Labour to shake up comms roles to fight antipathy towards Ed Miliband

The Labour Party is considering promoting its head of media to a newly created top comms role, in a move aimed at turning the tide of antipathy facing Ed Miliband.

Ed Miliband: troubled year (REX Features)
Ed Miliband: troubled year (REX Features)

Several well-connected sources have suggested that head of news Bob Roberts is being 'teed up' for the role of executive director of comms, which would involve him leapfrogging his current superior, director of comms Tom Baldwin.

However, a Labour press officer insisted that the recruitment process had not yet begun.

The suggestions follow a troubled year for the Labour comms operation, which began with Labour leader Miliband sinking below Nick Clegg in the opinion polls, and Baldwin having to reject comparisons of Miliband to Iain Duncan Smith.

Even in what has been viewed as a successful week for Miliband, in which he campaigned for RBS chief executive Stephen Hester's bonus to be put to a parliamentary vote, Ipsos Mori described his 'slow, steady decline', taking him to a dissatisfaction rating of 56 per cent.

A Labour-connected source said: 'The big challenge is to develop a sustainable narrative.'

'What are we about? Ed has flip-flopped on this time and time again. What do we stand for if New Labour is dead?'

The party, she added, had also fallen into the habit of depending on 'low-hanging fruit' in the media, such as attacks on News International and CEO bonuses.

Weber Shandwick corporate and public affairs chairman Jon McLeod said: 'The proposition has to be made crystal clear, in the way that Blair did. There are some good lines about state-owned banks, but it's a bit of a pick and mix.'

McLeod suggested that a more thorough positioning might follow the current round of policy reviews led by policy strategist Liam Byrne.

Stuart Bruce Associates principal Stuart Bruce said Miliband had suffered from a 'lack of ammunition', pointing to the local elections as an opportunity to turn things around this year.

But another agency source disagreed, suggesting that the problem was with the leader, rather than the comms.

'The leader is not cutting through or seen as a potential prime minister,' he said. 'In many ways, what he says is eminently sensible, but the Tories are still ahead in the polls, after 18 months of cuts.'

Also read: Danny Rogers: Can team changes revitalise Miliband?

 

TIMELINE

 

  • January 2012 Miliband says Labour will force a Commons vote on whether the Government should block Stephen Hester's bonus.
  • August 2011 He calls for a public inquiry into the riots, insisting that society had 'to avoid simplistic answers'.
  • July 2011 Miliband calls for News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks to resign, and urges David Cameron to establish a judicial inquiry into the phone hacking scandal.
  • June 2011 Labour is two percentage points ahead of the Tories, but Miliband's rating is lower than Iain Duncan Smith at a similar stage in his opposition leadership.

 

IN NUMBERS

30% Proportion of public happy with Ed Miliband's performance as leader
56% Proportion of public unhappy with Ed Miliband's performance
46% Proportion of Labour supporters satisfied with Ed Miliband
44% Proportion of Labour supporters dissatisfied with Ed Miliband.

Source: Reuters/Ipsos Mori Political Monitor of 2012.

 

STRATEGY Iain McNichol redesigns top comms roles to split responsibilities with leader's office


Labour's search for two executive comms experts is expected to help the party to respond to attacks more effectively.

The executive director of comms role is being recruited for at the same time as an executive director for rebuttal and policy. They are two of six board-level roles that have been devised by the party's general secretary, Iain McNichol.

McNichol has redesigned the top comms roles to split responsibilities equally between the party and the leader's office - a change for Labour.

The roles are currently kept separate, often with the negative work being handled by the party and the positive stories taken by the leader's office.

One Labour source praised the structural change as a 'smart move' by McNichol, as the combined rebuttal and policy role would help the party to use policy more effectively to respond to attacks.

The restructuring follows Miliband's appointment of Tim Livesey as chief of staff last December. He was previously the Archbishop of Canterbury's senior adviser.

Former Daily Mirror political editor Bob Roberts handles the media on a day-to-day basis, while former Times chief reporter Tom Baldwin plays a more behind-the-scenes strategic role.

Also read: 'Labour adopting 'Good cop, bad cop' PR strategy with hires of Tom Baldwin and Bob Roberts'

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