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Spin is dead, but the spinners refuse to die.

Two weeks ago, Labour Uncut announced the death of spin. Ed Miliband had decreed an end to factionalism and to hostile media briefings. But in this week’s Tribune, Labour Uncut’s commissioning editor, Dan Hodges, asks “will the real Ed please stand up?” The problem, it seems, is that he hasn’t got, well, the Right spin.

What he lacks, according to Dan, is definition which, along with biography and narrative, is what we need to win.  For those readers who are unfamiliar with the “the spin-doctors lexicon”, Dan provides excellent definitions (and I mean that most sincerely):

Biography

Who your subject actually is. Alan Johnson is the orphan who delivered letters to Number 10 when he was a postman, and ended up walking through the front door a Cabinet minister – not the former grammar schoolboy and trade union baron.

Narrative

Their story. Where are they going? Tony Blair, master of narrative, was recasting solid traditional Labour values in a modern setting. He wasn’t ditching everything his party held dear to win 50 new seats in the south of England.

Definition

Spitting Image began by showing him dressed as a schoolboy sitting on John Prescott’s lap. Three months later, the uniform had gone. Blair was now depicted with a manic, steely-eyed grin and a Peter Mandelsonesque python draped across his shoulders. As Blair himself was able to joke: “From Bambi to Stalin in 12 months.”

Definition is apparently what Ed lacks and the crucial distinction he has to make is whether he is seen as “deficit denier or deficit conservative”.

Blairite spin-doctors, according to their own narrative, know how to successfully market political parties, and in spite of being described as the “Carol Caplin of the David Miliband Campaign”, Dan probably counts as one of these. But do they? Marketing, you see, as any elementary business course will teach you, is different from selling. You can sell anything once, if you know how. Even two or three times, if the competition isn’t up to much. But successful marketing means getting the product right. Not the perception of the product. The product itself.

Ed Miliband seems to understand that. In his conference speech, he rejected “the politics of now: instant results, instant votes, instant popularity. X-factor politics.” He rejected being “imprisoned by the focus groups.”  Those are about short-term perceptions. He understands that “politics has to be about leadership or it is about nothing.” That is “leadership”, Dan, not “the Leader”. Leadership is about making lasting changes in perceptions – changing the nature of the product.

Determining the right economic policy for Labour is not about defining the Leader as “Not-Red Ed”. It is about what Britain needs to make it grow, to provide jobs and a decent standard of living, to revive manufacturing, to provide better and more public services. It is about making Labour the right “product”.

There is an alternative narrative. Labour won in 1997 because the public were sick of the Tories. Honest and decent John Smith had left a legacy of winning policies like the national minimum wage. Tony Blair was, to be sure, an excellent communicator. However, the market share he won in 1997 was still only about what we won when we lost in 1959 and 1970. Then his “product” went on to lose 4 million votes in the two subsequent elections. Gordon lost a million more but he faced a more credible opposition.

Spin didn’t work. We need the right policies. Not another authoritarian leader.

One Comment

  1. Dan Hodges says:

    Ed’s CBI speech today:

    “New Labour’s insight in the 1990s was to recognise that we needed to be a party that understood wealth creation as well as its distribution, that we needed to be for economic prosperity as well as social justice and that solving our society’s problems could not be done without a partnership between government and business.

    With Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor, John Denham as the Shadow Business Secretary and Douglas Alexander as the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, we intend to carry forward all of these New Labour insights.”

    Presumably that’s the “alternative narrative” you were talking about…

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