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18 February 2016

Labour has to give people something to hope for, not just offer despair

Labour's latest party political broadcast is well-made, moving - but politically, a repeat of the old failed strategy. 

By richard angell

The latest Labour party political broadcast is well-made and clear in its message. It is, in fact, the video Ed Miliband should have released. It is a brilliant manifestation of the 35 per cent strategy: if you hate the Tories or are hard done to by the Tories, vote Labour. It is better than much of what Miliband put out over the last five years, and it gives a personal touch to what Labour was putting in press releases.

However, and I say this with sorrow, Labour tested that strategy to destruction. Zero-hours contracts are bad – even many Tory voters agree – but it does not change a single mind nor change how a single person votes. Nor do I say this to sound calculated or technocratic, but changing minds and voters is the point of a party political broadcast. The public know that much of what the Tories will do is make people poorer, even themselves, but too many feared Labour would drive the economy off a cliff and make things even worse. Two million more people preferred David Cameron and George Osborne running our economy than Miliband and Ed Balls. That should make us stop and reflect, not reverse the car and try again with our foot on the throttle!

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More important than being a repeat of a failed strategy is that it will deliver the same failed result: more years of Tory rule. Can those who appear in the video afford five, let alone 10 or 15, years of Tory government? I imagine not.

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Furthermore, it has never worked for Labour and never will. Here is why:

Optimists, not miserablists, become Labour prime ministers

This broadcast is neither new politics nor the politics of hope that Labour members were promised last summer. It is miserabilism and it will fail under Jeremy Corbyn, just like it failed in 2015, and 2010 before that. Tory governments leave office not when they are bad enough to lose – 1992 and 2015 prove that –but when Labour is also good enough, in the eyes of the voters, to replace them.

Whether it was 1945, 1964 or 1997, Labour only wins when it contests the national message, is positive about the future and is the right mix of radical and credible. Nothing short of that will suffice.

The voters are not stupid

The video – rightly – raises housing as an important issue. In doing so it suggests that people in a household on the minimum wage or working just 30 hours a week might be able to buy a home. There is no policy – other than maybe people’s quantitative easing resulting in freebies – that John McDonnell could come up with that would make that a reality. It never has been possible, but that does not mean nothing should be done about those who cannot get on the housing ladder or those earning the minimum wage, or the single parent trying to bring up kids and work 30 hours a week. Confusing this is the biggest disservice to both sets of voters.

Foreign policy, not the working poor, is the leadership’s priority

The public will smell a rat. All they see from the current leadership of the Labour party is Trident and the Falklands. Seumas Milne’s obsession with the two issues will always keep other issues off the front pages. On the day Corbyn, rightly, used his six questions at prime minister’s question time to hold a mirror up to the Tory plan to cut the nursing students’ bursary, it took Milne less than an hour to mention the Falklands to a journalist, therefore changing the story away from our anti-austerity message of the day to one of national security. Who knew giving away sovereign territory would be more sexy to a journalist than cuts?! Richard Burgon, who appears in the video, missed a Treasury question time in parliament (an opportunity to raise many of the issues that appear in the video) and spoke to a Stop the War rally en route to protesting outside Labour party headquarters. We had the longest reshuffle ever to get the first anti-Trident shadow defence secretary since 1988. Our main message on the Andrew Marr Show only weeks ago was subs with no nukes. Just last week Emily Thornberry’s lack of preparation for the parliamentary Labour party meeting drove soft-left Madeleine Moon to bemoan that leadership was in “la-la land’.

This video does not just feel off grid, it will make many who watch it think the Labour party is trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Voters, rightly, detest that. I am sure many who voted for the party’s leader will be asking the same questions I was while watching this broadcast. Where is the hope of summer 2015?