I’ve promised myself not to talk any more on the issue of our leadership, not least because every time I do, someone (Like Paul Linford in the last thread) quite understandably reads into it something I didn’t mean at all. So instead I want to talk about how Labour can fight back. Take as read whatever declaration of undying loyalty is the current gold standard to prevent specualtion..(should we perhaps call it a Harman Statement?)
You talk to some journalists and listen to some political commentators, and there seems to be an assumption that fighting back is somehow impossible, that once a poll lead as large as the Tories have is established it cannot be overturned. That’s simply not true.
Take the German 2005 election, where the CDU/CSU started with a 21 point lead, but ultimately edged the popular vote only marginally. The SPD, were it not for the presence of “the left list” Lafontaine party, could easily have won.
All of this tells us that fightbacks can and do happen.
Those who look at polling numbers and see gloom are right not to understate the scale of the problem, but we all have to remember that polls are trailing indicators, not leading ones. Polls tell you what people think because of what they’ve heard till now. They are not accurate predictors of what people will think after learning something new.
So what might a fight back campaign for Labour look like?
The first question is one of choice.
To fight back properly, you have to be clear that you are moving the electorate towards a moment of choice. In the SPD’s case, after losing North Rhineland Westphalia, they called a snap election. For Truman it was a long, arduous campaign ahead of a fixed election.
For the British, with no fixed date of election it becomes important to make clear to the British people when they will be asked to make a choice. Without that clarity of impending choice, a fight back is conducted against no apparent opponent, and can’t be effective.
That choice might be two years away, or a year, or 18 months, but knowing it is coming, and knowing everything that goes on before that is merely a warm up to that choice begins the process of people beginning to make a decision.
The second element is to ground your fightback only on a narrow field – the issues that matter to concerned voters.
Voters need to have a clear understanding of what divides Labour and Conservative on the issues that matter most to them. It is the task of a campaign to dramatise that.
At the moment, despite the problems facing the economy, I doubt that many voters could spell out what the choice between Labour and Conservative would mean for them, Not surprisingly really, as neither party has devoted much time to it.
We’ve spent our time defending our record, the Tories spend their time attacking it. As such, it’s unsurprising that their discontent is focussed on the government. After all, we’re the one’s driving the car.
The final element is one of style and tempo. Fight backs aren’t easy processions to government. They’re not the careful mainiteance of a poll lead built up in opposition. They’re challenging. Designed to make those who may have written you off, or lost interest to think again. Here’s a campign ad from the SPD in 2005.
I have absolutely no idea what he’ saying there. It’s the style I want you to note. It’s face on, confrontational, direct to camera, plain background, definitive, even challenging the viewer.
The visual message there is “you might not like me, but I’m tough as hell and giving to you straight, and you should respect that at least.” I was immediately reminded of my favourite fictional “fightback” speech which does something similar, but does it a little more schmaltzily. Still has me wanting to go out and vote for the guy, though.
Or how about this from Truman basically telling his audience that if they don’t vote for him, they’ll suffer and it’ll be their own fault.
So, those are the three elements I think are crucial in any Labour fightback.
Making clear its a choice,
Making it clear why that choice matters,
and finally being prepared to fight day and night for your side of that choice, in ways that are intended to be sharp, direct, even a little angry, on behalf of the people you wish to represent.
So that’s what I’m hoping for. A showdown with the Tories to focus minds. A clarity over the difference between what we offer and the Tories offer and a backs to the wall, fight till the last dog dies approach to the campaign.
The crucial element is the “what’s at stake” question.
Without that, the rest doesn’t work at all.
So here’s a question to Labour supporting readers. What do you think the most important issue at stake in the coming election is and how should we talk about it to our voters?
I’ve got my own ideas,m but I’d love to hear others first, so I can steal them, and then take the credit, most likely.