Perception is Reality, Neophyte

Ed's media strategy has become more complex.

Over the weekend, it was increasingly easy to tell that the Labour Party have invested in some press people. In December, Ed Miliband appointed two stalwart political journalists, Bob Roberts and Tim Baldwin, to his communications team, and their effect is already being felt: it’s not, frankly, that Miliband is saying much of anything that is different or new; it’s simply that he’s having more success in getting the messages placed. From his Fabian Society speech on Saturday to the continued positive coverage of the Oldham by-election victory, Labour are punching about their weight in column inches. Not all those inches are favourable – Melanie Philips today does her usual turn on the subject of Miliband’s supposed turn towards small-c conservatism – but, at a time when the Coalition are being talked about largely in the negative (either from the right or the left), this breadth of coverage is no bad thing.

They are being helped along by a Coalition agenda tottering under its own weight; appearing on the Today programme this morning, David Cameron was unsure on Coulson and under-briefed on the looming fight over the NHS. Nick Clegg, meanwhile, continues to get a bad press. Even Fraser Nelson has to admit it’s going well for the reds. Those rumours, repeated on This Week by Jon Cruddas, of an early General Election in May start to look more tempting from a Conservative standpoint.

After all, the news from Oldham East and Saddleworth was not all good: yes, Lib Dem voters switched to Labour; but Conservative voters switched to the Lib Dems in considerable numbers, and the net impact was, despite an increased Labour majority, a slightly increased Lib Dem share of the vote. That this still wasn’t enough to tip a majority of 103 towards Clegg’s party is a bad sign for them; but any nascent political union between the two Coalition parties is more worrying still for Labour. If, given time, Tories choose to vote for Lib Dems in other marginals, Labour will lose seats; whether Lib Dems will do the same for Tories, of course, remains an open question. Unfortunately for the yellows, of course, most of their own seats are Tory marginals – and it’s difficult to say how comfortable Labour voters will now feel in voting tactically.

So the picture is confused – not least because the AV referendum may now be delayed. But what is increasingly clear is that Labour – ahead in the latest polls by some distance – now have at least some space to make their counter-weight felt. Tactical nous is not strategic victory, however – and the party’s platform remains somewhat dazed and confused. A job for heavy lifting in the background, to be sure – but it means the Coalition yet retains the real, rather than the perceived, initiative.


2 thoughts on “Perception is Reality, Neophyte

  1. Hey there dan,

    Not sure I’m as convinced about Ed Miliband doing any better. Yes, I keep hearing commentators say that he’s hired new press people and whatnot; I still think Mr Ed is a pretty irrelevent figure to most people (at least, thats the vibe I seem to get from friends and whatnot). I mean, in a way, I think it’s BECAUSE he’s irrelevent that the Labour party are doing well in the polls. This was always going to be an unpopular government and it’s nice to have a facless party of opposition that you can pretend stands for the opposite when you want to express your disatisfaction with the current government. Labours decent poll ratings aren’t impressive, they were innevitable (and, in my opinion, have no bearing on the nest election whenever it is).

    Trouble is, Labour are making mistake after mistake (In my opinion) and, sadly, lack heavyweight talent. This is unfortunate, as I think with the right leader and direction The labour party stands a very good fight back for power; trouble is, right now they lack both.

    Also, are you really buying this may election rumour? You must remember Cameron finds this coalition useful in more ways than one!

  2. Not sure I’m as convinced about Ed Miliband doing any better.

    No, but then I didn’t say that. 😛 I agree that Ed’s leadership remains vague and inchoate; but in sheer terms of visibility he has improved his profile. A Q&A – a Q&A! – was carried live on the BBC News Channel. Few people will be aware of that, but it’s precisely the sort of penetration he wasn’t previously getting. His comments led the Oldham stories; his comments on Coalition policy are getting aired and re-aired. Not only that, but the messaging is clearer – during the week of Oldham, the emphasis on VAT, tuition fees and the police was so uniform as to approach featureless.

    These things take a while to have an impact – but they are essential if any impact is to be made. Obviously the current poll ratings have little bearing on the next election – but it’s silly to pretend that a six-point lead is nothing the Coalition should be worried about. Complacency is dangerous – and you’re right that Labour’s heaviest hitters are staying oddly schtum. They are not currently a credible alternative government; but, as you say, they don’t have to be that to be effective.

    And, no, I’m not buying the May rumour in the slightest. 🙂

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