Dan Hodges

Political commentator and Labour Party deserter Dan Hodges is fresh from writing his latest Telegraph column, describing Ed Miliband's beefed-up communications team as the equivalent of a Navy Seals hit squad, when we meet over a drink in a Commons bar.

Unlike much of his blogging and writing for the traditionally Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph, there was little of his regular criticism of Ed Miliband or the Labour Party which he finally and very publicly quit last month in disgust over its stance on the Syria vote.

But inevitably, within seconds of us settling into our seats, a member of this new "elite" Attack and Rapid Rebuttal unit swings into view. Un oh, trouble - this should be fun.

But not at all. It's all banter and mild mickey taking. Not a stun grenade or stiletto blade in sight.

"No, I haven't had any razor blades in the post from anyone yet," says Hodges. "On a personal level, people are still very polite, although I have had a robust response to some of the things I have written.

"It would be foolish to imagine you can write things which are perceived to be damaging to the current Lab leadership and the direction it's taking and expect everybody to greet you with open arms and say 'glad to see you comrade'."

This is a genuine surprise. Labour tribalists are not known for their forgiveness towards former activists-turned-critics - "traitors and turncoats" (labels Hodges refuses to accept) as they usually prefer to call them. But, if there are any plans for the "Seals" to take him out, there is no sign of it here.

My hack brain, I must confess, is slightly disappointed not to have some conflict, the lifeblood of political journalism. My human brain is happy we've avoided an awkward scene.

Voting Labour

It is one of the many forms of journalistic schizophrenia that hacks often need to reconcile and something Hodges is rapidly coming to terms with - the conflict between his tribal Labour loyalties (he was a party activist and official most of his adult life) and his job writing about the current weaknesses and mistakes at the top of "his" party, most of which he lays at Miliband's door.

"The interesting time will be on the eve of polling day, when my journalistic brain will have to do an assessment of Ed Miliband's credibility and Labour's credibility, and the tribal bit of my brain which will have to make the case for why I am voting Labour.

"I can't duck that. I might start writing it now to see if I can convince myself," he says.

So, in case there remains any doubt, Hodges is still a Labour supporter who will vote Labour at the next election and doesn't want David Cameron to win, even though he remains convinced Miliband cannot win outright. And he will explain his position in the days before the poll. Should be interesting.

For the past 20 years or more, Hodges, 44, worked as a parliamentary researcher to his mother - Labour MP and former actor Glenda Jackson - and a Labour Party and GMB union official. He has always been on the Blairite wing of the party and supported David Miliband for the leadership contest in 2010, although he wanted reformer Jon Cruddas to stand.

"We had had the Blair-Brown psychodramas and I thought as a party we needed to go in a fresh direction and have a proper debate and discussion about what direction it should take and I thought he was someone who could stimulate that but, sadly, it wasn't to be".

His transition to commentator probably started the day Ed beat David to his, and just about everyone else's surprise. First it was through his blog and the left-wing New Statesman but, as his criticisms of the Party became louder, he fell out with the magazine. The Daily Telegraph was first on the phone offering him a column.

"I have stumbled more by accident and chance into writing and I think you have got to make a decision. If you want to write, particularly if you want to do commentary, you have to be honest about what you actually think rather than advance arguments that position the world in a place you might want to see it."

So he doesn't see himself as an activist, a provocateur or even an unwitting tool for the right. Nor has he switched allegiances to any other party. He firmly remains part of the wider Labour tribe, even though he accepts that now sits uncomfortably with his new role.

Dan Hodges
Hodges is Daily Telegraph commentator (Reuters)

Stimulate debate

"Look, we live in an age where there are activist commentators, but I am interested in taking a look at how politics is panning out and, from my experience working in politics, giving my viewpoint on how the various aspects are going to develop, rather than banging the drum for any particular campaign or agenda."

Although it is pretty clear he would like to see Labour abandoning it's march to the left under Ed Miliband.

"The biggest problem throughout the leadership campaign was that it was quite clear Ed was tacking to the left in order to defeat his brother. I thought he would have great difficulties, once he won, getting the LP back to the centre where it needs to be to win a general election. Not in a million years did I think he would just carry on moving. "

He was previously worried that Miliband's perceived geekiness was a bar to him making headway with the public. But, he says, that is something that can be, and to a degree has been managed.

But isn't he concerned he is damaging his party and could be portrayed as helping the Tories?

"I can construct a case that I am trying to stimulate debate that, in the long term, would be beneficial to the Labour Party.

"But I am not under any illusions that what I am writing at the moment is helping Ed Miliband get elected. But that is just part of the reality of what you have to deal with if you step across the line.(from activist to commentator). I am not going to sit here and be hypocritical and say I am being a candid friend. I know a lot of what I write is not being helpful towards Labour or Ed Miliband, but it's what I think so it's the only thing I can write".

But it is not just the Milibandites that Hodges must face over his views. There is the matter of his mother, well-know left-wing MP for Hampstead and Highgate Glenda Jackson, 77, now living in Hodge's family home in the "granny flat".

Clearly the two disagree - on quite a lot. But, as is usually the case with families, an accommodation has to be reached and, as is also often the case, it is the well-worn "we've agreed to disagree" solution.

Jackson does, says Hodge, also provide that other essential check that often comes from your loved ones - ensuring you never get above yourself.

Glenda Jackson
Glenda Jackson launches attack on Margaret Thatcher in tribute debate

When former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher died and there was a Commons commemoration to her, Hodges wrote a blog urging all Labour MPs to resist the temptation to put the boot in.

"I said Labour MPs must show absolute respect and must not criticise Thatcher's legacy because if they did they would be saying more about themselves than they said about her.

"Shortly afterwards I gazed out of the window and noticed mum's car wasn't there. I thought she had probably gone to the shops. Gradually, when she didn't return after a while, it started to dawn...she must have gone to the House, the only thing going on in the House was the tributes to Thatcher, the only reason mum would have gone in was if she was intending to speak. And I knew exactly what she was likely to say. (She did indeed speak and did say precisely what she thought about Thatcher and her legacy).

"When she eventually returned home I said: 'You didn't read my blog, did you?'

"What blog?", she said.

Needless to say, the Labour Seals won't be following that example, although it is unlikely to be good for their collective blood pressure.