David Singleton: Authenticity is key in Labour leadership race

It is telling that the four leading contenders for the Labour leadership have welcomed so many media relations experts in to the bosom of their campaigns.

David Singleton
David Singleton

Our guide to the various line-ups indicates that David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham are relying heavily on a host of former journalists and professional PR practitioners as the race gets under way.

None of the assorted PR men and women have easy tasks. Labour Party members are crying out for fresh thinking, but the four main candidates look well placed to provide Labour with more of the same. They are all creatures of New Labour. To quote Diane Abbott, they are 'all male, all white, all former policy wonks'. The initial PR challenge identified by all four candidates is thus to break free from the shackles of New Labour.

For David Miliband and Ed Balls - the two candidates most closely associated with Blair and Brown respectively - this task is especially pressing and the PR has been most transparent.

Since declaring their candidacies, both have spoken out against the Iraq war (as has Ed Miliband).

David Miliband also now believes that New Labour lacked the 'energy and focus' to stand up to the banks. And Balls now regrets that 'Tony and Gordon never found a way to bring it together'.

Such declarations will always grab the headlines - but the coverage comes at a price. When Miliband senior, a long-serving cabinet member, suddenly attacks the banks, the screech of brakes and U-turns can be heard from miles off by Labour members.

When Balls, for years Gordon Brown's closest aide, reaches for the mantle of Downing Street peacekeeper, many MPs start guffawing at the idea of such a Damascene conversion.

Such clumsy media moves demonstrate the real PR challenge for the Labour leadership contenders: not just to move away from the most offensive aspects of New Labour, but to emerge from the process with a degree of authenticity.

If some of the PR teams are struggling to pull it off, they are not the first to stumble in this area.

As strategists around David Cameron could testify, it is one thing to detoxify the brand, it is quite another to make people really believe in it.

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