Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Labouring the (lack of) point

A few particles of dust have settled and I've recovered some equilibirum since the GE2015 result. Possibly enough to reflect with a little objectivity. Possibly not ....

In the months and years leading up to the election, the poor communications effort by Labour bothered me very much. I hoped that my irritation would prove unfounded and that Miliband's belief a party can win enough votes by getting out on the street and the online equivalent - social media - would be enough to swing it: I would like to live in that world. But I don't and it wasn't.

Given the Tories well-orchestrated campaign, it all felt very shoddy. For every 'long-term economic plan' we had obscure, complex, verbose or silly responses that captured nobody's attention. There was no message for the masses unless they wanted to scoff at Labour - nobody will ever forget the 'Ed stone.

The right-wing press went for Miliband in a big way. He challenged them and refused to capitulate - and I admired him for that. The personal attacks were pathetic, scaremongering and wrong. It is regrettable that we care more about a Prime Minister's facial features than his or her ideas. But Miliband was so disinterested, at times almost seeming to despise the media, that it's hardly surprising he didn't come across well.

It all reminded me of encounters as a local reporter. When I started as district editor for the Kenilworth Weekly News in 2002, Andy King was MP. I liked him. He seemed decent, hardworking and unostentatious. Then Jeremy Wright showed up as the Conservative contender in the race to 2005. I could hardly get him out of the office: slick, confident and proactive. For every press release or visit from Jeremy, I contacted Andy for a response. But he didn't want to know. Again and again, Wright got coverage and King got none.

Why the lack of engagement? Did Andy King think the local press didn't matter? Was he sick of the job anyway? Did he believe I was pro-Tory because I had spoken to Wright? Who knows. It was very frustrating. And, while I hate to say it, I believe it all meant he was the wrong man for the job.

(Incidentally, it drove me similarly nuts when I tried to write features on local churches. I wanted to let readers know about all the good stuff they were doing. But, in the main, clergymen and women treated me as an unwelcome intruder.)

I am sure we should all be taking a stand against the stuff that's wrong with our society and sometimes that means opting out of the things most people do.

But communications is about relating. Behind every tabloid is a bunch of people who are, on some level, trying to talk to their subjects. Labour needs to be positive about them, relate, argue and be clever and wily in making use of them.

Here's hoping for an excellent party leader and that s/he will appoint and listen to an excellent communications team.