What is it with Labour leaders?

How Plaid Cymru abandoned some of the traditional ways of communicating with voters...

What is it with Labour leaders and announcing retirement dates? Hot on the heels of Blair’s decision that he would not serve a full third term, Rhodri Morgan announced that his preference would be to go in 2009, around halfway through the third National Assembly.

Saying when you intend leaving is never a good thing for a political leader as Blair has found out. It inevitably erodes authority and creates a power vacuum. This problem has dogged New Labour in London, despite having a successor in waiting. Imagine the situation in Wales, where half a dozen names can be thrown into the pot.

The words ‘sack’, ‘ferrets’ come to mind – not necessarily in that order. The situation is compounded in Wales, as the Labour party is fundamentally split between a ‘Unionist’ and ‘Welsh’ wing. Between those in essence who support devolution in an evolutionary manner and those who would pull up the handbrake and look for reverse.

The consequence has been the most basic of election strategies, void from vision and ideas. Surely we have a right to deserve better from a party that has governed for 8 years, and who had driven through a new (very weak) Government of Wales Act, presumably with some idea with what they wanted to do with the new limited powers.

The Labour party are fighting the most negative campaign in modern political history. It seems that the whole campaign is based upon the notion that it’s either them or the Tories. After our leader Ieuan Wyn Jones ruled out serving under a Tory First Minister, Labour’s core message is based on a lie. The final nail came last week when ‘Senior Labour sources’ briefed the BBC that they were actively looking at a Plaid – Labour agreement based on the New Zealand model. No wonder Rhodri has been booed and heckled during this weeks two leadership debates.

The Tories are talking a good game, but two recent polls do not make pleasant reading. David Cameron is desperate for some good news from Wales on Thursday night, but all the evidence seems to suggest that the Tories are failing to mop up votes from Labour’s meltdown.

The Lib Dems have decided to sit the election out, presumably preparing for negotiations after May the 3rd.

All this has gifted an opportunity for Plaid who according to all political commentators in our great nation is fighting the best campaign in our proud history as a party.

On assuming the role of Director of Elections last year, I set ambitious targets for the new National Campaigns Unit the party had set up. I wanted to run the most professional, exciting and innovative campaign in the party’s history.

The party has delivered on all counts. Messaging is consistent and effective; our party’s policy ideas are snazzy and catchy; activists are enthusiastic with well over a million leaflets delivered in 2006 – a non election year; communication techniques are modern and sophisticated. We are ticking all the boxes and more. Admittedly we are faced with a governing party in crisis, but we have made substantial steps forward during this campaign.

The quality of the party’s political broadcasts sums it up really. Pioneering in approach, we have abandoned traditional models and produced a trilogy of broadcasts highlighting some of our exciting policy proposals and creating clear division lines between our approach and the governing party.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xx8Tv-S7W5I

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrEApF62ezU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0sRnWnxebs

I sense a tipping point is out there. The Labour vote is on the verge of relative collapse, and Plaid has put itself in a position to mop up! We’ll have to wait until the early hours of Friday morning to see if we have done enough.

Adam Price MP is Plaid’s Director of Elections. The son of a miner he is also the MP who exposed the Mittalgate scandal and led attempts in Parliament to bring the PM to account over his actions in the run up to the Iraq war.
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories