I was rather struck my Mark Thompson’s critique of the Labour Party’s current predicament – “I think Labour activists are in danger of underestimating just how damaged their own party brand already is” were the words he used.
I really do not see it in those terms, and here are some thoughts why.
For a start the main characters that have tainted Labour for the last decade are now off the scene – Blair and Brown. Brown’s own ratings were worse than Labour’s and with the prospect of a new leader on the horizon how bad are things for Labour as whole? Not too bad as far as I can tell.
The fact that some of the other hard-to-like ministers from previous administrations – Hewitt, Hoon, Clarke, Prescott – are off the scene also helps.
Look also at the local council results in London to see what is possible – Labour made gains in north and east London, and in Brent managed to boost Labour representation on the council while returning a Lib Dem MP. So Labour is potentially tarnished nationally but the same does not necessarily apply to the same extent locally.
Beyond that Labour needs to take a serious look at the policies that it defended in government and work out a new discourse for the future.
I think Labour’s investment in schools and hospitals are well appreciated and that basis an investment in public services discourse will stay at the heart of the party for the future.
Much more work is needed to develop a positive and social democratic discourse on economic questions, and a responsible and more liberal approach to personal liberty and asylum and immigration questions. Equally work also needs to be done on taxation policies, with Lib Dems and Tories trying to steal the ground from Labour when it comes to ‘fairness’ in the taxation system.
Last but not least work is needed in terms of the vocabulary used to present the party – a Lakoff-inspired political framing exercise that the party could undertake over the next 6 months to 1 year. Some clarity in the party’s visual identity and slogans could also come in handy – A Future Fair for All is too much of a mouthful.
There’s a lot to do, but there are sure not reasons to be down.
The politicians mentioned in the above article may have been unpopular towards the end but it was essentially because they re branded labour that they won the election in 1997. The opinion polls form that time just go to show that distancing themselves form the more radical left enabled this victory.
I believe it would be a mistake to assume that lost popularity and opinion poll drops can be credited to the move away from old labour and thus resolved by moving further left.
Do you not think it is a generational thing too?
As I see it, Blair, Brown and friends modelled their approaches to politics – including such dangerous ideas as the heavy politicisation of government communications, back room stabbery, willingness to sabotage political reform initiatives to spite the other – for 20 years, inculcated these approaches into their followers, and refashioned the organisation of the Lab party to protect an oligarchyfashioned a generation of politicians to work by manipulation.
Never mind the Alistair Campbell school of media relations, sofa government and the emasculation of the House of Commons, and a set of values which gave us so many petty-authoritarian laws.
All of that was voted for by by nearly all of those MPs who are are still there.
That, surely, is a significant poisoning of the democratic process that cannot be solved with a puff of smoke and an “abracadabra we have a new leader”.
I think one of the key communications issues is whether the other parties are able to make Mr Brown, and hence Labour, responsible for his actions or whether the “global recession” will provide an escape door. I’m thinking of the part of the national debt which is down to bad initiatives, waste, and throwing money at things – an example is the £200 (?) of millions which went on failed administration of CAP payments.
On thing I’ve noticed is how a lot of left-wingers, especially in the Guardian, are all saying it’s the fault of no longer following a strict socialist agenda and the solution is to bring that back wholesale.
However, that assumes the country wants to be run in a socialist manner. Personally, I don’t so Labour needs to avoid pandering to activists and see what the people actually want.