From the editor-in-chief: The Tory failure is an abject indictment on its campaign and comms team

Elections produce the purest form of campaigning - they either succeed or they fail.

Today we are left in the unusual situation where Labour hasn’t quite won an election, but I think it’s fair to say that the Conservatives have failed, abjectly.

Incidentally, so have the election gurus, the traditional pollsters and most newspaper proprietors and editors.

Because in the spring, Theresa May and her assorted advisors (Fiona Hill, Nick Timothy, Sir Lynton Crosby, Edmonds Elder, M&Saatchi, Jim Messina) did not set out simply to win an election; they aimed to increase her parliamentary majority and popular mandate. The very opposite has occurred.

It is a terrible indictment on largely the same team of people – admittedly under the leadership of David Cameron - that failed last summer to win a Remain vote. Even worse, in both cases these teams of people actually decided to hold the votes in the first place.

On the other hand, while some in the Labour camp may have genuinely thought they could win a majority, most – in their heart of hearts – believed a victory would be avoiding a landslide.

And yet Jeremy Corbyn and his team pulled off something of a miracle. Winning just over 40 per cent of the popular vote matches the achievement of Tony Blair and his team in 2005, when he won a reasonably comfortable majority.

Even more intriguingly there is very little in common between the Corbyn movement and the tried-and-tested campaigning formula of the New Labour team twelve years ago.

In 2017, Labour’s campaign succeeded (yes, I do think we can say that), not through the iron fist approach to media relations invented by Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, or the branding and polling prowess of Philip Gould and agency BMP DDB but with an Obama-style approach to campaigning.

Barack Obama, an African American with a Muslim-sounding name, pulled off one of the world’s most incredible campaigns in 2008 using a combination of social media communication, grass roots events to mobilise disillusioned voters AND traditional advertising and PR techniques. Moreover, Team Obama famously campaigned on a message of hope rather than fear and hate.

This year, Labour (along with Emmanuel Macron in France) has taken this idea of a communications ‘movement’ a stage further. It has learned – as we all should – that the influence of newspapers and establishment pollsters has waned even further.

Political campaigns must now be more authentic and connect with voters on a more intimate and gritty level. Labour’s vastly superior numbers of followers on Twitter and Facebook have paid off, but only because Corbyn, his MPs and party activists have worked hard at this, genuinely engaging in conversations. The engagement metrics in recent weeks endorse that.

And of course, Corbyn’s masterstroke – and Theresa May’s Achilles heel – was the last-minute decision to take part in the leadership debate. It didn’t really matter how the debate went, but May’s decision to shun it said so much to British people.

As the Green Party’s co-leader Caroline Lucas insightfully pointed out on the night: ‘The first rule of leadership is to show up’. Here, and right across the board - at events, with local journalists and on social media for the past two months - Team May has failed to show up.

Danny Rogers is editor-in-chief of PRWeek UK

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