Labour still struggling with key messages

24 Sep 2021

DRD Partner, Jon Mcleod, assesses the state of the Labour Party ahead of its annual Conference, and their problem distinguishing between words and effectively communicating with the electorate.

Words Count

Starmer-friendly readers may have felt last week’s issue of Private Eye was over-harsh when it reported that the Labour Party has published a 14,000-word election slogan. Hyperbolic satire, they cried.

This week, the Labour leader released his vision of a ‘contribution society’ in an 11,000-word essay. Press reports led on the word count, rather than what the essay said.

Language is important in politics. But you can have too much of a good thing. It’s especially ironic for Keir Starmer, a member of the Bar, the profession renowned for concision and precision, that the Party’s message is seemingly lost in a tide of verbiage, not through any fault of his own.

His opponent has perfected a mix of bluster and brevity in sloganeering. It doesn’t matter whether what you say is true – just keep it brief.

Labour’s problem with language isn’t confined to quantity, however. There’s a quality issue too.

A good two-thirds of the meetings trailed in the fringe guide for Brighton borrow either ‘Red Wall’ ‘levelling up’ or ‘build back better’ in their titles – linguistic coinage of a distinctly Tory timbre.

Quite why the party faithful, lobbyists and the assorted bearers of shopping bags who populate the fringes should be nourished on a diet of Conservative sloganeering, warm white wine and brown food is anybody’s guess. But the fact that the policy debate within Labour is being framed by terms set by the party of government is a worrying sign for those who wanted new and original thinking from Labour.

Language is also a problem in the Labour Party’s obsession with talking about the need to ‘win back the working class’ or ‘the North’. These are terms used universally in political debate by people who are not working class – whatever that means in 2021 – and by people who are not from ‘the North’ (though I always say the North is anywhere above the brown sauce/ketchup line, i.e. that part of the country where those who prefer HP over tomato sauce are in the majority).

Labour does not need to win back the working class: it needs to win back the whole country. Labour does not need to win back the North: it needs to win back the whole country.

Labour does not need to win back the North: it needs to win back the whole country.

Meanwhile, turning inward to have an internal party debate about how Parliamentary candidates are selected will exacerbate this language barrier. Recondite debates over the Party’s rulebook will be music to the ears of Conservatives the length and breadth of the country. Meanwhile, the mainstream voter who elected a Labour Government three times in a row in 1997, 2001 and 2005 is crying out for credible opposition to an administration flying by the seat of its pants.

Photo Credits: The Guardian