New Labour wasn’t just about policy

Banana skin - CCO Public Domain

Jeremy Corbyn at the TUC featured:

  1. The band playing ‘Hey, big spender’ just before his speech;
  2. Jeremy Corbyn getting lost on his way up to give the speech; and
  3. In an unfortunate parallel with Ed Miliband’s speech giving, Jeremy Corbyn then forgot to include a section that was pre-briefed to the media.

I can only guess that media management was such a big part of New Labour that Corbyn’s reaction to New Labour isn’t just to diminish media management but to actively seek out media chaos. It’s almost as if a Corbyn aide is specially deployed to place banana skins ahead of their boss so as to maximise the number he slips on.

Does this all matter? Two reasons to say no have been offered by Liberal Democrats in recent days, and both are wrong.

One argument is that the sort of chaos such as this trio or the cruel quirk of fate that produced a fire at (or as it turned out, next to) Labour Party HQ are just par for the course, especially for a leader not in favour with the main newspaper owners. That’s to under-estimate just how many examples of confusion, inconsistency and muddle, topped off with bad luck, there have been in the last three days – and how many of them involve journalists well removed from the media titles Lib Dem activists love to hate. Cancelling at pretty short notice two pre-booked interviews with the BBC, for example, isn’t standing up to evil media bosses, it is unnecessarily messing around and missing out on coverage from one of the country’s most popular and trusted media outlets.

The second argument is that it’s a long way until the next general election, so what does it all matter? For a member of the Liberal Democrats of all UK parties to say that is rather odd, given it may be five years to the general elections, but there are Scottish, Welsh, London and council elections 6 months aways, and local council by-elections week in, week out.

But more than that, the early impressions of the sort of person a political leader is, especially if they are from a high profile party, can be very hard to shift and continue looming over them through years of new (Shadow) Cabinets, new policy launches, new haircuts and new directions.

Valence: what it is, why it matters for the Lib Dems - and the new evidence it matters for Labour too

"Labour’s fortunes [rest] on choosing a leader who can perform the seemingly impossible task of simultaneously restoring the party’s economic credibility and at the same time appealing to its traditional supporters" - Ed Fieldhouse more

Which is something New Labour got right, understanding the importance of a relentless focus right from the start on sorting out the general impressions of competence and credibility which voters have of you. Valence politics wins and loses you elections years after those impressions are formed – and it’s no coincidence that for the Liberal Democrats too, the periods when the party has been best at this, it has also been the most electorally successful.

Indeed, the more sceptical you are about the media’s attitude towards you, the stronger the case for having the smarts not to offer up to them opportunity after opportunity to ridicule you.


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