Momentum video refutes Tory attacks on student debt position

The Conservative Party and their allies in the press have been attacking Corbyn and the Labour Party for supposedly flip-flopping on student debt cancellation.

The Sun’s headline yesterday was “Jeremy Corbyn’s U-turn on tuition fees debt is jaw-dropping and only a ruse to persuade voters” whilst The Daily Express went for “Corbyn ridiculed for student debt U-turn after realising £100BN cost”.

Momentum, continuing their GE2017 approach of using highly shareable online video as an alternative to coverage in national newspapers,  have created an amusing and well argued film on the topic.

A thorough refutation of the Conservative argument – combined with a simple set, a deadpan style of dialogue and a well-timed edit – results in a very amusing, shareable and persuasive piece of video content.

The acting performances are particularly impressive.

These two need their own show (or at least redeployment for other Labour rebuttal videos).


A view from inside the Labour campaign

This week I saw Matt Watts, Planning Director at Krow, Labour’s advertising agency, speak about their work for the party and the changing nature of the role ad agencies play in election campaigns.

The amazing video above was put together by Krow.

It’s a brilliant summary of the cultural movement that Corbyn led and the agency helped facilitate.

Below is a summary of the presentation Matt gave:

“In the future agencies need to help parties curate a cultural campaign, not just create an ad campaign.

Ads are easy to dismiss. People don’t generally want to spend time with ads, they’re more likely react to things they’re passionate about or find entertaining or thought-provoking.

So we need to help create causes that inspire action, rather than limiting ourselves to ads that reiterate a position. And execute them in a way, and place, that resonates beyond the newsnight audience.

The film hopefully shows that we got people to view an election campaign in a new light, that we thought beyond just ads, and we curated cultural moments.

The Labour campaign enabled 3 types of campaign content:

1. Official Party content collaborators – executing the key Party messages: Krow, Labour’s in-house team & Ken Loach etc…

2. Non-party campaign groups: Unite the Union, Momentum, Labour Future etc… authentic voices who champion the cause, and cherry pick their messages.

3. Unofficial Party collaborators (with no official connection) who just champion the cause in their own way: Grime4Corbyn, RantsNBants, Corbyn Facebook groups, JOE, individual activists etc…

Given the sheer number of views these content creators can deliver, we have to start considering them in the planning of the campaign.

As the Tories right wing press, continues to slowly die, you have a new generation of content creators, with mass reach at your disposal. As long as the cause is right.”

The “strong and stable leadership” narrative wasn’t the problem

I’ve seen a few articles saying that the Tory campaign fail can be attributed to Crosby’s insistence on message discipline or M&C Saatchi-style ‘brutal simplicity’.

The argument runs: repeating “strong and stable leadership” was a dumb thing to do and the constant reiteration of that phrase got annoying.  They then contend that in a fragmented media landscape you need a multifaceted approach and suggest that a Crosby-style single-minded campaign is for a previous age.

I disagree.

Having a single, simple and compelling narrative is a fundamental aspect of a good election campaign.

What went wrong in the Conservative campaign was that Theresa May simply parroted the strapline, rather than telling the story.  May’s pitch was rigid, badly presented and done in turgid environments which bored the press pack travelling with her and everyone who had to read or watch the coverage.

The Conservative narrative that was very well-constructed in the build-up to the election was as follows: Theresa May will defy the vested interests to bring about change for those just about managing.

It’s that narrative that gave May her 20 point poll lead at the start of the campaign.

“Strong and stable leadership” was intended to be a mental shortcut for a Conservative Party that would stand up to the EU and negotiate a good deal for Britain; for an economy that delivered for ordinary people; for a party that understood the way lots of people felt about immigration; for a Prime Minister unafraid of taking on big corporations such as energy companies; for a leader who could defend the country against internal and external threats.

If you look at the messaging that the Conservatives were deploying on social media advertising – a selection below – you will see that is the story that Lynton Crosby and agency Edmonds Elder were trying to tell.

But Theresa May lacked the flexibility and craft to be able to tell these individual stories in interesting and motivating ways, using “strong and stable leadership” as a unifying theme, without sounding like a robot.

Given that earned media coverage – which at election time is largely generated by a party leader – is disproportionately important on the end result, this was a major barrier to success.

If you think about the successful Vote Leave campaign which took place last year, they had a brilliantly consistent message: take back control.  But the people and organisations that were delivering it did it with flare, passion and energy.

The problem wasn’t the message, it was the messenger.

7 observations on general election 2017

There’s less than three days to go until voters cast their ballots in general election 2017 and the polls are changing unusually quickly.  This implies either a volatile electorate or issues with survey methodology but, regardless of the explanation, it means that predicting the likely outcome is very tricky.

Nevertheless, there’s a number of themes that have emerged throughout the campaign that, depending on the result, will present lessons to be learnt and questions that will need to be asked.

  1. The importance of earned media

Once again we saw that the quality and volume of earned media is disproportionately important in elections.

Theresa May 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 fact, combined with lacklustre media performances and a refusal to debate Corbyn, meant that her earned media share was lower and more negative in tone than the Conservatives would have hoped for and her approval rating declined sharply as a result.

Corbyn, however, made himself available to the public and spoke at large rallies – which produced better pictures for the media – and his question time performances made him seem much more relevant and affable.

The energetic campaign by the Labour Party led to a sense amongst the public that his previous portrayal in the media was unfair and his approval ratings improved as a consequence.

If the tightening of the gap between perceptions of the leadership capabilities of Corbyn and May does lead to a closer result than was previously anticipated, the importance of media narrative and management will have once again asserted itself.


2. Advertising everywhere and also nowhere 

This election has seen the highest volume of advertising – in terms of number of executions – but also the fewest posters (Britain’s traditional political advertising medium) in memory.

The advertising contest was almost entirely carried out online and was therefore far more discreet (as well as more measurable and more targeted).

Voters using Facebook and YouTube in different areas of the country will have had very different experiences of the campaign; whilst marginal seats have always had more focus from campaigns, usually the advertising was something which everyone ‘saw’ through the national news coverage.  No longer.

The Conservatives have two key advantages over Labour in the realm of digital advertising:

a) Experience; Edmonds Elder, the agency running the Conservative online effort, have run the digital aspect of multiple high profile election and referendum campaigns in recent years.

b) Money; available data shows they’ve raised twice as much – around £8 million to Labour’s £4 million.

If the Tories perform better than the polls are currently predicting, it will be hard to argue that the Conservative’s impressive advertising operation wasn’t a factor, as nearly every other aspect of their campaign has been sub-optimal.

This will have the effect of increasing the importance parties place on fundraising and the amount of investment campaigns direct towards advertising the next time Britain heads to the polls.


3. Do manifestos now matter?

There’s huge amounts of research to show that people make decisions about who to vote on an emotional basis and then look for rational policies to back-up their choice.

There’s also plenty of research to show that the owner of the policy colours how good voters think it is.  i.e. to a Conservative voter in 2017 an energy price cap seems like a very positive initiative for those who are ‘just about managing’, but in 2015 – when it was a Labour Party policy – it was an example of unnecessary interference in the free market.

But polling thus far suggests that the major turning point in the campaign was the release of the Labour and Conservative manifestos; one surprisingly well-received and the other filled with bitter medicine that much of the electorate were not willing to swallow.

If Labour perform better than expected, some will argue that in a post-Brexit world – where historical ties to parties were further severed – the humble manifesto will become more important in future elections.


4. I’ve always voted Labour but…

Early polling showed that a large number of seats that were previously presumed as safe Labour constituencies were up for grabs.  If the Conservatives perform well in the midlands, north and Scotland and Labour only really dominate in London, the viability of a party which tries to bridge the interests of the post-industrial north and the liberal elite will again be called into question.


5. What third parties?

The hugely divergent visions and personalities of the two main party leaders, the low likelihood of a hung parliament and the relative weakness of those fronting UKIP and The Lib Dems meant that interest in (and the likely vote share of) third parties declined significantly.  This will probably disproportionately favour the Conservatives.  What is the road back to influence (and seats) for Britain’s third parties?


6. Can you lose seats and still seem like a winner?

Much has been made of the rumour that Labour are pursuing an objective of improving on the national vote share that Miliband achieved in 2015, rather than winning more seats.  Such an objective implies a radically different campaign strategy and one that we’ve not seen from one of our two major parties before.

In the aftermath of an election result in which Labour’s national vote share increases on 2015, but they face a net loss of seats, there will be discussions as to whether or not it’s legitimate to campaign for anything other than a majority in the House of Commons and whether Corbyn has achieved enough to remain as leader.


7. And finally… can you win more seats and still lose?

If Theresa May limps home to victory, only slightly improving on the mandate that David Cameron achieved two years ago – having performed an embarrassing u-turn and ducked a debate with Jeremy Corbyn in the process –  it will inevitably lead to questions about her suitability to conduct the Brexit negotiations that begin later this month.  Given the high expectations set at the start of the campaign, a majority of around 30 could still be fatal for May.

The lesson for any Prime Minister considering a snap election in the future is simple: it’s not a question of whether or not you can win a majority, but whether you can win by enough to survive the resulting term in government.

Conservatives attack Corbyn on defence and security

7 days ago the Conservative Party released a blistering attack on Corbyn’s record on defence and foreign policy; the video has now had over 6 million views on Facebook and YouTube alone.

It’s a fantastic piece of attack advertising.  The viewer is provoked, persuaded and left with a deeply unsettling feeling about the Labour leader.

The video has certainly had some advertising money put behind it – WhoTargetsMe data shows the video has had a paid media push in marginal seats like Derby North – but given the number of views in such a short space of time, I suspect there is also a viral effect going on.

There’s no doubt that Theresa May has had plenty of shortcomings on the campaign trail, but with videos like this reaching massive numbers of target voters, it would certainly be a mistake to claim that the Conservatives are having a “bad campaign”


I’ve written a piece for The Drum in which I explain that The Labour Party have adopted an influencer-led approach to help it reach young voters spending time on social media networks.  I argue young people’s votes are essential to any chance of a Jeremy Corbyn victory on 8 June, that it’s a smart tactic and one that seems to be working.  You can read the full article here.

I’ve also appeared on Channel 5 news talking about the topic, which you can watch below:


And some of the full videos mentioned in that Channel 5 news clip and in the Drum article are available to view below: