Suggesting that 'Team Corbyn' could do better tends to end up with one being dismissed as, tick your preferred box, a Blairite/ traitor/ sell-out/ establishment stooge. This is, as should be obvious, a bit of a shame. When the 'unelectable' Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party last year, we were offered a unique opportunity to shift the political centre sharply to the Left. He was dismissed by many as a 'throwback to the 1980s, which in some ways was just what was needed – to bring policies which were once mainstream back into political circulation - ideas which had gradually, since 1979, become marginalised and were now dismissed as 'loony Left'. Better still, it promised to lead the Labour Party to its’ most radical policy platform since 1945, if not ever. This is such an opportunity that it is incumbent upon the new leadership team to make it work.
Corbyn himself has pointed out that the party needs to do better, and so is it not valid to consider how his leadership might contribute to this effort? Former ‘Corbyn cheerleader’ Owen Jones recently caused a bit of a storm with his ‘9 questions all Corbyn supporters need to answer.’ However, he points out that he makes his criticisms because he would like the project to succeed, unlike the majority of the leadership’s critics. So would I, hence these seven suggestions.
1. Say it again
The leadership and their supporters have consistently, and correctly, complained that the mainstream media are 'out to get them' and will never give them a fair hearing. Their answer? Bypass the mainstream media and make their own (social) media. Despite that, there’s no end of complaint about media bias on 'JC-friendly' facebook sites. Why worry about mainstream media misrepresentation if the mainstream media doesn’t matter?
Social media is useful for preaching to the converted, but arguably not much else. Most people don’t get their news from social media and, as things stand in 2016, it has nothing like the reach of the mainstream media.
This is because most people have little more than a passing interest in politics. Realising this, the right have won the last two elections with simple, repeated, and often untrue messages. In 2015, the Tories, again and again, suggested not handing the keys back to those who had supposedly crashed the economy. The mantra doesn’t even have to be true! The Brexit campaign ‘won’ despite expectations, by repeatedly claiming, ad infinitum, that by leaving the EU, the British people would mean ‘taking back control’. How many times did David Cameron answer Corbyn at the dispatch box by suggesting that his team had a ‘long term economic plan’ and that, without it, nothing could be achieved. As George Orwell said, if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. But the same goes for, if not more so, a repeated truth!
As ‘The Financial Brand’ put it: “Few messages, more often. You should limit the number of messages you try to communicate through marketing. If repetition fosters both awareness and trust, you’ll do better working with a shorter list of messages communicated more frequently than the long laundry list of messages many marketers try to work with.”
To just hold your hands up and say the opposition hostile media is too strong is just conceding defeat. What the Labour leadership should be doing is repeating the same simple messages, call them soundbites if you like, often enough that the mainstream media can’t ignore them.
2. It's not hard left, it's common sense!
The Labour leadership have allowed their Labour opponents to brand themselves as ‘moderates’ while allowing themselves to be categorised as the ‘hard (and therefore extreme) left’. Ask yourself, if you were a neutral voter, would you go for the ‘moderates’ or the 'extremists'? Not enough has been done by Team Corbyn to counter this, and explain that, pre-Thatcher, the views of their opponents would be seen as ‘extreme’ and that their Keynesian, pro-investment, pro-public ownership of state monopolies policies would be seen as ‘moderate’. So here’s a simple slogan to be repeated and repeated and repeated to counter this – ‘It’s not hard Left. It’s common sense.’
3. Building a Great Green Britain
Quite a few converts to the Corbyn project, like this author, are ex-Green party members, but there could be many more. Corbyn is denounced by many Greens as being a 'productivist' i.e. subscribing to the economic orthodoxy that continued economic growth, at any cost, is something to be strived for. Corbyn and John McDonnell have subscribed to the 'one million climate jobs' proposals, also supported by the Green Party. However, we don’t hear about this nearly enough. The Labour Party is putting forward its ‘Green’ policies, ,which are essential for dealing with the existential threat to ‘life as we know it’, in a way that makes them appear like an ‘add on’, rather than being central to their vision.
From an electoral point of view, it’s a great shame that not more is made of the leadership’s 'green credentials'. If they did it would help to demonstrate that, rather than being a 'throwback to the 1980s' the leadership has a modern platform with modern answers to modern day problems. Incidentally, it could also entice more voters from the Green party.
Unless you’re someone who’s willing and able to follow every speech the leadership makes, the impression given is that Corbyn has made lots of speeches and policy proposals about lots of different issues. Add into the mix a media which only tend to report what the Labour leadership says when it reflects badly on it, and it means that very little 'gets through' to the public. Hence the need to repeat a few simple messages. Time then, for another slogan. 'Building a Great Green Britain'.
4. Play the 'patriotism card'!
This is possibly a contentious one, but there is a patriotic tradition on the Left. George Orwell, for example, has suggested that Socialism and patriotism are not necessarily antithetical. Either way, patriotism is smart politics, and if winning the election is the overriding objective, which it should be, then the 'patriotism card' should be one the left should consider playing.
The decimation of UK industry by Margaret Thatcher, and those that followed, present not only a great challenge but also a great opportunity to rebuild it by making the UK the envy of the world in terms of green energy and low carbon emission industries. At the moment other European countries such as Germany are at the forefront of the development of these industries but 'we' could too, hence 'Building a Great Green Britain'.
5. ‘Unfriending’ Hamas and Hizbollah
The cynical attempt of the mainstream media and their friends to make the most of this somewhat regrettable former 'friendship' between Corbyn and representatives from the above-mentioned organisations at a peace conference has not been handled well. Although Corbyn has explained the context of the now infamous 'friends from Hamas and Hizbollah' introduction, the fact that he was 'made to apologise' by a Home Affairs committee in June, over one year after said introduction being brought to light during an interview with Channel 4 news, is a classic example of being 'reactive' rather than proactive.
Corbyn should have 'nipped this in the bud' and made a fulsome apology as soon as the comments came to light. In fact, he could have actually made some political capital out of it. What was needed was a speech whereby he categorically stated that he abhorred terrorism of all kinds and, if PM, he would do everything in his power to keep the British people safe. That said, he could restate his common-sense belief that, as had been shown in the past, that talking to terrorists was often a much more productive tactic than bombing them, and that we should look at our relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel which could well be increasing the risk of terrorism. This could still be done. Better late than never.
6. Play to your strengths
Corbyn is genuine, ‘for real’, ‘authentic’, claims fewer expenses than virtually any other MP in Britain, doesn’t have ‘dodgy offshore trusts’, takes the night bus, etc. ‘Team Corbyn’ should make more of this. How about a party political broadcast along the lines of ‘Who is this Jeremy Corbyn?’, with snippets from some Jeremy-friendly celebs? However, in order to ram this point home, as ever, you would need to repeat the message again and again and again.
7. Make it personal
Corbyn has been accused of ‘not getting through’ to Labour’s working-class base as well as, for example, Bernie Sanders did in the USA. Those who were attracted to Brexit largely due to economic hardship do not seem to be attracted to Corbyn’s Labour Party in the way that one might hope.
As well as stating what’s wrong with the country and, better still, what can be done about it, Jeremy Corbyn should be trying to make an emotional connection with the people whom the Labour party should be speaking for. In other words, we should be speaking to the people we speak about.
It’s been noted by some that the Tory party generally ‘do’ PR a lot better than the left, so it’s worth looking at what they do, in order to see if we can do it too.
Theresa May’s first address as prime minister was notable, not just for her emphasis on her supposed desire to help the have-nots as well as the haves, but also that she personally addressed the people she was talking to.
‘I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours….We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.’
This might make you cringe, but ‘Team Corbyn’ would do well to try this approach. He has been accused by many of not showing enough passion. He should try to make an emotional connection and demonstrate that if you are ‘in the 99%’ he/they, rather than Theresa May is ‘in your corner’.
As I've talked about the importance of simple repeated messages, I thought I'd repeat myself again! Look at how the relatively successful Bernie Sanders campaign repeated ad infinitum the same central theme – 'Take the (Wall Street) money out of politics.' Again, if you want to look at a campaign that won against expectations, how often did their chief advocates repeat the simple mantra 'let’s take back control', and how often did anyone campaigning for a Remain vote have it repeated back to them?
So, I'll say it again and again. The way to 'beat' an almost universally hostile media is not to 'hide' in a social media bubble. Just choose a few simple, hopefully catchy messages and repeat them again, and again, and again, and again..........