Sunday, March 13, 2016

Labour's problem is not their policies - it's their nightmare team

"The shift to the left has electrified the Labour base, but many party MPs fear it will alienate the wider public..."

An article by Tony Helm in "The Observer" today makes this claim and it is one that will get plenty of heads nodding - it's all about policy innit? The Reds have taken over. Labour is unelectable. I think that there is a scintilla of truth in the claim, but only that. Modern day politics is more, much more, about personality and perceptions than it is about policy.

In the country at large there is far more support for quite left wing policy positions than the conventional wisdoms suggest. 68% of the public want energy companies in the public sector and and only slightly less the railways.  Half the public does not want Trident. And so on. And yet Ed Miliband, who adopted none of these policies in the 2015 election nor any others that were overtly socialist, was rejected by the voters. It wasn't because he wasn't "Red" enough (except, perhaps, in Scotland though even that was complicated by the independence issue).  It was because he wasn't sufficiently credible as a Prime Minister.

There is nothing new about political leaders as brands uncomfortable though this idea may be for policy wonks and purists. Back in 1960 John Kennedy was all about style and personality and very little indeed about policy. In 1997 Tony Blair was arguably even more so. Gordon Brown's policies as Prime Minister were identical to what Blair's would have been - yet Blair would quite likely have won the 2010 election which Brown lost. Politicians love to argue that it is policy that matters because this gives them status and separates them from the vulgarity of commerciality. Tell them that they are brands which have to be sold and they will sniffily bridle. But that is the reality. 

In 2015 David Cameron's brand was strong enough to win votes on the margins, where it mattered. He is not (sticking with brand speak) a "Superbrand", but he didn't need to be. To escape the polar bear attack you don't need to be a fast runner - just faster than the person you're with! Cameron was a lot faster than Miliband and (crucially) Nick Clegg. Which brings us back to the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

These two opinion polls published on the same day and based on similiar (maybe identical) samples tell the story. Only 31% of the population think that George Osborne has done a good job as Chancellor but 45% want him to carry on and only 29% want him replaced by the Labour alternative! 

Jeremy Corbyn and the (I suspect) little known John McDonnell detract from Labour's appeal rather than add to it. And it's not their policies that are the problem, it's them. Add in the toxic Ken Livingstone and the opinionated and ultra-sensitive Diane Abbott into the mix and you have a nightmare team!  

A charismatic and credible leader and Shadow Chancellor could adopt identical policies to those of Corbyn and McDonnell (give or take a nuance or two) and wipe the floor with Cameron and Osborne at the moment. And should - as the polls suggests. This is a tottering, divided Government replete with deeply unpopular members (Osborne, Hunt, Gove, Duncan Smith, Javid...) and led by a Prime Minister who has never established himself as a popular brand except for a very few. He should be there for the taking. (I am not underestimating him - like Napoleon's preferred Generals he is lucky - a precious asset!). 

I have not at any point in the last six months joined the baying Blairites (I use the term as it is conventionally used as a term of abuse by the Corbynistas not because I like it or think it to be accurate). I wanted to get to know Jeremy Corbyn and felt that he deserved a chance. I actually think he has done quite well, that his policies are broadly OK and that he is a much more decent person than the media and his political critics would allow. But as a brand he is a disaster. He lacks credibility and has no hope of establishing it. No chance at all. He has a place in British politics and should be listened to. But his place is not in 10 Downing Street. The idea is preposterous.  


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home