Jeremy Corbyn wants to win promising hope, but despair is his best weapon

"Things can't go on like this" is the underlying message of Labour's messaging.


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There are only ever three messages at election time. If things are going well, the government runs on “Life’s better under [insert party name here] don’t let [the Opposition ruin it]”, and if things are going badly, they run on “[The Opposition] is a change you can’t afford”. One reason why politics is easier for governments than oppositions is that the Opposition only ever has one message: “time for a change”.

Labour’s new party political broadcast, which aired tonight on ITV, is in many ways a fairly typical entry in the “time for a change” genre. There, are, however, some distinctive twists.

As the party did with its last party political broadcast, Labour is using a documentary-style format, with the personal stories of ten ordinary people, in their own words, and the consequences of the cuts. rather than a focus on the party’s Shadow Cabinet spokespeople or even particularly Corbyn himself.  (The Labour leader is mentioned at the end but does not appear on screen himself.)

The film is one of a series of films that will air between now and the local elections, all directed by Josh Cole, who was also behind Labour’s “Somewhere Only We Know” video which aired the night before the election, and all using the same documentary format.

The previous broadcast focused on frontline workers in the NHS, generally seen as the most comfortable of Labour territory. Crucially, however, the video was intended to signal a breach not only with the Conservatives but Labour’s recent past, with the implicit message that frontline workers are those best equipped to run and direct the NHS.  The second film moves to ground that has usually been less hospitable to Labour: that of crime and policing.

The Labour leadership got a lot of joy out of this area at the election, successfully linking their wider anti-austerity message to the specific question of Theresa May’s tenure at the Home Office and the cuts to policing. The gambit worked but still raises eyebrows at Westminster and in the Labour movement, both among Corbynsceptics and the Labour leader’s traditional allies, given Corbyn’s longstanding support for civil liberties causes and scepticism of police power.

While crime is rising and the Conservatives are led by a woman who made her name in part by standing up to police cuts, a decision that Labour strategists believe is only going to cause more pain to the government as time goes by, the party will continue to major on the issue.

The big difference in this film is that the party is widening the subject to the issue of how crime is prevented, beyond merely increasing the number of police on streets to community centres and other work, areas on which Corbyn – and Labour in general – are generally more comfortable than the Conservatives. For Labour, the hope is that “it doesn’t have to be this way” is a sufficiently exciting message to get their voters to the polls outside of a general election year, when the actual prospect for change is limited.

You can watch it in full below.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.