Labour’s moderates should look to Justin Bieber in 2016
2015 was a tough year for Labour’s moderates, after fighting hard in the general election for Ed, Labour lost — for all the reasons we had mentioned in the previous five years. In politics though being right isn't enough, you have to convince people you are right and in the leadership elections during the summer we failed to do this too—badly.
Bieber though started the year in a similar place to where Labour moderates stand now — he had a perception problem, no one doubted that he was creating great music but he was perceived as arrogant, cynical and uncaring of real people. He realised that this was unsustainable and so made a dramatic change to his entire output which meant he ended the year receiving headlines like this.
Bieber’s 2015 can act as a blueprint for Labour’s moderates. Like all integrated campaigns it has a lot of moving parts which deserve proper analysis but it can be boiled down into three main pillars.
1. Apologise and explain
Bieber spent the run up to his album launch doing a series of confessional interviews explaining how the pressure of fame had affected him, apologising for how he had hurt his fans and explaining that he had grown up and was making a change. This narrative culminated in two big tracks on the album “Sorry” and “I’ll Show You” which sets out a rationale for his behaviour but importantly charts a defiant, positive course for improvement in the future. It is quite possibly the greatest Chukka Umunna speech never given.
For moderates apologising for our actions is going to be hard but is necessary. Whilst arguably our behaviour towards our fellow members was warranted to secure electability and make so much positive change possible, we should not be under any doubt that moderates were dismissive and patronising to elements of the grassroots and that needs to be apologised for, whilst explaining the realities of governing and all the great things we achieved together. This should help take some of the heat and suspicion out of the current relationship amongst moderate MPs and the majority of the membership.
2. Show a return to values
Bieber understands that, in a news cycle dominated by social media, small positive acts which illustrate your values are the most effective way to gain positive coverage. The three most obvious examples of this are his support for the NHS Choir, the title of his album “Purpose” and the song “Children.”
For moderates that means reconnecting and creating content with the wider movement; filming videos talking to delegates at TUC conference, answering questions from CLPs and creating micro-campaigns about issues that Labour members care about but the public don’t.
Over 50% of Labour members say they get the majority of their news from social media. On social media people don’t think, they feel — big policy announcements and speeches won’t cut through here, however small and frequent actions which elicit positive emotions will. It’s how Corbyn won in the summer and it is how he retains the support of the membership even after a turbulent start.
3. Create a hopeful idea of the future
Bieber’s 2015 has been all about drawing a line under past indiscretions and creating a more positive view of where he is heading. He has been pretty vague on the specifics of this future saying in the song “Children” ‘Be a visionary for a change, We’re the generation’, and ‘Guess we’ll move on to better days, yeah’ in the song “Future.”
Moderates can also get away with being vague this early in the cycle, however we need to be more specific than simply screaming electability. This hasn’t and won’t move people to vote for us when the time comes. Blair in the foreword to the 2011 reprint of Phillip Gould’s epic “The Unfinished Revolution” said ‘Progressive folk don’t get motivated just by the thought of being in power. For them, rightly, there has to be a higher purpose.’ 2015 proved that this is still the case.
This should be the most simple, speak to anyone in and around the Labour party and they will be able to describe with passion what our country could be if we were in Government. But I have a suspicion our decade long habit of pointing to the sensible electorate and saying they won’t have it, rather than setting out and defending our idea of a Labour future, will be tough to kick.
Looking to Justin Bieber for a blueprint of a political campaign might seem strange but his was an emotional response to an emotional problem. Similar to the current issues facing Labour’s moderates — intellectual responses will not work here. Anyway the best campaigns have always borrowed from the commercial world. Gould was an ad exec and Mandelson a television producer after all.
As Bieber said ‘How did we throw it all away?
Guess we’ll move on to better days, yeah
Maybe there’s a future, such a great future
Maybe yes, next time, what if there’s no next time?
Maybe there’s a future, such a great future’