Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Labour may not like the market but it needs marketing

What has marketing to do with the Labour Party? Surely, it is all about selling stuff that nobody needs? Well, irony aside, the answer is that it has everything to do with Labour today, anti-capital or not. The “M”-word actually has two meanings, both of which deserve consideration here. First, it is about aligning an organisation and what it does with the needs of those it seeks to serve. Second, it is about making as sure as possible that those it wants to serve actually  access what it offers; that it promotes itself effectively.

So, first things first: whom does Labour seek to serve? This used to be easy for the party to answer – the workers of industry. Perhaps this is not so obvious today, when “industry” is not what it was and workers are less organised. Maybe one could answer “everybody” – but this would be too trite. Of  course it is true but you have to start with a core vote; a target subset of the whole, who are most likely to need a Labour Party. Is this “hard-working families”? Is it the lower-paid; or the young [the future]; or the old {who vote]? If it is any or all of these, which party would it then like to speak up for the unemployed, the poor, disabled people, who seem to have been excluded of late? [In my view, if Labour is not for these, then it has no purpose at all]. Without being clear whom it believes it represents, Labour can produce pledges and policies galore but fail to align itself to its desired voters.

Then, there is the message. Voters in today’s world buy into not a list of policies but to religions. Not the theological sort but visions or congregations to which they want to belong; whose image or Big Idea they aspire to. This is how cars, clothes, holidays and even food are chosen. Politics is no different, in having to make itself attractive, not in the detail but first in the desire to belong. Just as a consumer may want to be sure the clothes fit, the food is fresh or the holiday as advertised, so s/he will indeed want a set of policies which they like the look and cost of. But this is uninspiring and insufficient; the technicalities to be taken for granted. Decisions are about being on this side, with this group, sharing these values. And quite correctly, surely, for politics should be on a higher plane than mere pecuniary or technical calculation. Jeremy Corbyn is currently repeating Ed Miliband’s mistake of trotting out nice sounding policy ideas whilst failing to give any sort of believable vision for the future, through which to inspire attention or voting:  the religious part. Without a good Big Idea, able to be communicated and promoted in a pithy sound bite or strapline, Labour will continue to fail to inspire. So come on Labour: decide what you are for and tell us, loudly. Do your Marketing.

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