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25 September 2019

Labour bet on optimism with new party political broadcast

The party have ripped up their own recent approach and that of their rivals in a new, feelgood video.

By Patrick Maguire

Party political broadcasts tend to follow a simple formula: “This is how shit things are, and this is how we’re going to fix it.” Labour’s strategists don’t believe that template suits the political moment, so have chosen to follow a party conference which saw delegates vote through perhaps the party’s most radical policy offer ever with a new film that similarly deviates from the tried and tested. 

The party’s latest broadcast, which ran for the first time this evening, has been deliberately pitched as what strategists admit is “a bit of a departure” from the norm. Rather than offer a forensic analysis of Tory failings, it instead focuses on the lives of people who “make our Party and country so special”: a GP in Warwick, a firefighter in Sunderland, a community football coach in Gloucester and a dairy farmer on Teesside.

Rather than focus on the record of the Conservative administration, Labour has instead decided it is best served saying – in the words of one source – something “much more hopey changey: this is a great country, look at how much greater it could be if it was run by us”. Says another: “The point is to show that Britain is a good country with good, solid communities – and one of the reasons Britain is a good country is because of the Labour Party.”

Though it is shot in the party’s favoured documentary style, that approach is an even bigger departure from the broadcast released immediately after last year’s conference, the acclaimed Our Town.

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That film sought to offer a political and economic analysis of what 40 years of deindustrialisation and austerity had happened to the sort of small, predominantly Leave-backing towns that the Labour leadership rightly believes they need to win to have any hope of assembling a parliamentary majority anytime soon: Hastings, Mansfield, Nuneaton.

So what’s changed since last year? Brexit, of course (which doesn’t get a mention in this evening’s film). The party’s working assumption that it had squeezed the Remain vote for all it is worth has been pretty comprehensively disproved, so it can no longer get away with focussing its messaging exclusively on smalltown marginals. 

But the main driving force behind the shift is Labour’s calculation that, since 29 March, the political mood in the country has become one of overriding pessimism. They believe that fuelling it by peddling negativity is likely to backfire, and manifest itself with a “plague on both your houses” backlash at the ballot box. And that calculation explains why, despite it all, Jeremy Corbyn’s conference and speech and his party’s subsequent messaging have struck such an optimistic note.

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