Labour campaign machine is definitely out of control - GulfToday

Labour campaign machine is definitely out of control

John Rentoul


Chief Political Commentator, The Independent; visiting professor, King's College, London.

Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer

Speculation about the next election is constant, yet it alternates between two outcomes that ought to be unlikely. One is a Labour majority, which would require an unprecedented recovery in the party’s fortunes from one election to the next. The other is a majority for Rishi Sunak, which would require a Conservative prime minister to cling on for an also-unprecedented fifth term. The gap in the election-speculation market is the vast tract of land in between those two possible outcomes: a hung parliament. Given the rival claims made by the Labour majoritarians and the Conservative contrarians, an inconclusive result in the middle seems to be the underpriced outcome.

The parliamentary recess has given us a preview of how the election will be fought. Labour’s main message has been focused on the local elections at the start of next month; namely a freeze in council tax bills that would have happened if there had been a Labour government, paid for by a higher windfall tax on oil and gas companies.

That message lays the ground for a general election campaign designed to make that imaginary Labour government a real one, by offering to tweak the priorities of the Treasury, to protect “working people” at the expense of undeservedly rich corporations. The Conservative message has been that Sunak, the pleasant and competent prime minister, has been solving problems and “making progress” – the phrase he used in a long interview on Thursday – which a Labour government would put at risk. Both messages have been disrupted. Labour managed to disrupt its own campaign by publishing an ad on Twitter that asserted that the prime minister thinks child sex abusers should avoid prison. I don’t think the ad worked: undecided voters would think it unfair – David Blunkett, no snowflake as home secretary, thought it was “down in the gutter”. And the idea that it created a fuss that would draw attention to the Tories’ record of running down the criminal justice system is just wishful Labour thinking.

What ought to be more worrying for Keir Starmer, though, is that he didn’t know about it before it was published. A “Labour insider” was quoted as saying: “Keir’s got far bigger things to fill his day than Twitter graphics.” That suggests that the Labour campaign machine is out of control and liable to misfire in a general election. Everything ought to be accountable to the leader, who should personally sign off an ad as controversial as that. “Labour insiders” either didn’t realise how controversial it was, or took Starmer’s approval for granted. As a Labour special adviser from an earlier, more successful period, put it to me: “It’s all a bit ‘You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!’ – Starmer and his team are not naturals at this kind of thing and it showed here; they overcooked it.” Starmer was then forced to defend the ad – disowning it would have looked even weaker – further distracting the party from its core message. Meanwhile, Sunak managed to disrupt his own message by admitting in that long interview with Paul Goodman, the editor of Conservative Home, that “stop the boats” didn’t actually mean the boats would stop by the time of the election. That was obvious from the start, but the prime minister’s admission drew attention to several recent pieces of evidence that the government will struggle even to prevent the number of people crossing the Channel in dinghies from rising year on year. The weekly numbers are not looking good, and some sources suggest that ministers have given up expecting any removals to Rwanda.

Indeed, progress on all of Sunak’s five priorities seems stalled. NHS waiting lists rose in the latest figures, and the split votes of unions on strike action suggest that the pay deal may go through in the end, but not without further losses of morale and continuing staff shortages.

Even the easiest of Sunak’s targets to hit, the halving of inflation, is not going to feed through into people feeling better off until very late in the electoral cycle. Indeed, there is a danger this year of ministers claiming that inflation has dropped, while voters complain that the prices they pay haven’t gone down.

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