Labour’s tepid election

Posted on 15/05/2011


If the Lib Dems election PR disaster was fairly comprehensive, Labour’s was worse.

Tepid has been used to describe the party’s performance, but if you include Scotland in the mix, that is being kind.

The biggest challenge to the communications strategy in Scotland was an increasing trend to create a ‘presidential’ battle between Iain Gray and Alex Salmond. The failure to avoid this was always likely and as John Curtice warned:

Iain Gray is both unknown and unloved. Voters seem inclined to believe the SNP would make a better fist of running Scotland – and of standing up to London

Gray’s campaign was as good as finished as early as April 7th and Sandwich-gate. Or his ‘Gillian Duffy moment’. It’s worth a watch:

Gray’s ‘line to take’ in defence was weak. Embarrassing even. Comparing a Glaswegian protestor to a Rwandan mass murderer is just odd if not insulting. To make it worse, STV reported that the media even gave Gray the opportunity to change his line, but his advisers stuck to it.

With Gray humiliated, Scottish Labour brought in Ed Miliband and stepped up attacks on the coalition. Arrogantly believing that Scots would just head to the ballots and vote in Labour to reverse the cuts.

Three problems with this communications strategy:

1) There was no way a vote for Labour could actually stop the cuts, without using the Parliament’s limited tax raising powers. Or talking about the nationalists favourite subject, oil.

2) Independence could stop the cuts, rid the Scots of the Tories and started to appeal more. More importantly, the SNP delivered a positive alternative. As the FT wrote, Salmond “has replaced the politics of anti-English grievance with an electoral pitch that, by and large, substitutes opportunity for resentment.”

3) People don’t seem to like Ed Miliband. Every seat he visited in Scotland, Labour lost.

Compared to the damning situation in Scotland, the alleged lack of vision, consistent messaging and positive reasons to vote Labour in England look positively trivial.

But sadly the communications mistakes continue. Just look at the Labour home page from Friday:

Labour's anti-Tory home page

Labour's anti-Tory home page

The thinking behind highlighting the torrid first 12 months under the coalition is fine in itself, but the chosen mechanic is confusing and lacks shareablility. The campaign has also been launched with a whimper, in fact there wasn’t any supporting PR or membership communications to drive engagement.

And as the Scottish election proved, negative campaigning has its place, but it is not on the homepage.

What wins elections is leadership, optimism and a belief in positive change, communicated effectively.

Next: SNP success