What can Labour do to win votes
I’ve been following recent media coverage of the UK election in terms of messaging and communications. Just a few random thoughts on messaging and strategy in relation to the Labour Party.
- Theresa May is not deviating from the core messaging lines which are that she alone can only provide “strong and stable leadership” and if elected May will “crush the Saboteurs”. Theresa May started this election campaign on the basic message on how Brexit was under threat because of these “saboteurs” which include the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and unelected Lords, somehow her own Tory right Brexiteers were missing (something I’ll come back to later on). It is somewhat less surprising however the media commentators, politicians, journalists and election analysts initially on May calling for an election had failed to mention that possibly due to a future of a a stagnated economic downturn ahead of any Brexit talks, and how Theresa May since becoming PM has not managed to set any major domestic policies such as introduction of grammar schools and an increase of national insurance contributions. Similarly, it is quite clear May isn’t comfortable running a government committed to manifesto pledges created by David Cameron and George Osborne. May and the Conservatives are using the advantage favourable opinion polls to deflect the messages of a“strong and stable” government, so hopefully she can win a sizable majority so she will not be under the fear of her train wrecking disgruntled faction of the Tory party, who currently are holding the cards. Hence, why in order to create an image of “strong and stable government” May can take the fight to her own as well as the opposition. Nevertheless, Sir Lynton Crosby — the “Lizard of Oz”, hired this time by Theresa May — has successfully managed to hit home the message that the central Tory theme will be a “strong and stable” government rather than a “coalition of chaos,” as a means to attack Jeremy Corbyn and Labour in order to win the election so she can have some kind of control over her own opposition within her party.
- If one looks at the media strategy of Theresa May and the Conservatives during the course of the election, the Prime Minister will be central and only act on stage. We rarely will see Phillip Hammond her Chancellor of the Exchequer or Amber Rudd her Home Secretary hit the campaign trails. Once in a while Boris will be let out of the pen, but over the course of the campaign we we will witness a messaging of only a “strong and stable leader.” Why, you maybe asking, well because she is their top billing in the opinion polls. She is basically is a one woman team as Theresa May has the highest approval ratings for a leader in 40 years. May is at a whopping 61 per cent, Polling firm Ipsos Mori put May’s standing above any since it launched in 1979. Lady Thatcher’s peak of 48 per cent came during the Falklands War in 1983. Tony Blair topped out at 52 per cent in 2001 and his successor Gordon Brown briefly hit 58 per cent just after he took over in 2007. The latest poll also gave the Tories another jumbo lead of 22 points, while a YouGov survey said May’s personal standing had risen to +10 withcCorbyn slumping to -42 who is currently on 23 per cent. So it makes sense for Tories to use Corbyn as the punchbag, hence why this election by the Tories will be crafted over personality rather than politics. Boris Johnson just this week referred to Corbyn as a “benign Islingtonian herbivore”. The Foreign Secretary blasted the leader of the Opposition’s policy on nuclear weapons and Nato in one of the most savage attacks of the election campaign so far as he called Corbyn a “mutton-headed, old mugwump,” this is just the start, as expect more personal attacks towards Corbyn, as after all the blueprint of the Tory campaign has been written by Sir Lynton, so one will not expect anything else.
- Which takes me on to my third point, Jeremy Corbyn himself. The Tories are punching him into oblivion together with their supporting media friends. In order to bypass this problem Labour can’t afford to make the election all about Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership, so they will need to move beyond leadership, yet, that will be somewhat difficult, as after all the British public will be voting for their next government. As Owen Jones eloquently put in the Guardian, the Labour messaging should be about “ optimism, hope and empowerment.” Yet, how does a party with an unpopular leader in the polls facing an hostile Labour establishment, a not so friendly media and the challenge to turn the army of members at his disposal into party activist, how does one get the ideal message across? Well, firstly Labour should focus on anything but Corbyn, which will be a challenge, so in other words focus on policy over personality. Secondly, because the party is somewhat lost and scared on what kind of Brexit it wants, their key election messages should be around their plans to protect the NHS, the future of schools and housing will be under threat with a Tory government that protects “the privileged few” and standing up for the people who just about make ends meet. The whole election should be more to do with human experiences and how the wider British electorate is under threat from the out of touch and elitist Conservatives, who will drive a hard Brexit and public services will suffer due to it. Thirdly, they need to localise the election campaign, especially in marginal seats Labour currently holds. Rather than avoid a blood-bath certain Labour candidates who are vulnerable may even go a step far and put their names to local campaigns and local issues minus Jeremy Corbyn and national politics. That strategy only works for local and popular MP’s, it maybe somehwta difficult for some MPs who spent more time in the Westminster bubble than on their own High Street. Several Labour candidates currently are not canvassing election materials with quotes and photos of their dear leader, this strategy could either guarantee a few more votes or avoid a catastrophic election result. However, these scorched earth policy campaigns may help Labour candidates in safe seats, but key marginal seats which are currently Labour holds could suffer regardless of them having Jeremy Corbyn, Peppa Pig or even Take That on their flyers. If it helps Labour strategists along with local Labour organisations need to be pragmatic and turn the focus away from leadership to local.
- This election also isn’t about other parties as was the case in 2010 with the Liberal Democrats, or the SNP was in 2015. Labour at best should use the 2017 election to not even focus their energies towards the SNP and Scotland, UKIP (who are politically finished for the time being) and the Liberal Democrats who are becoming the natural home of the Remainers, who will be campaigning to win back seats from the Conservatives such as Richmond and other they once had occupied. During this campaign the Labour Party should go out into the Labour heartlands and look to campaigning that they win their fair share of the vote by maintaining it or protecting it. If current polls are correct they need to pull out the stops to keep their vulnerable seats, or limit the predicted blood-baths.
- I’m not advocating Labour can’t win, I do believe Labour can, but in order to really make an impact, Labour should really go out of their comfort zone and act like it has nothing to lose. Even though the opinion polls are stacked up against Jeremy Corbyn, his strategists should play on his strengths which are incidentally Theresa May’s weaknesses. Jeremy Corbyn’s strengths are he prefers to address crowds and meet people rather than face cameras, as was the case last week at a rally in Harlow. So, Jeremy, my advice to you is of course go to your comfortable rallies in Islington and Hackney but also hit some Tory marginal seats like Nuneaton, and vulnerable Labour seats like Chester. In other words, take your message directly out to hostile or skeptical audiences. Theresa May has a problem in engaging with people (alive or dead), as she prefers talking to her party faithful using her TV soundbytes as slogans as was the case when she spoken to only paid up members of her party in Leeds. The Labour Party could capitalise on this weakness by taking their big beasts like Jon Ashworth, Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner and Emily Thornberry into marginal areas who can talk about those issues which voters are concerned about. Again it will show that Labour has personalities and policies across the board, and many of their shadow frontbench are individuals committed to their causes, Ashworth has been campaigning religiously to protect the NHS, making this as an integral election issue will have dividends. This strategy takes away the dilemma over Corbyn but also helps local candidates use national party stars who are somewhat popular with the grassroots and wider public at large. Incidentally, the party should keep the likes of Diane Abbott and John MacDonnell to speak to the converted as in some circles they are a liability rather than a strength. The Conservative strategy of using the one woman ticket affair of Theresa May armed with her soundbytes and the Lynton Crosby manual of buzzwords delivered to carefully selected audiences can’t be constantly sustained for six weeks and this should be exploited by Labour, sending out a wide variety of Labour big guns together with more public interaction could just be an successful alternative. When the Labour leadership is up there addressing crowds, even when Jeremy Corbyn is taking hostile questions from the press, he should come out on offensive, like how he took on the ITV he tends to looks impressive. The party should resort to the old style of electioneering of door knocking, leafleting, rallies and one to one conversations with people who are living outside their own eco-systems and eco-chambers in social media. The Labour Party are a party of many good public performers, the Conservatives (apart from Boris, who I feel will be locked away) are like typical authoritarians, terrified of engaging with people.
- Labour is divided as we can see by what Tony Blair had remarked: “ I think the most powerful argument for Labour in this election — because of the way the polls are, and the way the opinion polls are and the leadership issue — the most powerful argument for Labour is to say it’s important for our democracy that the Government is held to account and needs a strong opposition.” Both sides need to create some truce for the next six weeks for the future of Britain. The the left of the party should stop trying to undermine MPs who don’t accept their vision. The right of the party should stop trying to undermine the leadership. Hold the truce until June 8th and then we can discuss what the best way forward could be. Yes, this election is stacked up against Labour, but there is much that can be undone to stop the Tory juggernaut.