McCann Enterprise takes a a look at the Labour Party and what makes a champion.
The Labour Party has always been about working people but its relationship with them varies. It has portrayed itself as the Rebel at the head of a workers’ revolution, a Hero battling the forces of injustice on their behalf, and a Caregiver looking after them (or nannying them, depending on your prejudice).
Clearly, the party has left its rebellious roots far behind. This leaves it split between the Caregiver and Hero archetypes. To be sure, these are closely related but there’s a key difference. Heroes have to be effective: able to swoop in, beat the baddies and carry the innocent to safety. Whereas a Caregiver may merely sympathise with you as you get mugged. At its worst, the political Caregiver becomes the archetype’s dark side, the Martyr, and dies without having achieved anything.
This is why the persona and performance of Labour leaders is crucial. By personally embodying the Hero, they can turn a party that cares into a party that’s also able to fight. Whereas the Conservative party – an archetypal Leader, as we argued in a previous blog – gets a certain leeway to field non-Hero, non-leader candidates such as John Major (a Pragmatist). Their willingness to be ruthless and ‘do what needs to be done’ is more likely to be assumed.
So how do Labour leaders respond to the pressure to be a Hero? Tony Blair pulled it off for a time (partly by battling factions in his own party), before going too far and becoming a Conqueror (the dark side of the Hero archetype). Gordon Brown never managed it. He wasn’t ‘flash’, just Gordon, and it wasn’t enough.
How is Ed Miliband faring? At times in his tenure he’s been almost absent from the stage, as though he wants to send his ideas off to battle bad landlords, payday lenders and energy companies by themselves. This left him vulnerable to a mocking press. Even as late as March, Miliband was criticised for not appearing in his own TV ad, instead leaving the spokesman duties to Martin Freeman, the actor who plays Watson in “Sherlock”. If anyone hoped that the deployment of a famous sidekick would imply a heroic Holmesian hero in the shadows, they were mistaken.
During the TV debates, however, a different Miliband has appeared, one who stares down the camera and delivers prepared lines such as, “Hell yes, I’m tough enough” and “Debate me. One. On. One.” Not even his allies would say that Miliband was perfectly cast for this kind of thing and there was plenty of tittering at his attempt to be the tough guy. But it is clear that Miliband and team have cottoned on to their strategic predicament and are addressing it with the tools they have.
It might work. As people have seen more of Miliband, they’ve inevitably discovered that he’s not as awkward and alien as some have claimed (how could he be?). “Where did the weird guy go?” asked an ITV political correspondent after Miliband’s Paxman interview. The #Milifandom puts commenters off balance again – half joke, half not.
In the ramshackle theatre of an election campaign, simply turning up and saying the right lines can count for a lot.