“Message discipline and clarity is like good underwear. You don’t want to wave it around but you notice if it’s not there.”
The tweet by former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith didn’t mention Jeremy Corbyn by name but her tweet was undoubtedly prompted last week’s “relaunch.”
Smith who was appointed the country’s first woman Home Secretary by Gordon Brown in 2007 was of course aware that supporters of the Labour leader scorn the New Labour virtue of message discipline.
I’m a true believer. Message discipline is a vital part of winning elections, something I’m rather keen on. So, I had Smith’s comment in mind when I replied to a charming member of Team Corbyn who asked during the Fabian conference on Saturday what I thought of the relaunch.
There were two things wrong with it, I suggested. Firstly, the key message that Labour was “not wedded” freedom of movement of EU citizens frayed round the edges under the pressure of media interviews.
The second sin was that he scooped himself – offering an alternative story about capping of high pay that detracted from the message on migration One of my media training colleagues likes to quote an American trainer’s dictum: “if you want them to eat chicken, don’t lay out a buffet.”
Team Corbyn will have been pleased with the Guardian assessment of the Fabian speech, judging it to be “one of the most polished and well-crafted he has delivered as Labour leader, something being attributed to the influence of his new speechwriter, David Prescott, son of the former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott.” I welcomed the young Prezza’s here last month.
On the debit side, however, were comments from commentators sympathetic to Labour. John Harris on Today said that delivering on a radical agenda needs deep thoughts and strategic thinking. He accused Corbyn of making it up as he goes along and shooting from the hip.
“A reasonable idea, an argument worth starting is destroyed, becomes literally incredible by the end of the day.” And Will Hutton in the Observer accused the Labour leader of “blundering, ill-prepared” into the high pay argument.
For me the lesson of the relaunch is that Corbyn needs to try harder. Labour does need to be talking about immigration but much more important is developing a coherent economic policy that convinces voters that Labour will make them better off. Resentment against excessive high pay and campaigning against austerity won’t cut through unless the top lines of Labour’s appeal are about promoting and sharing prosperity.
That is, of course, what Theresa May is promising and her massive approval rating leads over Corbyn have got many Labour members worried about what could happen if she call an early election. Alastair Meeks recent PB post suggesting
suggesting the Prime Ministers poll ratings “flatter to deceive” were therefore comforting and, to me, persuasive. “She’s safe enough while she’s faced with a useless opponent. If she finds herself up against someone more competent, she might find herself struggling far more quickly than most pundits currently could imagine, ” argued Meeks.
In the end, that is the case for a change of Labour leader. But In the meantime, all we can ask is that Jeremy Corbyn is the best leader he can be. The relaunch wasn’t perfect but as a signal that he now sees reaching out beyond his devoted following as the test of his leadership is undoubtedly a big plus.