Coming Unspun: PR Can’t – and Won’t – Save New Labour

Before I get started, this blog is not about politics, it’s about PR and the limits of its impact on saving failing political parties and careers. I’ve spent a great deal of this morning listening to a debate on BBC Radio 5 Live held in Brighton, where the Labour Party annual conference is in full swing. I’ve been listening to sound bites, rallying calls and urges from the Chancellor to take Labour’s “good story” to the country ahead of next year’s UK general election.

I’m sure Labour will have its best spin doctors on the case in the next few months but spin can’t save the party now, and I don’t think policy can either. Even tough (belated) talk on curtailing bankers’ bonuses sounds as creaky as the stable door as it closes with no bolted horse in sight. Tony Blair’s immense presence helped a fast-falling party make it through the last election, but the sheer lack of leadership and personalities – economic conditions aside – means, I believe, that we can look forward to some aggressive and desperate spin from No.10 ahead of next year.

In fact, I think it’ll get ugly. The expenses issue affected all parties, so I don’t expect to see that to be used in any of the main parties’ campaigning, but there’s so much easy pickings for the opposition Tories and Lib Dems to fire at Labour that I’m interested to see what the Government’s line will be. It has to major on justifying its place to govern for another four years rather than "well, it’d be worse under the Conservatives", as that’s negative, hypothetical and unconstructive. And, looking at its record, it can’t. Brown is no Blair and I don’t think the public will believe anything the Government tells it now, and Germany's recent move to the Centre-Right can only be good news for David Cameron. This is one fix Labour can’t spin its way out of.


  1. Good post Chris. It's a shame that the Labour message isn't going to be heard outside the party faithful as I think as the conference has shown already, they are really trying to make an effort to reconnect. Trouble is, too little far far to late.

    And as for Mandelson getting feted like a returning hero. Christ, if the boot had been on the other foot the Labour party would be making PR mincemeat out of the Tories for welcoming back an unelected, twice resigned Minister as a returning hero.

    However, I agree with your assessment of what we've got to look forward to over the next 12 months. This conference might be about home truths and tough choices but the party knows deep down that the electorate isn't listening, which is why we'll have very negative campaigning for the election. An Obama aide has already said that Labour needs to focus on Tory Toffs (which is interesting given the Crewe and Nantwich campaign) while the Labour Twitter Tsar just comes across as an anti-Tory party parrot. There's no intelligence, policy or engagement...and that's because they know they're beat.

    Such is the way of the world that no one will admit defeat up until the last minute, but some contrition from Labour in the run up to the election might be nice and it might actually stem some of the inevitable losses. Question is, are they brave enough to adopt that policy or will they mount a vicious anti-Tory assault to try and shore up the floating voters who who are uncomfortable putting their cross next to a party of moat owners and duck house expensers?

    Personal view is that a negative campaign will seem them decimated at the polls. Attacking wealth might seem like a good idea in the current climate, but I'm not the mood of Country is one of bash the rich...I think it's one of conservatism (small 'c') one of quiet but determined rebuilding and the PR message from Labour doesn't convey that at all.

  2. This is an interesting point and would appear to back up my view that this election is as much about Labour searching for its own (lost) roots as it does about its right to govern.

    Are you a Labour party member? If I were you I'd get ready for at least two - possibly three - terms in opposition. And another thing, if you're given the choice, please vote David Milliband for party leader, not that *$%& Ed Balls.