Thursday 4 May 2017

Who's Running the Best Election Campaign?

Who is running the best general election campaign? Well, it's obvious, innit. Jeremy Corbyn is. The Labour campaign is dynamic, there's a new policy every day, the leader is ubiquitous, and he's received rare praise from the media for being accessible and helpful. Contrast that to the shambles of Theresa May and the control freak effort Tory central office are running. She hides from the public, will not take questions on camera, is more awful than New Labour at its sound bitey worst, and indulges witless provocations. Compare the two and they're miles apart. If only polls reflected campaign quality, eh?

Then riddle me this. According to ICM, 41% of folks asked think the Tories are running a good campaign and 22% not. Meanwhile, the 21% are of the view that Labour's campaign is a goodie while 40% thinks it's bad. What the hell? Unless the poll is nobbled (very unlikely), how is it that ordinary punters can reach a mind bogglingly wrong conclusion? All too easily, I'm afraid to say.

Firstly, there is cognitive bias. Labour start from a long way back and many people most likely to vote have made their mind up about Jeremy Corbyn. As the local election results are dissected tomorrow this is sure to come up again and again. And so people asked this question about campaigns are likely to rate the figure they find more favourable over the one they don't. It's not fair, but that's how it is.

Second, social media has widened the net of those who obsessively follow political minutiae. And, yes, campaigns are minutiae. Running away from journalists and struggling with real people is jolly knockabout for the likes of you and me, but most people don't see it. They see a steely eyed woman staring down the camera talking about EU wreckers, saboteurs, and offering stability and leadership. Zone out from your own noise and zone in to what others see and hear. May is pitching her tent as a unifying figure who can take on Brussels skulduggery, and is offering hope and security to those who want to believe it.

That's the impression, and then there is the messaging. Labour have made all the policy running so far, and the Tories have offered empty slogans. We know, as a rule, our policies tend to be very well received - it's just that a plurality of the electorate aren't convinced we can deliver them in government. And so, if you ask people who've followed the election askance thus far, which is nearly everyone, they might remember the bank holidays and the 10,000 coppers on the streets, but that will be your lot. Contrast that with the messaging they will have picked up from the Tories. Strong and stable government. In the national interest. Coalition of chaos. It is awful and it does debase the level of political debate, but they do it because it works. When one of my colleagues offered around some Ferraro Rocher, exclamations of "Ah, ambassador!" went up, 30-something years after that ad campaign ceased. Repetition cuts through and can embed messages, particularly in times when electorates are turned off. In this case, by the perception there has been too much politics.

Why is an embarrassing mess favoured over a well-organised campaign? It's because, ultimately, people know where they stand with one over the other. The Tories are vapid but focused. We're policy heavy but sprawling. Labour doesn't have to go all Maybotic, but it should have a small number of punchy, repeatable phrases with the potential of cutting through to ensure the Tories don't have it all their way.


Ben Philliskirk said...

Labour is campaigning for its own self-respect, and in an attempt to rally the not-insignificant minority of people who actually do have a radical vision for society, value debate and discussion, are aspirational in a collective sense, and possess a social conscience. The worst result of this election will be for these people to become demoralised and apathetic.

In the circumstances there is not much Labour can do. 'Ordinary' campaigning and raising of issues and policies has now become futile from the point of view of electioneering. The public is always predominantly passive when it comes to politics, and essentially responds to an agenda that is put to them. Unfortunately, for the last few years this agenda has been dominated by nationalism and identity issues, and it is very difficult for a politics based on principle and self-interest to make headway in a political context and public opinion that is in many ways like that of a war.

In a more optimistic vein, in most other situations where nationalist rhetoric has dominated politics dissent and disagreement have become almost completely marginalised. At least at present there is a solid tranche of the people that vehemently rejects this kind of conservative/nationalist bloc.

Anonymous said...

The essential truth that everyone is overlooking in all this editorialising is that oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them (apologies to the originator of this maxim, who must be owed millions in copyright fees).

Mrs May knows this all too well. This is why she is scuttling around the country like a fugitive rather than coming out fighting.

The current Tory lead in the polls is a bubble waiting to burst. It might not burst, at least not this side of election day, but (in the context of over-inflated bubbles) we all know that the Tory party is not short of what we might call pricks.

Lidl_Janus said...

"Who's Running the Best Election Campaign?"

UKIP, obviously. Although the OP was lax in defining 'best'.

"When one of my colleagues offered around some Ferraro Rocher, exclamations of "Ah, ambassador!" went up, 30-something years after that ad campaign ceased. Repetition cuts through and can embed messages..."

Especially illustrative, given in that no fucking way is Ferrero Rocher posh enough for diplomatic functions (although I imagine Boris Johnson is crass enough to break them out for countries he particularly disrespects).

Adam York said...

Good piece.Narrower sloganeering or not the role of BBC has continued to exasperate.Right wing press and even Guardian SDP fueled sniping maybe predictable but where BBC became quite so hostile is less clear.Many/most people are still using BBC news in some form.It's pretty busy in all media formats with a political team in attack mode.Quite a shaper of perceptions.Aside from Sarah Sands appointment to R4 not clear where/how right wing direction has been applied.

My own experience of our local party is that goodwill and enthusiasm may not be matched with sharp campaigning skills.Awareness of social media,public events and good speakers can all be in short supply.CLPs seem to vary massively and many previously safe seats are in poor state.

James Semple said...

My wife is a party member, but lumps Corbyn with Milliband as not being leadership material. We were watching Corbyn recently on TV speaking with passion and conviction and she began to change her mind. Why, she said, could he not always speak like that.

I suspect the Tory media policy of encouraging Corbyn to expose himself might yet backfire.

Anonymous said...

Adam York

There were several pro-Tory appointments in key BBC positions before Sands. Ever heard of James Harding, for example?

And the overt, shameless bias of their present "Political Editor" is genuinely unlike anything I have ever seen on a supposedly "objective" news channel. Makes her predecessor (who was, again, Tory-sympathetic) appear a Corbynista in comparison.

Anonymous said...

How difficult or expensive would it be to mobilise Labour supporters to organise banners at railway stations, outside schools and hospitals raising awareness of what will be lost under the tories and gained under Labour? Who the hell is organising this pitiful campaign?

Anonymous said...

I just registered to vote for the first time.I'm almost 20 & although i live in London & from Walthanstow which is a Labour controlled area i will be voting for Theresa May.I'm not a supporter of any of the parties & i don't really like or want to support any of them but i will vote for May because she's the only one who's stood rock solid since she became PM.She managed to trigger article 50 despite all the legal shit & opposition from all the parties.EU doesn't mean anything to me but if it did the referendum has spoken so move on.When the PM says she will get the best possible deal for the U.K i believe her as do others. Labour is like a Mickey Mouse outfit compared to the govt & they all look & sound like my neighborhood ...Undesirables!