THE BLOG

Playing The Media Game

16/05/2017 12:19
Ken Jack - Corbis via Getty Images

The leak of the Labour manifesto could have gone horribly wrong but instead it has led to days of positive coverage. Labour appears to finally be playing the media game and Mrs May is helping.

Whatever the source of the manifesto leak, Labour has enjoyed days of consistent media coverage and is trying to take charge of the policy debate. It has been clear in promoting the policies that polls indicate are generally popular with the public.

And it seems that Mrs May is a little rattled.

The Conservative approach in the early weeks was to keep everything concentrated on Mrs May. This highly personal approach played both to her need for a strong mandate to be used in the Brexit negotiations and reinforced the poor leadership ratings for Jeremy Corbyn (and John McDonnell).

This has now given way to policy announcements that are attempting to reclaim the working class vote that, the Conservatives suggest, is being abandoned by Labour. Just in recent days there have been promises of National Living Wage rises, protection for workers on short term contracts, more workers' rights and measures on council houses.

Mrs May and her team would claim that they know exactly what they are doing in making these types of appeals. They are a deliberate attempt to claim back the working class voters who were so attracted by Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s and voted in their droves for her, especially in the early 1980s when she tore up the political rulebook.

This is a robust and muscular state-led approach being advocated by the Conservatives now which seems a long way removed from the Thatcherite approach even if the electoral targets are the same. Whilst not totally at odds with the market-based policies of the last 30 or so years, the approach is certain to come into conflict with it.

Mrs May's attacks on Corbyn are also weakened when she has suggested similarly interventionist policy approaches herself. She may have dropped the idea of workers on boards for the time being but political ideas have a habit of being resurrected.

The energy cap is another classic example. When proposed by Ed Miliband, there were interference in the market, a return to the 1970s and would deliver chaos. But under Mrs May they appear to be a sensible protection for working families.

Under proposals contained in corporate governance reforms proposed towards the end of last year, May's government wanted to consider pay ratio reporting whether voluntary or through mandated reporting. These are not as firm as Corbyn's apparent approach to executive pay but the principle of 'doing something' appears to be cross-party and it is Corbyn coming up with the radical policy solutions.

The more policy is discussed, the happier Labour will be especially where it comes to the NHS. Corbyn will not want to 'weaponise' the NHS but the more it can talk about 'saving' the NHS, the better. Especially following the recent computer hacks. The Conservatives may want to put the blame at NHS Trusts failing to install Microsoft updates but the reality is, by all accounts, a little more complex, especially if Jeremy Hunt has received warnings about potential weaknesses in NHS IT systems.

It is also possible to tell that the Conservative Party has changed approach by the number of appearances by Michael Fallon. These usually occur in direct correlation with how aggressive the Conservative campaign is. His role as 'attack dog' means that issues around Corbyn's support for the IRA and his position in supporting all the main left wing campaigns of the last 40 years (Irish independence and, some would claim, the IRA itself; Cuba; Nicaragua; Palestine; CND etc.) can be put back on the table. This increased aggression is being used to put 'Corbyn as leader' back into people's minds. However good Labour's focus on policy may be they can do little to counter Corbyn's low personal poll ratings.

But by leading the policy agenda for a number of days, Corbyn seems to have grabbed the attention of the public and forced a reaction from Mrs May.

We may end up with a Conservative government but one that owes a fair amount to Corbyn and his left-wing agenda. A Conservative government that is potentially pink in tooth and claw.

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