Top adviser warns Labour 'brand' risks contamination

Paul Richards says Labour is in need of wide-ranging communications overhaul.

Hazel Blears' outgoing special adviser has issued a stark warning that Labour's brand is in 'real danger of contamination' unless there is a wide-ranging overhaul of the party's comms strategy.

Until last week, Paul Richards worked as a senior adviser to Blears. He stopped working for her when she quit as communities secretary.

In an exclusive article for PRWeek, Richards warns: 'For a complex set of reasons, from the Iraq War, to expense-gate, from McBride's emails to the failure to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Labour's brand is in real danger of contamination.'

Richards' comments come days after two Labour MPs complained of smears by Downing Street.

First, backbencher Paul Farrelly claimed that Number 10 sources had briefed against him while he was out on the campaign trail for the local elections. This week, Jane Kennedy resigned as environment minister, hitting out at 'smears against colleagues ... orchestrated by Number 10'.

Richards says the party can only recover if Brown's close aides stop smears. He advises: 'No more stories in the Mail and The Telegraph that do members of Labour's team down.'

He also advises that Labour ends its 'obsession' with political journalists, adding: 'Cabinet ministers spend a disproportionate amount of effort focused on what Polly Toynbee has to say, and spend less time than they should on regional titles, ethnic media, women's magazines, local radio phone-ins, daytime TV, and the specialist titles.'

Finally, Richards argues that the flow of stories has to shift to 'what Labour is actually doing in real communities', but admits this requires 'media savvy' local MPs.

He concludes that Labour can still overhaul its image, but that 'time is running out'.

RICHARDS' KEY POINTS

- Labour Ministers and MPs have the right to hold Gordon Brown to his word: no more smears, no more hatchet jobs

- Labour must end its obsession with the political correspondents ... it is an error to confuse 'the lobby' with 'the media'

- The flow of stories has to shift to what Labour is actually doing in real communities - 'delivery stories' as opposed to 'process' stories.

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