21st century Communications

March 9, 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 The Tories don’t have any solutions to London’s cost of living problems

    The Tories don’t have any solutions to London’s cost of living problems

    London needs a plan for growth. By 2022 a city the size of Birmingham will be added to London’s population. No city can afford to expand so quickly and do it in a haphazard fashion. It demands careful consideration and investment to avoid an unplanned mess. But in planning for growth we need to take all Londoners with us. This is a once in a lifetime chance to deliver an inclusive city. In which we hardwire tackling inequality into everything […]

    Read more →
  • News Are Burnham and council leaders at loggerheads over NHS devolution deal?

    Are Burnham and council leaders at loggerheads over NHS devolution deal?

    Last night we reported that Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary and MP for Leith, was opposed to plans to devolve the £6bn NHS budget to Greater Manchester. It has now been reported that local politicians didn’t consult him prior to agreeing this with the government. The Manchester Evening News have reported that Burnham was “furious” with local leaders –  particularly Burnham’s local town hall chief Lord Peter Smith – who had not informed him of the devolution deal. However, other sources told the paper […]

    Read more →
  • News New figures show rough sleeping has risen by 55% since Labour left office

    New figures show rough sleeping has risen by 55% since Labour left office

    The number of homeless people sleeping on the streets has risen by almost a thousand since David Cameron became Prime Minister. Latest figures show that there were 2,744 people rough sleeping in Autumn of last year, compared to 1,768 in 2010. Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds said the rise recorded in these figures was “shocking” and condemned the policies that has led to the worsening situation. “Rising housing costs and low pay have made it more and more difficult for […]

    Read more →
  • News Video Labour candidate launches new website to highlight Tory opponent’s record

    Labour candidate launches new website to highlight Tory opponent’s record

    It’s no longer unusual to see political parties set up websites to highlight weaknesses in their opponents: we first saw it at the last election, most famously with the Tories’ expensive ‘Cash Gordon’ mistake. Until now however, we have not before seen it on a localised scale. But today sees the launch of #reesmoggrecord, a new website from Todd Foreman, Labour’s candidate in North East Somerset. Rather than attacking sitting MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, Foreman’s innovative website simply collects some of […]

    Read more →
  • Comment The triumph of the pink bus

    The triumph of the pink bus

    “Labour women will have the last laugh,” Harriet Harman declares as we ride the pink bus from Bedford to Cambridge. The bus has been mocked as patronising in the national media and even described in this way LabourList. But Harman is undaunted. “When we did the women’s conference in Manchester the media took no notice,” she says. “We talked about issues like childcare, domestic violence, jobs, equal pay but there was no discussion nationally. The pink bus is making people come […]

    Read more →