David Singleton: The long and short of political communications

Four weeks ago, this magazine reported American pollster Stan Greenberg's sage advice to the Labour Party ahead of the general election.

David Singleton
David Singleton

With David Cameron presenting himself as the change candidate, Labour would have to 'rephrase the debate' in order to get a look in with the electorate.

This week, Labour Party election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander provided the clearest insight yet as to how the party intends to achieve such a feat. 'We must not allow the Tories to frame the election as a choice between the status quo and change,' he told The Guardian. 'What we want is a choice between two competing visions of the future.'

Hence Labour's election slogan 'A future fair for all' and Gordon Brown's widely praised appeal to voters to 'take a second look at us - and take a long, hard look at them'.

Of course, Labour is right to focus on preventing the election from becoming a referendum on Gordon Brown. But long-term strategising will only pay dividends if it is matched by effective short-term tactics.

This week's allegations of bullying suggested that the latter still remain in short supply at Downing Street.

After furiously denying the allegations of bullying in Number 10, press handlers at Downing Street later shifted their stance - briefing journalists about the PM's strength of character and determination to do his best for the country.

Meanwhile a series of carefully worded denials failed to fully address the allegation that Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell he had reprimanded the PM until it was too late.

The familiar dithering is more surprising given that much of what has been revealed in Andrew Rawnsley's book did not come as an enormous shock to many in Number 10.

Discarding the official spin, Downing Street sources told this writer that the Rawnsley claims are just the tip of an iceberg that has been an open secret in Westminster for years.

'The only amazing thing is that it took so long to come out,' says one senior figure.

This weekend will see the Conservative Party unveil its election plans.

While strategy director Steve Hilton will be focused on the broad campaign themes, comms director Andy Coulson will be poised to jump on any developing media narratives.

Labour will be watching carefully.

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