TV can still influence Labour’s leadership vote

Tonight’s Channel 4 News hustings will be no holds barred.

TV debates were the defining element of the last election. Cleggmania was born after millions tuned in to the first leaders' debate and were introduced to a politician capable of using voters' first names and looking down the barrel of the camera during his closing statement. Being "televisual" matters more for politicians than ever before.

Tonight is the second televised hustings of the Labour leadership contest on Channel 4 News. It follows the disappointing Newsnight hustings in June, when Jeremy Paxman stole the show. Paxo dominated proceedings and conducted a speed-dating version of his confrontational interview style, taking few questions from the audience of former Labour voters that the production team had assembled in the studio.

Channel 4 is not going to have a studio audience, so a lot rests tonight on how Jon Snow chairs the debate. Ed Balls was said to have been frustrated by Paxman's inability to stop the Miliband brothers jumping in and talking over each other. The formal Labour hustings have used strict rules of engagement, set by the party's National Executive Committee, to stop that happening. Tonight, there will be no holds barred and Snow will be the only referee.

Channel 4's timing is perfect. Newsnight was too early in the contest and BBC Question Time -- on Thursday 16 September -- will probably be too late to affect the outcome. On Sunday, Sky News will broadcast from Ed Balls's home town of Norwich (where Labour lost both parliamentary seats) and has the chance to involve swing voters with the kind of audience participation that has so far been absent from any British political TV debate.

Very early in the Labour leadership election, Newsnight ran a mixed focus group of voters who unanimously backed David Miliband. But we don't know if that was based on their familiarity with him, up against the unelectables and the unknowns. It would be interesting for Newsnight to get the same panel back together after four months and see if they've changed their minds.

When it comes to winning over party members, the veiled endorsements from Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson could not have come at a worse time for David Miliband. His campaign team will have been delighted to have seen today's Mirror front page but dismayed by the "soap opera" and "back to the future" soundbites that are undoing all the positioning of his "post-New Labour" Keir Hardie Memorial Lecture.

Since last Wednesday's article in the Times, David Miliband has lost his voice. Others have spoken for him. The Times itself gave so much top spin to its splash ("Gloves off as Miliband rounds on his brother") that the rest of the week was dominated by others responding to the drawing of first blood.

Tonight is his chance to turn the tide once more because Snow is likely to focus more airtime on him, as the front-runner, and on his brother. The danger for David is that Ed Balls, Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham are increasingly relying on attacking him to gain their own definition, leaving his brother to rise above the fray.

TV debates could still make a difference to this contest, as clips from tonight's Channel 4 News and Sunday's Sky News debates can be embedded in the final round of all-member emails that the candidates send to get out their vote. Having completed more than 50 hustings events, the candidates are familiar with the stock of soundbites that their opponents have drawn on. Tonight, a original killer line could make all the difference.

Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.