I was pleased to be able to speak alongside other communications professionals to talk about the future of political communications at a Labour Party Conference fringe event organised by SME4Labour.

On the panel were:

  • Sarah Jones MP (Labour MP for Croydon Central)
  • Claire Holland (Leader, Lambeth Council)
  • Mark Glover (Executive Chair, SEC Newgate)
  • Tom Flynn (Head of Digital, SEC Newgate & Southwark Councillor)
  • Tom Mauchline (Director of Campaigns, 89up)

For me, what was clear was that Labour won’t win a General Election without significant investment in a modern communications infrastructure. We as a Labour Party don’t spend enough time talking about what good communications look like.

We often start with “come to a manifesto consultation meeting” or “what should our policies be for Mayor/local/PCC elections?”

But that is starting in the wrong place – all good political communications should start with “how can we win?” or “what are we trying to achieve?”

For communications to be good you must start with a strategy. Only then can you be clear about who you are talking to, what they care about and how and where you can reach them.

I made the point that Labour has not won a General Election since the introduction of the smartphone, Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp. The last time we won from the opposition was in 1997, and back then our communications machine was cutting edge. Messaging controlled from the centre, a system and structure for distribution (albeit mainly by fax and pager) and a rebuttal unit that collected and collated information and data. The message discipline was strong and tight, and everyone knew the key pledges. Most people can probably still remember them.

Much has changed of course, but the Labour Party as it is today is a long way from being ready for a General election, and that to win, it must put in place a modern-day version of that 1997 infrastructure.

Infrastructure and co-ordination ensure that key messages are clearly understood and reiterated by members, activists and political spokespeople. Where is the key message coming from Keir’s speech? I am not sure I know the one thing I should stress on social media or in conversations with my less political friends.

I was also keen to stress how effective the Conservatives have been in understanding and investing in communications, both whilst in Government and in the party.

The Government Communications Service (GCS) states that ‘Communication is the fourth lever of Government’, putting it on a platform with legislation, taxation and regulation. The GCS now employs 4,500 communications professionals, all pushing out Government messages day after day after day.

How does an Opposition Party compete with that?

As someone who has worked in public affairs and communications for over 20 years and as a committed Labour Party activist who has held a range of voluntary roles in the party, there is a frustration that we don’t use the communications expertise that we have.

Whilst their political leanings may have been out of fashion over the years in opposition, some of the best communications professionals I know are Labour supporters, the party should do more to tap into them.

Labour needs to be smarter, more agile and much better at utilising the skills and resources we have and our volunteer army that have traditionally been the engine behind Labour campaigning.

Yes, door knocking and leafleting are important, but they should not be the only way for activists to be engaged and we need to be much more effective at utilising them.

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