Last week LabourList published an article calling for the short film ‘Against the Odds’, which was shown at Conference, to be Labour’s next party political broadcast. Several hundred Labourites have joined a Facebook group in support of this proposal.
‘Against the Odds’ can be viewed below:
Whilst I am someone who gets very excited about Labour history and who also likes the idea of a positive, upbeat video that reminds people of the party’s achievements over the years, I think there are some obvious reasons why ‘Against the Odds’ would not make a suitable PPB.
It concentrates on the past and does not mention any current or future policies. Surely one of the principal points of a PPB is to reinforce voters’ awareness of what the party is doing and what it plans to do. Considering the state of the economy and other pressing issues that Labour urgently needs to win voters’ trust on (public services, crime, immigration, the war in Afghanistan), it would be ridiculously self-indulgent to use a whole PPB to bang on about good ol’Labour opposing Mosley in the 1930s and Apartheid in South Africa. Even if voters - like Labour Party loyalists - do get a warm fuzzy feeling out of seeing images of Bevin, Bevan, Wilson, Kinnock et al (please note how unlikely this is) they may still think at the end of the broadcast: “Well, that was nice but I’ve got no idea what Labour is going to do to help me find a job today”.
We are now living in the longest period of continuous Labour government ever. It may therefore seem a tad desperate for a Labour PPB to contain so many references to the achievements of the past. After 12 years of Labour in office, shouldn’t this government have secured enough popular reforms that it can stand on its own record rather than having to hold up the establishment of the NHS in 1948 as a reason why today’s voters should stick with the Labour Party? I know this is related to the first point but it’s so important that it needs reinforcing! Talking almost entirely about the party’s past in a PPB reeks of lacking confidence in the party’s present and of lacking ideas for the party’s future!
The corniness factor of the film is pretty high. Maybe that isn’t in itself a massive problem (plenty of reasonable successful PPBs have been a bit cringeworthy) but some of the schmaltz of ‘Against the Odds’ would be vulnerable not only to mocking but also to serious criticism – I’m thinking especially of the reference to the “true Brits” at 2:08. The press would inevitably compare this to that dimwit Sarah Palin’s moronic claim that Republican voters represented the “real America”. I can see the Tory press and blogs easily establishing a meme along the lines of: ‘Controversial ZaNuLabour broadcast says that only Labour supporters can be considered “true Brits”‘.
To be pedantic: some of the history isn’t on very firm ground. Although Labour members did join in the ‘Battle of Cable Street’, the official party line was that people should stay away from the anti-fascist demonstration. To be ultra-pedantic: for some reason the third image in the film is a photograph of the moment when it was declared that Labour-turned-National Government Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald had lost his parliamentary seat to Labour candidate Emanuel Shinwell in the 1935 general election. Yes, MacDonald turned traitor, but spitting on his memory is unnecessarily vindictive. He did much to help build up the early Labour Party and was Labour’s first Prime Minister, after all.
I am willing to change my mind about ‘Against the Odds’. If focus group research, for example, suggests that voters respond positively to the film then obviously everything I’ve written here is wrong. Also: if the party does not have enough money to make a better PPB then ‘Against the Odds’ would be better than nothing.
However, I think Labour has to do better than this. In the LabourList article it’s suggested that “perhaps we need a little less ‘head-ruled’ campaigning and we should let the heart take over for a while”. That’s not going to work. If we take politics seriously and genuinely want to try to win the election rather than just feel good about ourselves then we need to put voters’ concerns at the heart of our campaigning strategy. I don’t see how ‘Against the Odds’ does that.
At best ‘Against the Odds’ being broadcast would probably be a non-event that wins precisely zero votes for Labour but maybe reinforces the enthusiasm of some party activists. At worst the broadcast could actually turn more people against us as we offer them an idealised version of the party’s history rather than a popular policy programme designed to address the issues of today.