Was the Labour manifesto leak an act of strategic comms genius, worthy of Campbell and Mandelson?

When news broke on Wednesday night that Labour's draft General Election manifesto had been leaked, media attention immediately focussed on tales of sabotage and civil war within the party.

Was the leak of the Labour Party's manifesto all it seemed? asks Ian Griggs
Was the leak of the Labour Party's manifesto all it seemed? asks Ian Griggs
Right-wing media salivated, gleefully, over what they described as a night of chaos for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his team, while left-wing commentators were hardly more generous in their coverage.

So much for Labour Party message discipline and keeping your troops on the same page then.

Or so it seemed… 

Thursday’s mainstream media websites were dominated by headlines surrounding the leak and journalists, having run out of ways to re-write the idea of a party in free-fall, were actually reporting the draft manifesto policies - in full. 

Reporters were reporting. Commentators were commentating. The leaked manifesto was trending on Twitter. 

The story also monopolised the top slots of all the broadcast news channels for the whole day and took up the first third of last night’s Question Time programme. It was wall-to-wall coverage.

But the media only paid so much attention because the information was derived from a leak, rather than a tightly-managed and scripted official manifesto launch. 

Because the media likes to be in possession of something it is not meant to know; it is in the very nature of the beast.

Would there have been so many headlines, angles, comment pieces and analysis had it been launched via the conventional process?

Will there be such feverish media interest when the Conservative Party launches what is likely to be a ‘safety-first’ manifesto designed not to scare the horses? We shall see.

What is clear is that traditional and social media drove a public conversation about Labour’s draft manifesto policies for more than 24 hours, a piece of political engagement with the public that could yet turn out to be significant on polling day

In an age where so much focus is placed on party leader’s personalities rather than on what the electorate is going to get in return for their votes, that was quite an achievement.

If one was hoping to change the terms of the General Election campaign from a question of who is most fit to lead to who has the best policy platform, the ‘leak’ was probably the best way to achieve that.

And if leaking the Labour Party’s manifesto really was an act of sabotage, it appears to have spectacularly back-fired.

It is 20 years, to the month, since Tony Blair swept to power - helped in no small part by a comms and strategy team which included the formidable Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson.

Did either of them decide to lend a hand to Labour’s General Election campaign this week?  

There’s no evidence for this and we may never know but there is more than a whiff of the ‘dark arts’ around this leak.

If it was staged, the only thing that didn’t go according to plan was running over that poor BBC cameraman’s foot. 

Ian Griggs is the analysis and opinion editor for PRWeek

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