Josh Cook urges Labour to turn away from the value-free rhetoric of the Blair years to something more honest and appealing
|Peter Mandelson advising former prime minister Gordon|
Brown - DOWNING STREET
To continue this it needs to find new ways to talk, and new things to say. It needs to rejuvenate the way Labour communicates with the electorate.
The consensus seems to be that communicating with people can only be a bad thing, as the more you say the more there is to be disagreed with.
There needs to be a fresh approach, one that accepts that disagreement is inevitable and indeed positive.
Gordon Brown’s refusal to reveal his favourite biscuit until he had consulted his PR managers made it plain to see that the current way of speaking with people was deeply flawed.
The overly agreeable and overly compromising rhetorical devices that we have become familiar with have had their drawbacks in the past – and they are even less adequate now.
To recapture the public’s imagination and enthusiasm for politics and for Labour, we must appear to stand – and actually stand – for something. We must make statements with less regard for their media-friendliness, or the fact that not every demographic will find them palatable. Taking a strong stand for Fox’s chocolate biscuits is better than taking no stand at all.
Those who remember the days when far-left talk scared off voters and made the party unelectable might be cautious about such an idea. But the party has matured: it has no reason to be embarrassed about its principles, and every reason to stand up for them in the language it uses when talking with the public.
Trying to feed back to people what they already believe - the popular method since 1997 - does more harm than good in the long term.
It alienates Labour supporters who do strongly believe in the party and who ultimately form the core of our voters.
But focus group politics also alienates the public at large, who are looking for leadership from their politicians; leadership in ideas - and this is mainly expressed through what you say and how you say it.
Hiding your beliefs behind a veil of euphemisms does not constitute leadership. Labour should not be afraid to be disagreed with. Instead it should try to convince those who do disagree in an open and honest way.
Of course not everyone will be convinced, but I believe the show of leadership itself will have wide appeal, and will bring the party into positive light when contrasted with those political players who feel the need - perhaps for good reason - to use rhetorical trickery to disguise their core beliefs or interests.
The type of rhetoric borrowed from PR companies, who use it to mislead and tell half-truths, serves simply to sow seeds of mistrust in politicians in the public consciousness.
New Labour was particularly guilty of doing this.
Trying to have wide appeal by not having any opinion at all has not worked. An important example of how we can have opinions and be popular can be found in demonstrating the links between popular ideas and Labour’s fundamental values.
Patriotism and nationhood are things that have almost universal appeal, particularly in the traditional working class element of the electorate, and are things that have been ignored by the political class for years.
The values of socialism - broadly a sense of duty to your fellow citizens - can be expressed in this language of nationhood and patriotism, concepts which cause much less of a stir than the academic language of ‘collectivism’ so successfully tabooed by Thatcher.
This might seem disingenuous, and the very thing that should be avoided: the idea of hiding true belief behind rhetorical trickery. But it is not rhetorical trickery if you really believe what you are saying. Blue Labour believes that socialism embodies a kind of inclusive and positive nationalism, and so should work towards expressing socialist ideas in this way.
Labour should aim to inject more of the kind of strong, nationally-identified language and stronger political rhetoric in general into its communications, and consequently into the public consciousness.
If this is successful it will not only recapture the interest of traditional Labour voters, by offering socialism to them in language they identify with. It will also demonstrate a new preparedness for leadership; a break from stale political speak – something which everyone would appreciate.
Click here for some insightful lessons on rhetoric from a previous general election.