Enough is enough - political communicators must ditch the Lynton Crosby playbook

The Crosby campaign playbook is simple, but the General Election result proves that this time it didn't work. Here are four lessons political comms pros can learn from that failure...

Political communicators must ditch the  Lynton Crosby playbook, argues Connor Mitchell
Political communicators must ditch the Lynton Crosby playbook, argues Connor Mitchell

The Prime Minister's high-risk political gamble has backfired. Her parliamentary majority is lost and her credibility as leader is shattered. While, incredibly, the maverick outsider Jeremy Corbyn is walking with a spring in his step, telling all those who will listen that he has secured a famous victory.

Once again, an optimistic and uplifting message of hope, reform and change has triumphed over the dismal narrative developed by the infamous Australian political strategist Sir Lynton Crosby.

The architect of the most unlikely of Conservative majorities in 2015, Crosby also successfully delivered Boris Johnson to City Hall in 2008 despite Labour’s dominance in the capital.

The Crosby campaign playbook is simple: centralise on the economy; get big business on side; ensure the number crunchers churn out the data you need; outline the risks of the alternative; and relentlessly hammer that message home. Rinse and repeat.

However, against the odds, this time it failed.

Here’s what political communicators can learn from his mistakes:

First, negative message = negative outcome

Attempts to spread anti-Muslim sentiment saw Zac Goldsmith defeated in the race to become London Mayor, and the widespread depiction of working people as stupid and ignorant for wanting to vote Leave resulted in last summer’s political earthquake - Brexit. Negative and derisive messages do not work. To win you need to present an exciting, energetic, forward-looking vision of the future. Both Sir Lynton and Mrs May failed to do this.

Second, the importance of authenticity

Robotically chanting mantras again and again doesn’t mean they’ll stick. Corbyn’s meteoric rise - if nothing else - can be put down to his ability to speak to the public like a human being, not a media-trained parrot. Politician or corporate spokesperson, the importance of communicating with sincerity and compassion cannot be underestimated.

Third, a picture paints a thousand words

When Cameron and Osborne campaigned on the economy in 2015, they did so from every factory, manufacturing plant and industrial park they could find. Selecting the right backdrop is critical, and without it - particularly for broadcast - even the most effective of messages just won’t cut it. And, quite frankly, no one seems strong and stable when they put up a last-minute substitute in TV appearances.

Fourth, respect your audience

Throughout the campaign, the Conservatives' lack of respect for the electorate was clear. Despite May being well ahead in the polls in the traditional gauge of suitability for Prime Minister, their naivety meant Corbyn could shift the conversation away from leadership and on to shared values. For all the New Labour talk of spin, it is hard to see messrs Campbell and Mandelson taking such an advantage for granted.

Let me be clear - to articulate the kind of Brexit that Mrs May is hoping to secure, and the strong and stable government that she is hoping to provide, the PM simply must rid herself of the message of doom and gloom by ditching the failed Crosby playbook forever.

Connor Mitchell co-led Labour Leave’s press office during the EU referendum campaign

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