1 hour ago
About sharing

Keir Starmer with his deputy Angela Rayner at the Labour conference last year
By Iain Watson
Political correspondent, BBC News

The Labour Party has sent its election candidates a “campaigning bible,” as party insiders describe it.

The 24-page document is aimed at winning back those who have lost faith in Labour.

There have been concerns among some MPs and at grassroots level that the party’s opinion poll lead has been too dependent on disillusionment with the government – rather than a positive vote for Labour.

So in this election year, the new glossy tome – Let’s Get Britain’s Future Back – is strewn with campaign slogans.

The document is divided into five policy areas representing the five weighty “missions” for government which Sir Keir Starmer has set out over the past year.

But the sub-headings in each section ram home the messages that Labour expects its activists to deliver.

These are: “It’s Time for a Change”, “‘The Tories Have Failed’, ‘Labour Has Changed” and “Labour has a Long Term Plan”.

Mandelson’s three Ms

Last weekend, Labour peer and strategist par excellence Peter Mandelson set out what he felt his party had to do in what could feel like a long election year.

Speaking at the Jewish Labour Movement conference, he said an incoming Labour government would face “a much bigger challenge and task” than Tony Blair had in 1997.

The Labour document is aimed at the party’s election candidates

He stressed the importance of what he described as the three Ms.

The first of these was to find ways of maintaining Momentum (forward political motion, not the left-wing grouping of the same name).

The second was to secure a sizeable Majority.

But key to Labour’s success at the polls and in government would be to secure a Mandate.

“People need a positive choice,” he said. “They need to know what they are voting for.”

If new and returning voters were to stick with the party, then they needed to buy into what it was trying to do.

Peter Mandelson was one of the architects of Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide victory

The new candidates’ document is an attempt to do this.

The party’s policies have been made more digestible – reduced to bullet points and “five point plans”.

And in each section, Labour’s offer is juxtaposed with its characterisation of an apparently more grim life under a Conservative government.

There are also attempts, perhaps predictably, to accentuate the positive.

In the Green Energy section, lower bills are promised, while £28bn of borrowing isn’t explicitly mentioned.

And the title of each of Sir Keir’s mission has been recast in more active terms, following complaints from some MPs that the concept hadn’t been landing with voters.

Last February, when the idea of “mission-led government” was launched by the Labour leader, he suggested one of the missions would be to “improve the NHS”.

That rather neutral language has now been transformed in to “Getting the NHS Back on its Feet”.

Similarly “Reforming the Justice System” has become “Taking Back Our Streets” and “Raising Education Standards” is re-badged as the more dynamic and wide-ranging “Breaking Down the Barriers to Opportunity”.

‘Stevenage Woman’

The document isn’t just a more voter-friendly version of the Starmer missions.

Its preface contains significant political positioning which the leadership will want grassroots Labour activists to communicate in key seats.

Last year, the influential group Labour Together – formerly run by the party’s chief election strategist, Morgan McSweeney – produced a report called Red Shift.

The title sounds like a made-for-Netflix thriller, but the content is partly about how to excite voters that are turned off by politics.

The group’s research identified “Stevenage Woman” – described as “hard-working but struggling to get by, she feels national politics makes little difference to her town”.

And it concludes that while “she votes in some elections not others” nonetheless “she, above all others, holds the keys to Downing Street”.

Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, is seen as typical of constituencies which are Labour when the party is in power, and Conservative when it’s not – a swing seat.

Keir Starmer on a visit to Stevenage in 2020

And Labour Together believes the message which appeals to voters in those areas is one of “secure work, safe streets, and a strong nation”.

Fast forward to the preface to the wider party’s campaigning document.

It says all its missions are built on “strong, stable and secure foundations” and on “strong national defence” and “secure borders”.

It also asserts that its policies are fully-funded.

And in an introduction to the document, Sir Keir makes a pitch for the swing voters of Stevenage (and similar seats) by declaring: “How people voted in recent elections doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that we come together for the sake of our country.”

Labour knows that winning back seats lost in 2010 not just 2019 is essential for victory, and it believes it may have found a way of communicating with those who have not been listening.

‘Give before you get’

The campaign document is the very visible part of the political iceberg which Labour insiders believe will help sink the Conservatives’ election chances.

There have been changes going on beneath the surface, too.

So if you live in Kingswood or Wellingborough and Labour activists knock on your door at the forthcoming by-elections, you might discern a change of tack.

Where the party had previously categorised a “conversation” on the doorstep as anything from an unsubtle attempt to ‘get the vote out’ to an unconvinced voter grunting as they slammed the door on canvassers’ faces, now a new approach has been adopted.

It’s been refined in previous by-election campaigns and has been dubbed “Give Before You Get”.

Canvassers will ask what voters are interested in, rather than either forcing party policy down their throats or eliciting voting intention straight away.

Based on genuine conversations, strategists can try to work out if a vote is up for grabs and can also then get the party machine to target appropriate digital messages.

Labour’s field and communications operations – in which it has invested heavily – would be expected to work in harmony.

A vast amount of time was devoted successfully to listening to voters’ concerns in the Mid-Beds by-election, a territory formerly seen as hostile to Labour, but which Labour took from the Tories.

So while we will hear many of the slogans in the campaign document relentlessly over the next year, the policy material in the candidates’ document won’t be used as a ‘one size fits all’ election tool.

Instead doorstep conversations will inform what bespoke messages voters will hear – from Stevenage to Scotland, and anywhere where Labour needs to regain lost ground.

Related Topics

More on this story

15 hours ago
23 February 2023
4 January