Barack Obama’s strategist David Axelrod once said that political conventional wisdom is almost always wrong and we have had a good example of that in Britain recently.
Over the summer the conventional wisdom was that Ed Miliband had had it and David Cameron, on the back of a (paltry) economic recovery, was on track to secure the majority he failed to get on the easiest wicket imaginable. One excellent speech from Ed would seem to have turned that around and the conventional wisdom this morning is that he is suddenly looking like a winner.
As both Mr Axelrod and I know, the world doesn’t work like that. One speech does not change the weather, no matter how well scripted and delivered – and believe me the no notes for an hour thing is not easy.
But what it does is get Labour right back in the game. He did well. People will hear he did well. The people pouring out of the hall saying he did well were not just delivering a line to take. They were inspired and emboldened. Hardened hacks were impressed. More importantly, people will start to argue about the policy ideas be put out there – absence of policy has been a real problem – and the national debate will move to a different and better phase, as is already happening over energy prices.
A word of warning. I said much of the same last year after his very good One Nation Labour speech (though in both content and delivery this was superior.) But that success was not built upon. It came and it went. Team Labour did not seize the opportunity. The same mistake must not be made twice.
This is not just about Ed. Far from it. He works hard, travels a lot, deals with many issues, as does any party leader. This is about the party at every level. Too few of the shadow cabinet show the hunger you must show to be on the airwaves, out on the streets, and with something interesting to say. The party at local level is patchy in terms of its performance. The unions do a lot of good work but they have again allowed their national profile to be defined solely against the leadership. Bad for them. Bad for Labour. It has to change.
It was also noteworthy that one of the best received parts of the speech was when he defended Labour’s record on the NHS. We need to do that across the board. Defend the past as a bridge to being heard about the future.
They loved it too when he defended the North East, and when he framed the Scottish independence argument in terms of a Scot being made to feel a foreigner in England. Good One Nation stuff. Building on the message from last year.
That is how strategy works. You build on it hour by hour, day by day, week by week, speech by speech, interview by interview.
The basics don’t change. Win the argument about the past and stop the Tories from getting away with trashing our record. Win the argument about your opponents – and this lot are incompetent, unpopular and with the wrong values for Britain – and above all engage in and win arguments about the future. And I really liked his passage about character. He can win that with Cameron. ‘Strong with the weak, weak with the strong.’ That needs to be heard again and again and again and again. I will say it when I take my Alcohol Concern campaign to Manchester and try to find out why Cameron caved in to the drinks industry on minimum unit pricing. And anyone who still thinks alcoholism is a choice not an illness by the way, get hold of the ITV documentary on Gazza yesterday. It was heartbreaking.
The last year has felt like large parts of it were just lost. We were letting the field to the Tories and when we were on the field we were talking in an empty stadium often about things the public were not overly concerned about, like party power structures.
Ed’s speech was right at the heart of where the public are and what they care about. Every day from now on in, the energy and passion he showed has to be on display at every level of the party, top to bottom.
I spoke at a fundraiser in Brighton on Monday night and made the point that the next election is very hard to call. Anything from a Labour majority to a Tory majority is possible, with various shades of coalition in between.
But as the Tories head to Manchester they are vulnerable. Their boasts on the economy ring hollow other than for their hedge fund donors. They are losing support over health, schools and policing. They are doing better at PR but worse at policy. That is lethal.
So they are beatable. And Ed had made winning more not less likely with that speech. But it is all about the follow through, the hunger, the teamwork, the co-ordination, the consistent landing of blows on opponents who are not up to much.
I arrived in Brighton a bit depressed about the political scene, not to mention washed out post my illness. I am back home feeling at least Labour are back in the stadium with the crowd listening, if still feeling washed out and unable to get on my bike (this is purgatory).
But if Labour get a bounce in the polls, that is the time to raise a few more gears, not sit back. Never sit back. No complacency. No substitute for hard work. No such thing as compassionate conservatism.
Strategy is the joining up of dots over time so that a picture is communicated to the public. Ed has painted the broad strokes. Now everyone, from the shadow cabinet to the party supporter who can’t quite be arsed to join the party, has to land the dots everywhere they go. Over and out.
Ps … Thanks for all the kind comments and reviews re My Name Is. I really do believe alcoholism is an an issue whose time has come and whose time is now. I was pleased Ed made so much of mental health in the NHS part of his speech and pleased Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott committed in principle to minimum unit pricing.
And I was thrilled that a Berkshire employer bought 100 copies, having read it and decided he wanted to give it to all of his staff so they might think about their own relationship with alcohol. Memo to all employers – we can get you good deals for bulk buys!!!! (you see, I am joining up dots here.)
Pps – anyone know the Corrie, Brookside and other Northern soap stars? If any of them fancy joining me for the Alcohol Concern 5k run in Manchester Monday 730am, please get in touch via my website. We’ve already got the entire Man United, City, Everton and Liverpool squads, and the entire British Cycling team.
Pps — that last bit isn’t true. We haven’t got any of them because they’ll be resting after playing or taking part in the World Champs. But I just fancied causing the heart rate of the Tory press officers to rise for a bit.