Will Ed Miliband's 'One Nation' rhetoric win over voters? AMV BBDO's Paul Burke has his doubts...
We’ve all had that feeling. The one that says, “Is it just me?” I got it after seeing Ben Kingsley’s performance in Sexy Beast. While everyone else was saying “phenomenal” and “terrifying”, I just wanted to laugh. Two words came to mind: “Alf” and “Garnett”. I got it again after watching Ed Miliband’s closing speech at the Labour Party Conference. People have been hailing it as “brilliant” and “breathtaking” but again I found myself wondering, “Is it just me?” I’m not anti-Labour. Far from it. I worked on their 1992 and 1997 election campaigns. But nor am I a card-carrying Conservative. Political parties are not like football teams. It can be good to change your allegiance and vote for whichever party seems best equipped to deal with a given set of circumstances.
On last night’s evidence, I’m not sure that party is Labour. Ed’s speech seemed embarrassingly contrived and his co-opting of Disraeli’s notion of “One Nation” struck me as phoney. “One Nation” is not an ideology I’ve ever associated with Labour. Don’t they usually preach the very opposite? They have a history of playing up people’s differences rather than their similarities, then seeking to exploit those differences for political advantage. To suddenly claim that they’re now the party of “One Nation” is unlikely to fool anyone.
Ed quite rightly highlighted the failings of the coalition but that alone is not enough. When we’re writing ads, it’s no good just saying that other products are rubbish; we have to talk about our own product’s features and why it’s better than its competitors. Voters want to know what Ed would do in Downing Street but he didn’t seem able to tell them.
Perhaps this is deliberate. He may be hoping that, as the old maxim goes, oppositions don’t win elections – governments lose them and that people will dislike this government so much that they’ll vote him in regardless. However I think the electorate have wised up to that old ruse and, as we have to in our industry, he’ll need some ideas of his own. He can point to a healthy lead in the opinion polls but again, as we know, healthy research results don’t always translate into healthy sales because people lie. And one of the biggest lies they tell is that they could never vote Conservative. For some reason, admitting to being a “Tory” is social suicide. Yet, in the privacy of the ballot box, it’s a different story.
Neil Kinnock discovered this in 1992 and if he doesn’t give people more to go on, Ed might discover it too. It’s all very well stealing phrases like “One Nation” but if a product isn’t good enough, people simply will not buy it.
And this time, it won’t be “just me”.
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