What can we learn from the Labour leadership race so far?
Approximately two-thirds of the way in to the race, it is worth reflecting on some key campaigning principles and whether our would-be leaders are running a text-book campaign or are they making some rookie errors.
- Understand your audience
Understanding your audience is key to any campaign. This has proved particularly challenging in this contest as the newly-joined £3 affiliate-members have distorted the demographic significantly. If we remove the rogue Tories, however, the Labour membership has been shown to be considerably to the left of those who generally always vote Labour or Labour swing voters. Liz Kendall’s campaign has perhaps focussed a little too much on trying to capture those swing voters which, whilst right for the 2020 General Election, is a wasted effort in a Labour Leadership election. Her comments that Labour should be going after Tory voters will perhaps be seen as one of the reasons she has failed to make significant in-roads with the membership. Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, has very much played to the grassroots of the Labour Party as well as picking up significant support amongst the affiliated supporters and trade unions.
- Build an inclusive coalition
Notwithstanding the above, Labour, like all political parties, contains a broad church of political views. Yvette Cooper is making slow and steady progress in the campaign by positioning herself as the candidate with the widest appeal, carefully tacking down the middle of the membership, neither too left nor too right. Where she should seek to really capitalise on this is by picking up large numbers of 2nd and possibly 3rd preferences which will likely prove decisive. In an AV system, a solid understanding of the maths is vital.
- Read the essay question
This is a leadership contest and, therefore, the ability to demonstrate leadership is crucial. Sir Robert Worcester hypothesised that the winner of any General Election will be the person who is most able to demonstrate leadership, economic competence and party unity. In this contest, the former is taking on a more decisive role. Andy Burnham appears to have slipped behind in the rankings and there is a strong case to be made that his handling of the vote on the Welfare Reform Bill damaged voters’ sense of his conviction and decisiveness.
- Hearts and heads both matter
Just like a brand, a leader must make a rational and emotional connection to the membership. Jeremy Corbyn has undoubtedly built his campaign around emotive appeals to Labour values but where he has failed to unite the party, and in particular failed to secure the backing of the PLP, is his ability to convince people of his competence on a range of issues from the economy to foreign policy. However, his positive vision is appealing to the membership and has succeeding in portraying the other three candidates as defensive by comparison.
- Win the mo and keep it
Corbyn has been gifted significant momentum from the swathes of CLPs that have backed him. CLPs tend to be to the left of the party by virtue of those that attend the meetings and, hence, Liz Kendal has struggled to secure significant numbers. Although Jeremy has the ‘mo’ now, the CLP endorsements are all done and so he needs to have some major campaign moments to sustain it through to September.