Author …

Ideas for Britain

Hugh stood as independent parliamentary candidate in the 2010 General Election, a successful contribution to a campaign in Battersea for the decommissioned Bolingbroke Hospital to be converted into a new secondary school. His blogs on the story campaign are included in his book ‘Ideas for Britain’.
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“Hugh Salmon’s observations are often thought-provoking – and frequently provoke much nodding from me.” (The Bookseller)

For the duration of the next parliament, Hugh blogged on Huffington Post and a marketing website then called BrandRepublic.com. This book is compilation of some of these blog posts.

Hugh’s overarching thesis is that the most innovative and effective solutions to the issues facing society today are more likely to come from the consumer-based analysis and strategic thinking skills of UK’s internationally renowned creative industries than career politicians.

The wrong people are in the wrong job.

Why did I do it? (17 May 2010) 

I had never been involved in politics, certainly not party politics but, in July 2007, I was asked by a friend, who headed up one of the public sector reviews in Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice, to cast my professional eye over the report his team had produced.

We met in a pub, as you do, and I gave him my views. Then he asked me what I thought of the Conservative Party’s image and communications. I duly rubbished the ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ campaign from the 2005 election and agreed to prepare a document demonstrating how I felt the Tories could, alongside my agency, develop and more effectively communicate innovative solutions to help mend the ‘broken society’ the Centre for Social Justice had identified.

Although this initial work would be pro bono, I was hoping it might lead to a professional appointment (even though I was not a member of the Conservative Party, had not always voted for the Party or even been to a Party party).

I prepared a document in which I argued the case for a more innovative and creative approach to the Role of Government in today’s free market economy including:

i) a mission to ‘ruthlessly examine every aspect of society and define the part Government has to play’

ii) to ‘reassure the electorate that the Conservatives care about each and every UK citizen, including the poor, unhealthy and needy, and have thought through the way ‘The State’ can help every single one of them’.

Steve Hilton, the Conservative’s director of strategy, agreed to a meeting. 

Unfortunately, the date offered conflicted with a photographic shoot in The Bahamas I was due to attend for a paying client. Well, however tough the assignment, you have to put your existing clients first don’t you?

In the event, I never got to meet Steve Hilton. He went cold on me. But I sent him my presentation. I have no idea what happened to it – but some of my thinking is surprisingly similar to the Big Society initiative which the Tories have since rather clumsily announced.

Anyway, I enjoyed The Bahamas, as you do, and got on with my life.

Then, early last year (2009), another friend asked if I could help advise a friend of his who was planning to stand as an Independent Candidate in the forthcoming Euro elections.  I met and liked the guy. And we went to the launch of The Jury Team, led by the impressive Sir Paul Judge, which was aiming to challenge the Party political system by promoting the value of Independent MPs.

Martin Bell, the former Independent MP, was there. So was Dr Richard Taylor, a standing Independent MP. But I was most impressed by a certain Major General Ramsbotham, one of nearly two hundred ‘crossbenchers’ in the House of Lords. He said that, on debating every issue, an expert on one side of the House would make his or her case, an expert on the other side of the House would argue an alternative point of view and the crossbenchers would vote for the side which they felt had the most merit.

Yet in the House of Commons, you could argue until you were blue, yellow or red in the face and still the ‘career MPs’ would be whipped sheepily into the their party lobby. This was their job. If they did not do this, they would not have been recruited by their Party Head Office in the first place – and they certainly had no chance of promotion. No debate about it, a majority Government could get what it wanted.

I was persuaded that this situation was daft. The old party political system was as ‘broken’ as the rest of society. Perhaps, even, one led to the other.

So I got sucked into this burgeoning case for Independent MPs. Alongside 46 other candidates, I was ‘endorsed’ by the Independent Network. I passed their tests to show I am a true and proper citizen and I agreed to abide by the Martin Bell Principles of honesty, integrity and trust.

I attended a prospective candidate workshop in Birmingham (Esther Rantzen was there!) and a debate in the Houses of Parliament (where I had never been before). It was all very interesting.

I wrote another paper on the barriers to entry for potential Independent candidates, both emotional – ‘will I be seen as the local Screaming Lord Sutch?’ – and rational – ‘where do I start, how much does it cost, are there any forms to fill in?’ (oh, yes there are!).

I also developed my ‘Role of Government’ ideas and, on a national level, felt that:

i) I have ideas to help bring UK society closer together

ii) we aren’t being very intelligent about how we counter terrorism

iii) there is a role that the media, especially new media, could play in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have blogged on this before: Man’s inhumanity to man 

Appreciating these issues are a bit soft, I had more concrete local policies.

I am very angry about the lack of secondary schools in Battersea – and the consequent behavioural differences of our eleven year old children.

I had the idea that a recently-closed local hospital overlooking the green pastures of Wandsworth Common should be re-built into a vibrant new school. 

I also argued the case for changing the name of Clapham Junction to Battersea Junction. I’ve blogged on this before too: Clapham Junction is not in Clapham!

Thus I found myself standing as an Independent Candidate for Battersea. 

This was not one of the target seats that Martin Bell had identified, but I have lived here for twenty years, worked here for over ten and think MPs should come from the area they know and not be parachuted in by the Central Offices of the established parties.  

On 5 July 2009, I had watched John Major say on the Andrew Marr Show: 

“We have a problem with people becoming advisors to Ministers, learning the jargon, getting selected for seats and into Parliament without touching real life on the way.“

Well, I feel I have touched ‘real life’ so I decided that the time had come for me to stand up and be counted.

I did not know then what we all know now – that the TV leader debates (Gordon Brown and David Cameron’s biggest mistakes and Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem’s biggest opportunity), would dominate the election, blow all the Independents out of the water and result in the end (hopefully) of the old tribal party politics we were standing against in the first place!

Before all this, I had developed a marketing strategy for my Independent candidacy in Battersea. Watch this space. My next posts will be headed ‘what was it like?’ and ‘was it worth it?’. I’ll get them done asap but sorry, for now, I need to get back to the real world.

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