary ability to understand changing times and how politics could and should respond to that call.

“He taught those fortunate enough to know him much about how to live, and in the years of his illness, much about how to die. His memory will live on in his wonderful family and all those who had the privilege to call him their friend.”

Alastair Campbell:

“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…

“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.”

There are many, many more tributes on Twitter, but let us leave the final word to the great man himself, and his heartbreaking interview with the Guardian in September, when he knew his cancer was terminal, with just weeks to live:

In a way, he says, it’s a privilege to be in his position – to have a deadline, to be given a chance to sort everything. “I do really feel I know where I am now.” Don’t get me wrong, he says – he has loved his life, wishes he could have enjoyed pottering about in old age, hates the chemotherapy, but it’s not all negative.

He’s writing a book about his cancer – the initial diagnosis, its recurrence, and now he’s in the final stage. “Death is not discussed very much, but I will write about this. I’ll finish the book.”

Is he scared of dying? He shakes his head. “From the moment I resolved and reconciled things with Gail the fear went. I don’t feel I’ve got any fear now. I think acceptance is the key. If you accept death, fear disappears.”

Of all his political friends, he says, Tony Blair has proved the greatest revelation. They had worked together for 13 years and had been close, but only in a professional way until his illness. “Obviously he’s religious and we communicated on this spiritual level that changed our relationship completely, and made it very special. He contacts me on an almost daily basis, and texts me continually.”

When the cancer returned for the second time, Blair told him that it hadn’t finished with him, and now was the time for Gould to discover his purpose in life. And that is what he has been doing ever since: reckoning. And yes he has loved the politics, but he says it’s time to let that go.

In the end that has not been his chief purpose. So what has been? “The purpose now is just to live this life of imminent or emerging death in a way that gives most love to the people that matter to me, and I suppose prepares me for death.”

As I leave, he says this might well be his final interview. Does that bother him? “No, it doesn’t worry me at all. It feels fine.” He smiles again. “On to the next thing.”


See also:

Life is already hard for cancer patients. Don’t make it harderAlex Hern, October 25th 2011

Steve Jobs: He did it his wayAlex Hern, October 6th 2011

Miliband: “Our ambition is to be more than a party; Labour must be a cause”Shamik Das, June 25th 2011

David Cairns: 1966-2011May 10th 2011

Michael Foot: 1913-2010Shamik Das, March 3rd 2010

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