A Strategy for Success: My Masterclass with Deborah Mattinson

Matthew studies MSc Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science after completing a BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the same institution in 2023. Growing up in a small village on the Wirral, Matthew strongly champions the involvement of marginalised communities in all aspects of the political process, drawing on his working-class roots. He possesses a particular interest in the use of economic tools to reduce structural inequality.

As I ran down the stairs to catch the bus to Norton Rose Fullbright, location of our first Patchwork Masterclass, Labour Party leaflets poked through the letterbox, invitingly placed to be snatched and analysed by a political nerd like myself. Scrolling through social media during the journey, Labour Party posts, from interviews to memes, were omnipresent on my timeline, all in anticipation of the following day’s Budget announcement. I overheard the conversations of office workers as I attempted to navigate the labyrinth of London Bridge Station – just what did the recent by-election results mean for Labour and their General Election strategy? 

Despite her influence being so visible within our daily lives, placing 5th on Politico’s Power 40: London class of 2023, ranking the most influential agenda-setting individuals in British politics, I think it is fair to say Deborah Mattinson was a name few in our Patchwork cohort of politically motivated individuals were familiar with before our Masterclass. Ms. Mattinson is currently the Director of Strategy for Sir Keir Starmer and, since joining Labour in 1983, has maintained a growing and significant influence on the Party’s policy and strategy, most notably acting as pollster and advisor to Gordon Brown during his time as Chancellor, and later, Prime Minister. She also founded research and strategy consultancy, BritainThinks. 

As a member of the Labour Party myself, before even researching Ms. Mattinson, I was greatly looking forward to hearing from someone at the top of the Party apparatus. I have often felt an almost insurmountable division between the small village on The Wirral I grew up in and the political realm, with little representation at the pinnacle from individuals in working-class communities like my own. Just how to enter and optimally make a difference in politics had proved a daunting question to answer, so who better to open the Masterclass programme than a successful figure right at the top of Labour, a position I aspire to emulate.

A focal point of Ms. Mattinson’s remarks were top tips for a career in politics. When thinking about my future career, I have found it is easy to possess too narrow of a focus – ‘to get into politics’ is such a simple and obvious answer, yet lacking any substantiation. The path to success and contributing meaningfully was foggy, and two key bits of advice Ms. Mattinson stated resonated significantly with me.

The first of which is to have a craft skill. A craft skill is something that can never be taken away from us, that does not simply come from connections and background, but through grafting and hard-work, the necessity of which Ms. Mattinson was also keen to stress. For Ms. Mattinson personally, this was a close connection to the public, and most importantly, the voter. Her work in advertising formed the foundations of a polling and political career where her knowledge of how to connect and talk to the population’s needs, both privately to the general public, advertising the latest products or deals, and politically to the electorate. 

‘To get into politics’ is a valid aspiration, but it is so necessary that our career planning does not end there. As young people and Patchworkers, we must fill in a gap – I can bring __________ to politics. For myself, that is my Economics degree, a field so intertwined with the political field. And as mentioned, for Ms. Mattinson, a dialogue with the public. So many may have a general interest, but ensure you have something that makes you an invaluable figure in the room.

Second is the necessity to think about the voters themselves in politics, something more obviously said than practically done. A common theme of motivation for my fellow Patchworkers and I is the desire to advocate for the communities that we come from, communities that may be underrepresented in government. Listening to Ms. Mattinson, it is crucial that we do not become detached from that as we embark on our careers. It ensures the substantive representation in politics we seek to bring, simultaneously resulting in success – a party running on a platform that speaks to the majority of voters’ preferences will win. As we progress through our careers, and for politicians globally, it can often be easy to both rest on your laurels and assume you know the voters’ needs and wants. Listening to the voter is at the heart of Ms. Mattinson’s career as an expert in mediums such as focus groups, polls, and surveys, the backbone and driver of her role as Director of Strategy. Listening to the voter and keeping them in the back of our mind is something that should never leave us if we want to succeed. 

Overall, our first Masterclass with Ms. Mattinson will be one long remembered by my fellow Patchworkers and I. Discussing the session after the Masterclass, it was clear that no matter our political persuasion or opinions, Ms. Mattinson’s expert advice was universally deemed invaluable as we seek to optimally launch our political careers and succeed long-term. Certainly, her “10 Top Tips” will be a crucial point of reference for the years to come!