By Michael Joslin
I like to read all of the newspapers, even those that I despise, to get an idea of what the ordinary people in this country will be digesting over their morning cup of tea or on their commute to work. If someone who wasn’t a politically interested activist read the daily papers yesterday they would be forgiven for thinking the world had just ended and the Labour Government was totally and utterly incompetent. The savageness with which the likes of the Sun and the Daily Mail attacked the Labour Party, even by their standards, was frankly something which I never want to see or read again.
The 2009 budget in my opinion was actually one of Labour’s best. For the first time we now a truly progressive taxation system in this country where the richest pay the most and the poorest pay the least. In the midst of one the worst recessions in the history of the world, we now have clear, decisive and supportive measures to ease the pain on small businesses and allow them to survive through this difficult time. There is much needed investment in social housing, more job training for the unemployed, more financial relief for pensioners and a sturdier ladder of hope for our children and young mothers. I could go on but yesterday we saw the true principles of a Labour Government shining through to stand up for the millions of people that need our support.
In the Sun yesterday there was a list of the different policy areas affected by the budget. The vast majority had a Sun smiley face next to them. Almost every person questioned in their feature said they benefited from the budget. So why is there such a gulf between what Labour has done and how it is being reported?
This is the deep, far-reaching and fundamental problem that the Labour Party currently has. Our policies are fine; the way we present them most definitely is not. We have a very serious problem with our message development and our media handling and we need to sort it out very quickly. The art of political messaging is having something that we can put on a bumper sticker to identify who we are. If people see it, they recognise it, they know it, they believe in it and more importantly they will vote for it. We simply don’t have anything to put on that bumper sticker. We don’t present a coherent image that people can empathise with let alone believe in. We don’t give people a clear positive reason to vote Labour that they can tell their friends about and be proud to be a part of. Gordon Brown needs to come across as though he is one of the people, he is fighting their fights and delivering for the people that need to be delivered for. Gordon is doing this; but people think he isn’t. If people think he isn’t then we have a problem.
Hardly anything we do anymore takes the Tories by surprise. Occasionally in a traditional way we may do something that raises eyebrows on the opposition benches but we never do something that takes them completely off guard. David Cameron and George Osbourne are very good at spinning the news. But behind their cheap jibes and headline quotes they have nothing. They have no policy, no personality and no ideas. All they have are blackberry’s constantly being used to phone supportive journalists. They have a ferocious spin machine but they have nothing behind it. The Tories are simply a mirage of words.
How we beat the Tories is we set the agenda, not follow it. We don’t let them tell us what to do; we tell them what to do. We can’t allow them to criticise us; instead we must expose them. We must act in such an unpredictable way that the Tories have absolutely no idea what to do and look and act like they are incompetent and out of their league, which we all know they are. We saw this in Cameron’s initial reaction the economic crisis; he was simply a lightweight barely breathing above the surface of a gale force ocean storm.
Gordon Brown needs to think dramatically outside of the box and venture out of his comfort zone and into the unknown, because the tough political climate expects that and he must rise to the challenge. Why not completely out of the blue march into a crowded shopping street with a hundred Labour Party activists and the entire cabinet and talk to voters about their opinions of our performance. We will get criticism from the public, but we shouldn’t be afraid of it, we should listen to it because the public want to vent their frustrations and they want a political party that listens to what they have to say. Why not design posters with pictures of local schools with the caption “this school wouldn’t be here without a Labour Government”. Why not march right outside Conservative Central Office and demand that David Cameron names a single policy that will help people in this current time. These are only ideas, many of which are not very good, but you get the point that I am trying to make.
Labour has a tangible message; we have a product to sell. We have transformed this country fundamentally yet the majority of the people in it don’t think so. The Tories have nothing, they have an intangible message, they have no record of delivery; all they have are cheap jibes and snazzy press releases. Let’s take them on and let’s beat them. We owe that to ourselves, to this party and to the millions upon millions of people that are better off thanks to the radical and lasting changes we have made in the last 12 years.