Three open goals for Labour - and a trap

Labour is in a strong position so long as it avoids mixed messages and leaves the cuts unmentioned.

Perhaps Ed Miliband is a lucky general after all. After the huge political windfall of Hackgate, the riots have fallen into his lap. While they are a disaster for the country and the communities they have afflicted, for Labour they present a huge opportunity.

Essentially, Ed and his team stand in front of three open goals. All they need to do is boot the ball, straight ahead, and they'll have David Cameron in trouble.

The first open goal is marked "competence". A weak initial police response and the incredible situation where May, Cameron, Clegg, Boris and Osborne were all abroad at once, Cameron stands a few screw-ups away from being the new John Major. The public secretly suspect that most politicians are useless and won't take much persuading to put Dave in that column for his uncertain response to the riots.

The second is marked "out of touch". Cameron and Boris -- and most of the Cabinet -- are millionaires. Their inexplicable failure to respond to the crises by coming home from their foreign holidays brings this line of political attack into play and can be done without the crass "they're all rich boys" line, which smacks of class envy.Yet another PR disaster by a man whose only job outside politics was running the PR operation of a TV firm, whose name was a byword for bad programming when he was working there.

The third is labelled "police numbers". Forcing Cameron to defend his cuts to police numbers will put him on the back foot and dismay his own supporters. Over and over again, Labour politicians must ask: why did David Cameron want to cut police numbers? Labour is fortunate that, at this moment, it has a forensic and forceful shadow home secretary in Yvette Cooper who can mix the policy work with the campaigning efforts to ensure that Labour MPs and activists can take the battle to the Tories at local level.

So far, so obvious. Yet for these attacks to hit home, Labour must forswear any mention of the cuts in any debate on the riots.

Voters look at the mobs and just know that these are not people who are gutted at the closure of the local library or youth centre. Even if the cuts were to blame -- something which would be impossible to prove -- Labour shouldn't make the case for reversing them just because a few thousand unpleasant and selfish people had been emboldened by TV pictures of weak policing to go out and do some early -- and free -- Christmas shopping. To the ears of decent, law-abiding middle class and working class Britain, that sounds like an appeal for Danegeld: pay more tax so we can buy off the boys and girls in the masks, or JD Sports gets it (again).

For an example of how not to do it, Labour politicians should watch Harriet Harman's disastrous encounter with Michael Gove on Newsnight last night. As an MP for a London seat which had seen some trouble, Harriet should have wiped the floor with Gove on competence, police numbers and being out of touch. Instead, while she strongly denounced the riots and looting, and said there was no excuse for the looting, she raised cuts and deficit reduction, muddying the waters -- and Gove floored her. An interview that she should have walked ended with Harriet on the defensive. Fortunately this was only Newsnight, so not many people would have been watching -- although the quotes will have been salted away by the Tories, you can bet on that.

Above all, it was an example of what can happen when you try to mix your messages. There will be plenty of opportunities to press the economic attack in the months ahead -- along with a few opportunities to refine it. But as far as the riots are concerned, from Labour shadow ministers, MPs and councillors, we now need discipline.

 

David Mills was a special adviser at the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury from 2009-10 and produced the GMTV Sunday Programme for eight years.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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