Labour a confused brand

First published on Brand Republic on 28/09/11

This week it is Labour’s turn to make us cringe. 

At ‘Conference’ (cringe), did Ed Miliband clarify his own position and his party’s positioning, for surely the two are intertwined?

The answer, as with all these interchangeable career politicians, is that it is very difficult to pin down what they stand for. You have to go by what they say.

But how much of what they say can you believe?

Are they people of conviction and integrity – or do they put their own careers first (even before family)? I think we all know the answer.

What makes it worse, and again we all know this, is that since the old ideological battles of socialism and capitalism were fought and won (we thought), the individual personalities of all three Party Leaders are more important than ever.

And no more so than this week.

For, as you may have noticed, the ‘New’ in the Labour brand name has disappeared. 

In his Conference speech Miliband said:

‘You know, I am not Tony Blair. I am not Gordon Brown either. Great men who, in their own ways, achieved great things.’

But, in saying this, what he actually meant was that New Labour is not ‘New Labour’ any more. That was ‘Blair Labour’.

And both of them – Blair and New Labour – have, very quietly and deliberately, been put to one side. In praising Blair, Miliband has ditched him. This is politics. After all, he did it to his own brother.

Strategically, ditching ‘New Labour’ is undoubtedly a wise move. All of us in marketing know that you can only be ‘new’ for a certain amount of time. This is why it is even more dumb to attach the word ‘new’ to your brand name. But that is an old issue now.

So, apart from Blair the man and Blair the brand, which of the principles of ‘New Labour’ have been retained and which have been discarded?

For, since the launch of New Labour, in fact since the demise of New Labour, new problems have emerged. In other words, what was new in 1997 is not new now and what was new last year is not new now either. Oh dear, this is all very confusing.

Where does Labour stand now – today?

Ed Miliband is free to redefine the Labour brand in his own image and set himself against these challenges. But has he achieved this?

The answer is that he sort of has and sort of hasn’t.

He took some textbooks on leadership on his summer holidays to help him define himself and his party. This is what he tried to do in his Conference speech, in which he said:

‘My top demand of my Shadow Cabinet, my party, my team is this: 


Ambition to change our country. 

It’s why we were founded. 

It’s in our souls’. 

Which book did that load of balls come from?

Actually, it is even more confusing than you might think because although this is what it says in this script here, I am not sure if he actually said it because, in the Liverpool of whose Council Miliband is so proud, the lights went out and my TV turned blue.


I don’t know whether ‘ambition in their souls’ will win Labour an election.

Nor is it my job to dissect and analyse each of the ‘policies’ Miliband announced, but I have observed consistently in these blogs how strange it is that politicians do not take decisions in the simple, effective way we do in marketing: 1. Objective. 2. Strategy. 3. Execution.

Politicians just leap blindly, and amateurishly, into things called ‘policies’.

At this stage, what Miliband needs is principles not policies.

He went some way to achieving this by saying ‘we need a New Bargain in our economy’.  At the time, I thought there might be something meaningful here, that the ‘New Bargain’ might just be a Big Idea for old Labour.

But then we went down a blind alley and back up Miliband’s septum.

We had the complicated introduction of different tax systems for ‘producers’ and ‘predators’, good companies and bad companies.

Then we endured, as we had to, a stab at Murdoch and the Coalition cuts, including the subtraction of the value of public shareholding in the banks off the national deficit figure, which I proposed at the end of my post in October last year.

And then there were cheap (or should I say expensive) pops at Fred Goodwin which surely only reflect badly on Labour and their as-yet-unredeemed Shadow Chancellor. They do not move the Labour brand forward at all.

Plus an obscure comparison between Fred the Shred and the Chairman of Rolls Royce, whose name would not have been known in many a pub quiz.

If you want to launch the New Bargain party, with ambition in your soul, it is much better to leave Goodwin behind with Brown and Blair Labour. A simple apology for past disasters and undeserved knighthoods is quite enough.

Muddling all this up with predators and producers only detracted from the bigger, over-arching brand challenge.

So Ed, for now, why not stick with a ‘bottom up’ approach and focus on developing direct strategies to help overcome the needs of the low-paid, unemployed and disabled which are closer to the blue-collar heritage of your Labour brand?

Leave the ‘top-down’ issues such as the banks and complicated private finance controls in the NHS for later. Labour’s execrable failure in these areas is too recent, and the tangible benefits to your core following too remote from their day-to-day needs, to matter at this stage.

You have opened the door for Cameron to bite back at you next week (just wait).

Stick to what you can do for the people who need you. There are plenty of innovative ways you can achieve this.

Focus on what you can give to the poor (and be a producer) not take from the rich (like a predator).

If you have a New Bargain between the Citizen and the State, and this really is a Big Idea please explain – in a way that we can understand – exactly what you mean.

Otherwise, all you will do is confuse.

Just keep it simple – for the easier you are to understand, the stronger will be your brand.

You will find this simple human insight well worth remembering.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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