Right about the issues; wrong about strategy – Labour peer gives Politics Society his ‘take’ on Jeremy Corbyn

The influential Labour peer and entrepreneur, Lord Alli, was the latest guest speaker at QE’s thriving Politics Society.

He told the boys about his rise to wealth and fame from humble beginnings and his role in the Labour Party in years past, but also gave his assessment of Labour’s position today. And while Jeremy Corbyn’s analysis of the problems facing British society, including inequality and the pitfalls of globalisation, was correct, his strategy for tackling them was not: it made Labour unelectable, Lord Alli said. Yet the answer was not simply a question of turning back the clock: he ruled out a return to New Labour centrism.

The visit by Baron Alli of Norbury was arranged by Adrian Burbie and the meeting was chaired by Adrian’s successor as president of the Politics Society, Rehaan Bapoo.

""Rehaan reported that Lord Alli’s account of his early years in South London revealed that he and his family were extremely poor and could, for example, ill afford ‘luxuries’, such as suits for job interviews. To this day, he is unable to open brown envelopes, because of the trauma that bills once brought to the household.

Both his parents are from the Carribean. His mother, a nurse, is from Trinidad, while his estranged father, a mechanic, is from Guyana (formerly British Guiana).

He began his life in business as a junior researcher in a finance magazine, where he compiled monthly business reports – a skill for which he quickly gained a strong reputation. He became an investment banker in the City, where he thrived and first became wealthy.

""Lord Alli then set up 24 Hour Productions in the late 1980s with Charlie Parsons, his life and business partner. In 1992, the company merged with Bob Geldof’s Planet Pictures to form Planet 24, one of the largest TV production companies in the UK.

In 2001, with Elisabeth Murdoch he co-founded Shine Media, a media production company, and retains part-ownership.

He is a former chairman of ASOS.com, a brand he helped to set up that is now worth £5.8 billion. He sold half his stake in ASOS in order to set up Silvergate Media, in August 2011.

""Now a multi-millionaire, he told the boys that he believed the rich (including himself) should pay much higher levels of tax.

Lord Alli joined the Labour Party in the mid-1990s, believing that not enough young people were in politics, and feeling that he wanted to make a change and have his voice heard.

Following the sudden death of Labour leader John Smith in 1994, it was he who wrote to Tony Blair, persuading him to stand as Leader of the Labour Party and offering his services to Blair’s leadership election campaign. Blair accepted.

""He was a member of Tony Blair’s ‘kitchen Cabinet’ and, Lord Alli told the boys, Blair requested his help on numerous occasions: the PM wanted to reach out to younger members of the public and to increase their interest in politics.

In 1998, he was appointed to the House of Lords, becoming the youngest-ever member at only 34 years of age, as well as the first openly gay member. It was during a heated exchange with Conservative opponents, led by Baroness Young, that he revealed that he was gay. In April 1999, he said in a speech to the House: "I have never been confused about my sexuality. I have been confused about the way I am treated as a result of it. The only confusion lies in the prejudice shown, some of it tonight. and much of it enshrined in the law.”

""He was instrumental in the ultimately successful campaigns to: repeal Section 28 – a part of the Local Government Act which which prohibited local authorities from promoting homosexuality; to reduce the age for consent for homosexuals from 18 to 16, and, in 2009, to repeal various clauses in the 2004 Civil Partnerships Act which prevented religious institutions from having Civil Partnerships registered on their land.

Lord Alli took the introduction of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 under David Cameron’s Tory premiership to be “a sign of his lasting legacy” and an indication that true progress had been made.