Corbyn’s communications: The good and the bad

6 Dec 2015


For any Labour member, supporter, past voter, current voter or voter-to-be, it is now difficult to imagine a time before Jeremy Corbyn and the political earthquake he unleashed. Indeed, as many have said before, Corbyn essentially created a new party within the remnants of an established one still reeling from the catastrophic defeat of May 2015.


One thing that has been, is and will continue to be relevant and important however is the way Labour communicates its message. During the meteoric rise of the current leadership, we have witnessed two distinct areas that can be examined. Firstly, how they have communicated with the membership and, secondly, how they have communicated with the wider public.


In relation to the first, it is beyond debate that Corbyn’s campaign was sublime in its political skill and mind-blowing in its effectiveness. This was, I feel, due to the fact that it harnessed the attention of its intended audience more effectively than any campaign since Blair’s rise to the leadership in 1994. 


The first reason for the efficacy of Corbyn’s leadership campaign was its simplicity. By sticking to his message – of ‘straight-talking, honest politics’ and of Labour ‘returning to its roots’ - and repeating this in debate after debate, rally after rally, Corbyn’s message became unavoidable. The three other candidates, who talked in wonkish language about policies and actions, simply could not compete. Indeed, Corbyn’s astronomical majority was produced by a clear and simple message that resonated with the Labour membership. 


The second reason for Corbyn’s victory was involvement. Of the tens of thousands of new members and registered supporters who signed up to the Labour Party over the summer, the vast majority joined because of Jeremy – turning what would have been a narrow victory into a landslide. By pitching his message wider than his opponents, Corbyn created new audiences and spoke to them almost entirely on his own terms.


These two factors – a clear, resonant message and a call to action that increased the numbers of those involved - won the leadership in a manner that will still be discussed long after all the participants have departed the political stage. However, though Corbyn communicated with skill to Labour Party members during the leadership election, his communication to the wider public since his elevation has been woeful. Please note at this point that I am not commenting on the correctness of his policies, but merely how they are presented – which in politics is often more important.


A few examples demonstrate this assertion. In his first weekend as leader, Mr Corbyn needlessly allowed allegations of sexism to tarnish his sheen, as the most prestigious positions in his Shadow Cabinet were entirely filled by men.


As has become infamous, Corbyn then refused to sing the national anthem at a commemoration for veterans, which fuelled the stereotype of the veteran socialist as an obsessive ideologue, compounded by his deliberate vagueness when asked later whether he would bow to the Queen at the Privy Council.


At every turn Corbyn has taken the opportunity to criticise the media for its hidden agendas and malevolent motives - using his conference speech and other major events to publicise his contempt for those who will carry his message to the public for the duration of his leadership.


Essentially, Corbyn has consistently allowed himself to be defined and pigeon-holed by commentators and competitors during his time as Labour Party leader. This is damaging for Corbyn and his party, for a narrative once established is one of the hardest things to change – just ask Messrs Miliband and Clegg. 


So, Mr Corbyn, who has experienced a poor autumn in spite of a momentous summer, must ensure that his party secures a fair hearing from the public, and then communicates in a clear, relatable manner. It is in all of our interests that he succeeds.

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