I think the scales have now effectively tipped against Labour, and that further wriggling will sink them further. I think their brand is irretrievably damaged and they need a cathartic change now if they are to survive the next election without a catastrophic split afterwards. I think the latest piece of evidence, but not the cause, is the latest ComRes Poll (details on the excellent Iain Dale Blog) on peoples’ perceptions of the safety of the NHS.
After Dan Hannan’s comments on American television on the National Health Service, Labour activists and politicos went wild, seeking to associate the NHS with the Labour Party, and appropriating the service for themselves. They attempted to create clear water between themselves (as saviours and saints) and Conservatives (as detractors and privatisers), succesting that the NHS would be destroyed by the Tories, and that only Labour loved the service.
The Labour strategy was to go hell-for-leather on the issue. It’s an old political strategy, the equivalent of stating fondness for world peace, kittens and apple pie. And some of us got a little squeamish; I admit, I thought for a moment they would hole us a little, give them something to cling on to, allow them to work a spin around tory plans for the future of the NHS. I remember trying something similar in my student politics days. “Don’t let John Mackell close our bars”. He won of course, but I know I made it people think. I didn’t think ‘welovetheNHS’ would win them the election, but I thought it might give them their mojo back.
Well, it hasn’t worked. The ComRes poll shows that, even after the Hannan debacle, and after the Twitter and Facebook and every-other-goddamned-network-they-could-access social media storm, they haven’t gotten anywhere. People took David Cameron at face-value when he said we were the party of the NHS, and understood Andrew Lansley’s ringfencing argument. When asked if they agreed with the statement “The NHS would be safer under Labour than the Conservatives”, 39% agreed and 47% disagreed.
Well, that sunk their battleship. And that’s not the end of it, because I believe it shows a significant collapse in the believability factor for the government.
A government relies on the trust of the people to be re-elected; people will elect a party they reckon will actually enact policy which they agree with, will take decisions with positive outcomes for their lives. That’s the brand value of the party.
I suspect that now, Labour are so distrusted that everything they profess to support will result in people remembering their failures in that policy area. I suspect that something as wrongheaded as the ‘welovetheNHS’ thing perhaps focused people on their recent experience of the service, and the failures in its operation. There is something of the Jonah effect at play here, and we need to pay close attention to what they profess to love and profess to hate in the coming months.
Note that this doesn’t mean an irretrievable collapse into negative campaigning, since the negativity in recent weeks has been ineffective in securing their poll positions. It’s wotrth noting that they are actually creeping up again, but far too slowly for them to be happy.
I believe that they need a complete rebrand now in order to save them. I think that, if they were to dispatch Gordon Brown at COnference (which is incredibly unlikely but still possible) they could see a major change in their fortunes; unfortunately that change would have to take place through a winter, when canvassing times are curtailed in their (Northern) key consitituencies. I’ll fill in the gaps soon.