Jeremy Corbyn executed a simple strategy very effectively and it has resulted in a brilliant set of results for the Labour Party, writes Benedict Pringle, founder of politicaladvertising.co.uk.
There is a regularly held perspective among the political commentator class that “campaigns don’t matter”. The argument is that the fundamentals of the campaign are set months, even years, ahead of polling day and that the campaigns run by our political parties are frivolous and ineffective attempts at changing the minds of voters.
Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have proven that viewpoint completely and utterly incorrect.
Corbyn’s crusade had every element of a successful campaign and it resulted in Labour unexpectedly gaining seats at a general election for the first time since 1997 and scoring a 40% share of the vote – an amount equalling that which won Labour a big parliamentary majority in 2005.
A viable strategy
Fundamental to any successful campaign is a clear and viable strategy.
Corbyn’s plan – which he stated when he first made his bid to become Labour leader – was to hold on to those who voted Labour in 2015 and add to it those who were disaffected by the party’s previous “Tory-lite” and either didn’t vote at all or lent their support to the Lib Dems, the Greens or UKIP as a protest.
A big portion of the “didn’t vote last time” target audience were young people and, while the data is still coming in on the demographics of the turnout, it seems very likely that Corbyn has been massively successful at getting millennials to the polling station.
A simple narrative delivered with authenticity
Labour’s pitch to the electorate was simple and can be summarised as “we’re willing to make radical decisions to improve the lot of normal people”.
This narrative was told enthusiastically by a leader who could legitimately claim to have been consistently on the side of the marginalised.
This straightforward and authentic story was clearly very compelling indeed to the intended audience.
A motivating policy offer and a clear enemy
It turns out that populism is popular!
Among many other things Corbyn promised more money for the NHS, schools, the police and pensioners. He spoke of plans to scrap university fees, create a national investment bank and, crucially, promised to negotiate for Britain to remain in the European single market during the Brexit referendum.
Much of the commentary in the immediate aftermath of the election has been to portray the results as a rejection of Theresa May’s plan for a ‘hard’ Brexit.Corbyn’s carefully judged position of supporting Article 50 while arguing for the best possible trading relationship with Europe turns out to have been a very good one.
Of course, Labour needed to have an answer to the question “who pays for all this?” and Corbyn had a robust (if divisive) answer: high earners and multinational corporations. Strategy is sacrifice and the decision to have a clear enemy, in order to win over friends, was a sensible one.
Keep them busy or they’ll keep you busy
Perhaps the biggest shock of the campaign was the transformation of Corbyn’s approach to and relationship with the media. Prior to the election it was fraught and the party seriously struggled to generate news stories.
This was a huge problem as the ‘air war’ is won by feeding journalists with stories that help colour the nature of their coverage and, in doing so, provide more positive information to the public to use to inform their vote.
Labour held massive public events which gave broadcast news crews brilliant pictures for their stations.
Corbyn’s bold statements, such as his foreign policy speech immediately following the Manchester terrorist attack, and brave actions, for example making a last minute attendance at a live TV debate, gave interesting fodder for election campaign news coverage.
And Corbyn’s work with grime superstars who helped deliver his message in relevant ways to young people led to massive amounts of earned media on social networks.
Compare this to Theresa May who avoided the public and spoke at fairly staid, carefully managed events – a tactic that frustrated the journalists that accompanied them on the campaign trail. This behaviour, combined with lacklustre media performances and a refusal to debate Corbyn, led to the Conservatives' earned media share being much lower and more negative in tone than they would have hoped for.
A humble approach to battlegrounds
Much has been made of Corbyn’s seemingly humble character and that trait was definitely on show in his decisions as to where to spend time on the campaign trail.
He left Labour candidates in tightly held marginal seats alone to try and win over wavering voters; he didn’t, for example, visit seats such as Ilford North where a more centrist Labour candidate was defending his constituency against a Tory threat.
Corbyn instead visited Labour strongholds and spoke to huge crowds. This behaviour generated a sense of momentum in national news coverage and gave wavering supporters the sense that a vote for Labour wouldn’t be in vain.
Evidence for the success of this approach can be found in the fact that in the 73 constituencies that Corbyn visited throughout the campaign, the party made 12 gains and didn't lose any.
While Labour didn’t win a majority, or even the most seats, they have made impressive gains, arrived at a strategy for possible future success and created an electoral map with many more winnable seats than they faced at the start of the campaign.