What lessons does Lynton Crosby have for Labour?

28th August, 2015 12:03 pm

After May’s general election, it appeared everyone in the party who tweeted or blogged was sure they knew why Labour had lost. By some weird coincidence, these opinions always seemed to mirror the prejudices of the author. You know the type of thing – our policies were too right wing, our policies were too left wing, our policies were too centrist, etc.

Not very enlightening. So, to get a more balanced view, I turned to Lynton Crosby. I appreciate that’s probably the first time in history anyone has ever used that phrase.

Lynton_Crosby_Political_Strategist

So, what were the views of the man who masterminded the Tory victory? Well, it’s worth digging into this article on the BBC, about a talk Crosby recently gave in Australia. Ignore the UKIP stuff, and buried deep within the story is the feedback he was getting from focus groups six months before the election. Simply put, these voters moved away from Labour because they thought Ed Miliband was weak.

It’s worth reflecting on that for a moment. They didn’t think Labour’s policies were too right wing. They didn’t think Labour’s policies were too left wing. They thought our leader was weak.

There’s a very clear lesson here. It doesn’t matter what your policies are if people don’t trust you to deliver. You can say what you want on immigration, the economy, welfare, housing or anything else you want but, if people don’t trust you personally to deliver what you say you will, then they will almost certainly dismiss what you say out of hand.

I’ve previously argued on Labourlist that if you look at the facts, Ed was actually anything but weak. He took on his brother to win the leadership. Then, as leader, he took on News Corp over phone hacking, the unions over Falkirk, and the utility companies over energy prices. That’s quite a list of powerful enemies to pick a fight with.

Yet, weakness was the story Crosby cultivated about him, that Cameron emphasised at PMQs (remember ‘butch-gate’?) and that the media repeated. It was this narrative that stuck with the voters in Lynton’s focus group because Ed never did anything to counter it or portray an alternative vision of himself. His strategy of trying to rise above the Tory’s petty slurs was misguided and just left the field open for them to say whatever they wanted about him.

So, what lessons can we draw from this?

Firstly, stop obsessing over policy. Of course we must have the proper policies in place, and I know we’re all active in politics because we care deeply and passionately about doing the right thing. But you have to earn the right to talk to people about policy and that only happens if they believe in your integrity, sincerity and strength of character. This means that, like it or nor, personality must be a fundamental part of Labour’s narrative going forward.

Secondly, take on the Tories over the question of their character. If we choose to focus on this, then it’s a real and serious weakness for them. David Cameron is clown, Boris Johnson is a loose cannon and was there ever a more weaselly politician than George Osborne?

Lastly, stop doing the other side’s work for them. The degeneration of the leadership election into mudslinging and petty name-calling has given the Tories ample ammunition to paint whoever wins as someone who can’t be trusted to deliver because “…even their own side think they’re a loony/a flip-flopper or just not tough enough”. Lynton Crosby really doesn’t need this type of help from us.

Roger Mendonça is a member of Daventry Constituency Labour Party

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