In 1997, Tony Blair waltzed into Number 10 after a landslide victory saw Labour triumph to power. Labour had found the centre ground in British politics, stealing key votes from the Conservatives, which enabled Blair to hold office for a decade. Blair’s trump card was his ability to make New Labour sellable through policy that identified with the public, though having a formidable spin-doctor in the form of Alastair Campbell undoubtedly played a part in Labour’s electoral success.
How times change, though. Today Labour sit in opposition without power, and risk losing a further general election next year unless the party’s political communicators up their game. Ed Miliband recently stated that PR and photo opportunities were not of interest to him, believing that his manifesto alone will be enough to win over the public. Not only is this a huge error of judgment, but unfortunately for the Labour leader, image happens to play a key role in the life of a Prime Minister. If Miliband prefers to talk about policy, this can also work, though it has to resonate with the electorate on a human level, emphasising that the party understands the British majority; an element that Labour has not yet mastered, or has simply been neglected by Miliband’s inner-circle.
Adding to Labour’s misery, former cabinet minister Frank Dobson recently toldThe Guardian that Miliband’s shadow cabinet is not taking the fight to the coalition hard enough and that his closest aides were “not of sufficient quality or clarity”. Helpfully though, Mr Dobson did state how Labour could turn things around, by commenting: “You need to boil things down to a few simple, short, sharp concepts and say them time and time again.” In short, this is how to spin – highlighting a key policy that relates to the electorate and articulating it in a way that is not only believable but also identifiable, whilst portraying it in the most favorable light. Miliband needs to surround himself with advisors who recognise that a sense of cohesion is needed throughout his party - not just at the top level - with all Labour MPs understanding what the party’s strategy is. Blair had this back in the day but the Labour Party today does not reflect a definite sense of unity and, without it, they will fail to steal back power next year.
Meanwhile, The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has recently announced that he intends to stand in next year’s election, with the hope that once he gains entry into Parliament as an MP, his political aspirations could lead him to one day take over the Conservative Party leadership. Despite speculation over tensions between Boris and David Cameron, the truth is that the Tories need him to run in the election and recognise his potential in attracting a wider range of voters. For whatever reason, Boris is perhaps the most likeable Conservative in the media spotlight who is praised whether he is posing for a selfie or stuck up a zip-wire, and you can bet that CCHQ spinners will use him to their advantage in their electoral campaign.
At the other end of the political spectrum is UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who hopes to enter Parliament himself next year. Already understanding the key concepts of spin, Farage has found a niche by presenting himself as an ordinary bloke, just like one of us and far from the perception of the general Westminster elite. He claims not to be a career politician, though with ambitions of entering Parliament, he clearly is. However, by presenting himself on par with the British people he is relatable, and this has translated into an escalation of support for UKIP. Aside from immigration and Europe, the party may lack policy, though when it comes to understanding the needs of the British public, UKIP sells.
With just months to go before the general election, all mainstream parties need to understand that having policy is only the first step on the path to victory. It then falls into the hands of party spinners to decide how policy is communicated, articulated and portrayed through the party ranks and into the media that will determine how the public perceives it. Crucially, it is this perception that will ultimately decide the outcome of our next government.
By Emily Stacey