21st century Communications

9th March, 2012 10:08 am

What does a 21st century party look like for…Communications?

Nothing short of a revolution in Labour party communications is needed. When compared to other political parties, both here and abroad, when compared to campaign groups and NGOs, when compared to corporate, Labour is lacking and lagging. In so many ways, from better motivating and equipping members to fight elections, to generating much needed funds, improved communication will be key – so there will be a return on investment in this area.

The new communications director needs to start by considering better projection of the Labour Party brand. ‘Brand’ is dirty word for many, and is probably regarded with particular suspicion by people on the left who associate with the ‘evils’ of big business. But as comms specialists know, brand is not about pushing logos and slogans, it is not red roses over red flags, it is about communicating values. The best corporates – think John Lewis – are brilliant at this. Essentially, John Lewis sells stuff, but its brand communication is such that its staff and customers have a strong sense they are part of a shared enterprise that does real good. Other corporates, that are less ethical, are also able to communicate a sense of values, even if those values are more or less made up. The Labour Party is an infinitely stronger position, given its history, its achievements and its people, to project its brand

Part of this process will involve a clearer sense of what the communications function within the Labour Party is for. When a group of comms experts convened by Labour values, the Fabians and Labour List to discuss this issue there was general agreement that this had to combine both communicating to the membership (useful information, helpful tips, updates on the party etc) and communicating among the membership (providing a place where successes can be shared, discussions had etc). In other words, some of the communication is top down, some of it bottom up – or at least peer to peer. This is part of a wider cultural change that the party needs to embrace in which it is more prepared to be discursive and relational, and less directed and transactional.

The party’s use of digital media needs a complete overhaul – and arguing for investment in this area should be a top priority for the incoming Executive Director for Communications. In everything from the use of video, Twitter, email messaging and texting to supporter ID – Labour is behind the curve.There are lessons even from inside the party which can be learnt – from aspects of the Ken campaign to elements of the various leadership campaigns in 2010.Labour should learning from – or to be frank about, stealing ideas from – organisations like Avaaz, 38 degrees and the DNC.

As well as sharpening up the use of new media, the incoming director needs to play a key role in sharpening up more traditional aspects of communicating – message development, message discipline, press office functions. Important here is ensuring that the leader’s office, the shadow cabinet, the PLP and Victoria Street are joined up and working from the same grid and hymn sheet. While at the local level, there are arguments for the communications within the party to be more discursive and dialogic, at the top a return to the more controlled, disciplined and, yes, ruthless approach of the 1990s is needed.

The guiding principle here may well be ‘less is more’ – at the moment shadow cabinet members are splurging out press releases consisting of quotes responding to all and sundry – someone needs to get a grip on the main messages that the public associate with Labour. These need to be efficiently crafted, tested for their effectiveness, and relentlessly and consistently used. There are examples where it would be clear to members what the ‘party line’ in issues is – for instance, on the NHS bill. But there are not enough of these.

Not the least of the challenges will be bending the communications function of the party to both make being a member a more fulfilling and empowering experience and to help the party become a more efficient electoral fighting machine. These may appear to be pulling in opposite directions – and yet well done there is no reason why they should. A party that talks to itself openly, honestly and respectfully can be become stronger and more cohesive – and thus better prepared to get out their and fight when the time comes.

This post is part of a series produced by LabourList and Labour Values.

  • AlanGiles

    With respect, before you start communicating you have to have – or at least should have – a unique message to convey – something people will listen to, fire their imaginations and respond to.

    If we are going to have more of the same – “message discipline” sounds suspiciously like Alistair Campbell’s pagers circa 1997 to keep everyone “on message”, well – is that enough?.

    I have already compared and contrasted this week Harold Wilson and the 1968 “I’m backing Britain” campaign, and Ed Miliband’s “Let’s stick a made in England label on it”.

    Could snazzy communicatio0ns have made Tuesday sound any less timid? I frankly doubt it. 

    You need policies and then communicate them with vigour and enthusiasm

Latest

  • Comment We can be winning the economic arguments, right now

    We can be winning the economic arguments, right now

    Watching our earnest contenders debating exactly how many pro-business credentials they have to display to make Labour electable makes me almost nostalgic for May 2010. We seem to enjoy wallowing in the self-deprecating, self-pitying comfort zone of defeat, happy to leave the Tories to dismantle our public services (again), while we studiously beat ourselves up in public about Ed’s deficit blankout and Liam’s silly note. We’ve forgotten how on that fateful Thursday evening, no-one was more surprised with that exit […]

    Read more →
  • Comment PMQs Verdict: Harman’s hardened Heathrow stance will pay dividends for Labour down the line

    PMQs Verdict: Harman’s hardened Heathrow stance will pay dividends for Labour down the line

    Harriet Harman’s impressive PMQs form continues unabated. Post-election David Cameron may be in too strong a position to really struggle at the weekly bouts, but where previous Labour leaders would have wilted, Harman comes away with what, on balance, we can probably call a victory. She used her first questions to talk about the terrorists attack in Tunisia last week, and ask the PM about what steps the Government is taking to help victims and their families. As always, there […]

    Read more →
  • News Video Dennis Skinner: “No wonder they call him Dodgy Dave”

    Dennis Skinner: “No wonder they call him Dodgy Dave”

    Today Dennis Skinner took to the Commons floor to ask David Cameron a question about miners’ pensions. He said to that Cameron hasn’t “got the guts to help miners”, arguing “no wonder they call him Dodgy Dave”. Skinner was interrupted by Cameron who made this ageist comment, calling the MP for Bolsover “Jurrasic Park.” This isn’t the first time the PM has directed such a remark at Skinner; in 2012 he had to apologise after calling the Bolsover MP a “dinosaur”. You […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Labour back Heathrow expansion but the party are divided over the issue

    Labour back Heathrow expansion but the party are divided over the issue

    Labour today confirmed they will back Heathrow expansion – but the party are not completely united on the issue. Today the Airports Commission, also known as the Davies Commission, has recommended that a third runway should be built at Heathrow. It was thought the Commission might leave room for expansion to take place at Gatwick. However after three years of investigation, the Commission has concluded that it is “clear and unanimous” that Heathrow is the best place for a new […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Labour call for “annual equal pay checks” to see which companies are paying women less than men

    Labour call for “annual equal pay checks” to see which companies are paying women less than men

    Labour have called for an annual equal pay check to see which British companies are paying women less than men. Tomorrow in an opposition day debate Gloria de Piero, the shadow equalities minister, will say that there needs to be an “annual equal pay check”. She will say that this should be carried out by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). As of next year, companies that employ more than 250 have to publish figures showing the pay gap […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit