Election 2010: Labour urged to call in PR professionals

The Labour Party has been urged to draw on the talents of a 'diaspora' of supportive PR professionals as the election campaign begins in earnest.

Team effort: Gordon Brown with party ministers
Team effort: Gordon Brown with party ministers

The Labour campaign is being run from its Victoria Street HQ, with extra staff based at Euston and some special advisers dispersed to the regions.

Lord Mandelson and election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander are being aided by familiar faces such as polling expert Lord Gould and two former Downing Street comms directors - Alastair Campbell and David Hill.

There are also key roles for deputy general secretary Alicia Kennedy and Number 10 strategic communications director Justin Forsyth.

But writing in PRWeek, one respected Labour adviser suggested the party should make more use of PR professionals. Paul Richards said: 'There are plenty of Labour-supporting PR people who would have offered free expertise. They have not even been asked.'

Labour sources agreed that the party had a wide range of PR talent at its disposal this time.

Among those mentioned were Portland's Tim Allan, Weber Shandwick's Colin Byrne, Burson Marsteller's Matt Carter, Lexington Communications' Mike Craven, Champollion's Simon Buckby, APCO's Darren Murphy and Razi Rahman, and Gallie Godfrey founder Jim Godfrey.

One insider said: 'There's a Labour PR diaspora out there, untapped as far as I know.'

Meanwhile, Tory communications chief Andy Coulson and strategy director Steve Hilton are now sharing the same office at the party's HQ on Millbank.

Andrew Feldman is chief executive in charge of Conservative campaign headquarters, while former lobbyist George Bridges is assisting the party's official election co-ordinator George Osborne.

 

PRWEEK ELECTION PANEL

Leading comms experts, with different allegiances, give their verdict so far

 

PAUL RICHARDS ON LABOUR

'Amateur' is not a word anyone has been able to pin on Labour's election campaigns since Michael Foot's day, but the Labour poster depicting Cameron as Gene Hunt is as amateur as it gets. It was created by Jacob Quagliozzi, a Labour supporter from St Albans, who won an online competition. The PR and advertising professionals have not been impressed with the result. Gene Hunt is a popular anti-hero. For many people, the 1980s was a great decade, because they were young, or rich, or both. Posters are instantly subverted and sabotaged. Indeed, the Tories ran a series of online spoofs. Labour is ten points behind in some polls and the millions of floating voters need to hear simple, compelling messages, across a range of media, explaining why Gordon Brown deserves to win.

There are plenty of Labour-supporting PR people who would have offered free expertise. They have not even been asked. Peter Mandelson must get a grip on Labour's communications strategy. Amateur hour is over. Forget Gene Hunt. It is time for the Professionals.

Richards formerly advised cabinet ministers Patricia Hewitt and Hazel Blears, and is the author of How to Win an Election. He writes a weekly column for Progress

 

TIM COLLINS ON THE CONSERVATIVES

The election kicks off at the end of the best campaigning week for the Tories during the past six months. After months of offering pessimism, they have finally got back to the message on which Conservative victories are always built: you are better off with the Tories.

Voters are invariably asked to choose between Time for a Change and Don't Turn Back - in cruder terms, between hope and fear.

Yet the Conservatives somehow managed in the early months of 2010 to out-gloom Gordon Brown and seemed to offer a worse future than he does.

Thank heavens a tighter grip has been exercised since then - and the firm offer of tax cuts, which saved the party from the cataclysm of a 2007 election, have propelled them out of immediate danger again. Expect to see some more familiar Tory themes in weeks to come: set the people free, get government off your back, lower taxes mean higher growth. David Cameron is finally firing up his Quattro.

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs MD Collins is a former Conservative Party comms director and has also served in the shadow cabinet

 

IAN WRIGHT ON THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Vince Cable's clear victory in the Chancellors' Debate was important. First, it underlined the Lib Dems' credibility on managing the economy - where Cable's increasing standing could be decisive. Secondly, there is a pointer for Nick Clegg on how to handle the crucial first prime ministerial debate.

A watch-out is the way in which both the intervention of business leaders on Labour's plans for National Insurance and the ludicrous Labour poster of Cameron as Gene Hunt (which backfired almost as much as his Audi Quattro) led back to old-fashioned, two-party stories. While broadcasters have a legal obligation to provide balanced coverage, the newspapers do not and it is clear that can be a concern for the Clegg campaign. It is fair to note that, at the weekend, the Lib Dems moved quickly on the Chris Grayling tape news cycle to ensure they took at least equal prominence to lead the criticism. They will be looking to replicate that success as much as possible as the campaign proper moves into gear this week.

Wright has advised Lib Dem leaders Paddy Ashdown, Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg.

 

 

CAMPAIGN HOTS UP

6 April: Gordon Brown calls the UK general election for 6 May, saying Britain is on the 'road to recovery' and urging voters not to put it 'at risk'.

4 April: Tories forced on to the defensive as The Observer reveals 'secret tape' of shadow home secretary Chris Grayling supporting b&b owners' right to turn away gay couples.

3 April: Labour is widely panned for unveiling a poster featuring David Cameron as TV detective Gene Hunt. The Tories quickly release their own version.

29 March: Channel 4 airs Ask the Chancellors debate. Viewers declare Lib Dems' Vince Cable the winner.

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