What Labour lacks is a clear message
A view from Maisie McCabe

What Labour lacks is a clear message

Unless Corbyn stops distracting the press and public with his mixed signals, the party's marketing strategy has little chance of success.

If I asked you what people were protesting about on Saturday, how would you reply? I’d forgive you for suggesting it was the previous day’s inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th US president. You might add to that feminism, equality or diversity. I’d listen enthusiastically to your stories of witty signs, sore feet and inspiring chats with bright young girls on the way home. But it wouldn’t be the answer I’m looking for.  

The nationwide protest I’m thinking of is Labour’s NHS national action day. You might have missed it because of the global mobilisation against Trump. Given the two movements’ likely common ground, it seems an unfortunate clash. After all, it wasn’t just marchers they were fighting over. Whatever the conspiracy theorists tell you, the media is more likely to ignore Jeremy Corbyn because something more interesting is happening elsewhere than because of an MSM stitch-up. 

It’s hardly surprising that Scarlett Johansson and Charlotte Church garnered more coverage than a few trestle tables and posters in Worcester and Romsey. At the time of writing, #CareForTheNHS has been used 19,538 times on Twitter, while #WomensMarch has 11.5 million mentions. 

But back to the NHS. The action day followed Labour using its party political broadcast slot on the BBC last Wednesday to highlight the current crisis at the health service. Labour and its agency Krow waited until the last moment to decide what subject to focus on and, with the NHS dominating the headlines in early January, it seemed an obvious choice. The three-minute, 40-second film featured an actor and lifelong Labour supporter talking about the problems in the health service in a hospital set. 

The film was Krow’s first since being appointed to the party’s account late last year. As a way of using the allotted BBC airtime to get over information about the NHS, it was a decent effort. And a key message Labour needs to get across: a ComRes and Sunday Mirror poll found more people trusted the Tories than Labour on the NHS earlier this month. But the film had a limited lifespan elsewhere; too worthy to share, too long to watch all the way through unless you’re already engaged (and probably not the audience Labour needs to reach).  

Even if the day of action was badly timed – and it was – Labour needs to stick with the issue. Quickly going after new Ukip leader Paul Nuttall on the NHS – Krow’s suggestion, I believe – was the right move ahead of the Copeland and Stoke by-elections, where Ukip will be a real threat. What a shame the party political broadcast didn’t deliver a load of marketing collateral that could be used again. 

The whole problem with the "let Corbyn be Corbyn" relaunch earlier this month is that he seems incapable of sticking to a clear position on the most controversial issues. It would be a more effective comms strategy if he set things out plainly for voters to reject or approve. He is currently creating so much noise, it’s difficult for Labour’s marketing to be heard.

Maisie McCabe is acting UK editor of Campaign. 
maisie.mccabe@haymarket.com 
@maisiemccabe