Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

JP is right there was no proper campaign but Tories still weak

Posted on 5 June 2009 | 1:06pm

I might not express myself in exactly the same way as John Prescott, but it is hard to disagree with his assessment on the Go Fourth website that there was a lack of proper campaigning in the run up to yesterday’s elections. I also agree with John that the responsibility for that cannot solely be laid at Gordon Brown’s door.

He, Cabinet ministers, the rest of government, the PLP all have a responsibility at election time to help the Labour Party fight and win seats on local councils and in the European Parliament. Councillors being tipped out of office today have every reason to feel that the national mood, rather than their ability or otherwise to run local services, is what has seen many of them out of the door.

Of course the expenses furore made a bad atmosphere worse, but we should not pretend these results are all down to that. The mood has not been great for some time, and the lack of a clear and strong campaign based on defending the record, (a good one) attacking our opponents (they are not that good) and consistently setting out an agenda for the future (it is there) has been evident for some time too.

When I wrote on here a while back that I had seen only one Labour poster between my home and Heathrow airport – the one in my window – messages came from people all over the country saying much the same thing about the low visibility of the campaign.

I will admit there has also been a fair bit of comment and criticism, particularly on Facebook, saying I could and should have become more involved at the centre. I have always been very clear about this – I am happy to help GB and the Party, but I decided back in 2003 that I was not going to go back into a full-time position anything like the ones I held under Tony Blair, and that remains the case.

Part of trying to help was setting up Go Fourth with John, Dick Caborn and Glenys Kinnock in the first place. I have blogged on here before about some of the campaigning we did, and like John I found that when you made the effort to get out there with a positive message, people were more willing to listen and engage than many of the MPs at Westminster were saying.

Of course personnel is important, but it is also about strategic direction. So as ministers unite around GB as he conducts his reshuffle today, there has to be real clarity about what it is they are uniting around, and then they have to step up the political fight at every level.

There is one big ray of hope in all this for Labour. The results so far show that there is no overwhelming desire for the Tories. Cameron and Co like to say they are modelling their campaign in many ways on the way Tony Blair handled the run up to power in 1997. At an equivalent stage in 1996, even without an expenses fiasco, even without ministers jumping overboard every few minutes, we were doing far better than Cameron’s Tories are in better economic and political circumstances than they could ever have imagined.

JP’s rage is that of a man who knows a thing or two about campaigning and who thinks the battle is still there to be won, but looks back at recent weeks and fears the fight for it wasn’t there. The ministers being appointed now have been given a last chance to prove him wrong.

  • Andrew Bell

    I was out from 5 am yesterday morning doing leaflets, phone canvassing and walking the streets, i got home at ten past 10 last night then got changed, washed and went to the count.
    I got home at twenty past 4 this morning, absolutely shattered. But if more people did the same maybe we wouldnt have such a poor rating.

    Ofcourse Gordon isnt solely to blame, but he is the figurehead and the tone setter. Its clear the public dont want him, alot of the members dont want him and I would think that alot of MP’s dont want him-but havent got the balls to stand up and something about it.

    Having weighed up the pro’s and the cons of Gordon being PM iam in no doubt he has to go…then and only then will we have a fighting chance of winning the general.

  • Zelo Street

    The point about showing some fight is spot on.

    What was clear during the last week of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election campaign was that Labour had given up the fight: the Tory victory was therefore that much greater, and now we are lumbered with Edward Timpson (the man with marginally more charisma that a Burton’s dummy).

    It’s interesting that James Purnell, despite his calls for new leadership, is still talking about winning the next General Election. That suggests he believes his party still has enough fight left in it.

    And if Labour can’t muster some fight, the Lib Dems certainly will.

  • Em

    This is a fascinating situation from a dramatic point-of-view. The hero who, some believe, could have saved the country from tyranny remains in half-shadows…

    I’m not entirely joking. The NHS, access to education, civil liberties (although Labour does not have and unblemished record in this) are all at risk here. The economic crisis would give Dave justification for scrapping all manner of programmes which the vulnerable rely on for survival. Non-white and East European newcomers who are already victim of animosity will have an even harder time under a Tory government.

    It’s important to note that the BNP began to rise in the early nineties, long before Labour came to power. There is no reason to believe that the so-called BNP protest vote would ever move back to the Conservatives. A UK move to the right with the Conservatives might not damage the extreme right at all. Au contraire…

    All sources confirm that GB and yourself were never as close as you were to TB and after the Kelly affair, no one can blame you for not getting back in to the fray. I don’t want to make you accountable in any way for the present situation but I do believe that Labour would be well on its way to a fourth victory with you in your old role. So this is my vote of confidence in you, a vote which is surely academic with regards to this present crisis (“crisis” seems suitable now) and the coming election.

  • Des Currie

    As a founding member of the nonarchial society it pleases me to see such an obvious end to the systems of governments around the world, not least that of the British people, who seem to be oblivious to the fact that they are not governed by the will of the people, only the will of some people. Trying to prop a failed system will only lead to more failure in the future. Its time to move on.
    Des Currie
    Des Currie

  • Pete B

    “the lack of a clear and strong campaign based on defending the record, (a good one) attacking our opponents (they are not that good) and consistently setting out an agenda for the future (it is there) has been evident for some time too.”

    I agree with this completely – particularly what you say about the agenda for the future. Indeed, it is very revealing that you have to parenthetically state that there actually is an agenda for the future – people just don’t know what it is.

    Whenever anyone gets close to outlining the agenda, it just seems vague and a little half-hearted. No one ever gets to the essence of what it is. They don’t state clearly and consistently what the single overarching goal of the government is. Nor do they set out a clear set of policies which are each necessary, and together sufficient, to reach that overarching objective.

    The ultimate aim of a Labour government should be something like this – A fair, sustainable and prosperous Britain in which all enjoy a good quality of life. All government policymaking should then be focused on trying to achieve this.

  • Angry Labour member

    Such self-serving rubbish. There was “no overwhelming desire for the Tories” in 1992 either but they still won hands-down because voters were not prepared to trust Labour.

    Once upon a time you would have laughed at people who came up with such derisosry excuses as “no overwhelming desire”. This is politics – there are no prizes for coming second.

    We’re in the same position as 1992 now. GB has abandoned the centre – mainly because he has no policy on anything very much and as far as the voters are concerned dislike has hardened into contempt.

    Getting rid of Gordon Brown is sure as hell not sufficient for Labour to have a hope but it is absolutely necessary.

    I bet you even know that yourself, you just haven’t the courage any more to say it in public. You’ve lost it.

  • Frank Wallis

    Just read your comment, then John Prescott’s. Saying the same thing in different ways, but I do respect your obvious reluctance to slag off individuals in the Party. I also agree with your last point. People positively wanted Blair in 97. They don’t want Cameron in the same way. Just saw him on the news with his little strut up to the camera and his carefully crafted soundbite. It is all he does. there is nothing else there

  • Georgie Hall

    Joanna Lumley setting policy on Ghurkas … Gordon Brown calling Simon Cowell to check on Susan Boyle’s health … now Alan Sugar in the house of Lords as an enterprise ‘tsar’. Does anyone tell Gordon how comical it looks? Pathetic and gimmicky. He should be challenging the media celebrity mania not pandering to it the whole time

  • Janet

    The problem has been the Westminster bubble forgetting that there is a world outside of activists campaigning hard in other elections. They forgot their duty to us and looked to their own self-preservation.
    What we now need to do as a party is to re-group at grassroots level and pay more attention to members than MPs.Party volunteers are feeling very let down. We must now reassess our strategy in light of the new situation of lots of MPs from both major parties standing down and build up far more local campaigns.

  • Thomas Binns

    Your comment that “There is one big ray of hope in all this for Labour. The results so far show that there is no overwhelming desire for the Tories” shows you have not lost the art of dark spin.

    Michael Foot was more popular than Gordon Brown. How can a party I have been proud to serve that is based on socilaist ideals have become so self serving.

    The only penance voters will accept is a period on the opposition benches while we sort out our morals and values. We have forgotten we are servants of the people.


  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    Agreed. The clarity of message has been woeful if not non-existent.

    I don’t understand why GB took 10 days to give a major television interview (the ‘Andrew Marr Show’ last Sunday) whilst Cameron was popping up on any channel that would give him airtime. I’m not convinced GB’s receiving the best advice.

    Put it another way: when you’re waiting for a train that’s been delayed you want constant updates and information as to the progress of the situation, not just an apology when it finally turns up.

    If GB isn’t comfortable with doing this (and that’s fair enough) then PM should be the media point of contact on behalf of the government. I’ve always thought GB should have a strong Deputy PM. Perhaps PM?

    Never has the analogy that ‘government’s lose elections’ been more starkly revealed that in the results of these elections.


    (Another thought: The day Ed Balls becomes Chancellor then we’ll really know we’re out of the woods!)

  • Jane A

    It was a campaign-under-Invisibility-Cloak out here, and I still can’t get my head around that. If the tipped-out Councillors blame the PLP and vice versa, Cameron will be hopping and skipping because he gets his five minutes in front of the cameras doing his “Labour-implode” spiel. Again.

    On the detail, I am thrilled to get Andy Burnham (back) as SoS for Health, and I say that as a firm fan of Alan Johnson who has done nothing but good as Health Minister.

  • Alan Quinn

    AC, Gordon has dithered and not been pro active enough on the expenses scandal.
    When he was pro active on the G 20 Summit, on measures to help the economy, when he went for it he was good. he needs to at least go out with all guns blazing, I thought Ken was again correct on Newsnight when he accused the ginger poison dwarf and the Hyde lizard of putting themselves before the party and the thousands of activist and trade unionists who still work for this party.

    Labour held a council seat in Bury South last night in a by election by 9 (nine)votes. This was down to the graft of local councillors and very few others (myself not included) who worked hard.
    The tories thought that even though it was a traditional Labour seat that it was a matter of how many they would win by. It shows that if others and I include myself in that had got out more the margin of victory may have been bigger and it show that if you do work and are organised you can win.

  • Alina Palimaru

    Labour needs strong top-level staff managed by a person who doesn’t demand loyalty but inspires loyalty. The strength and confidence would then easily trickle down to the foot-soldiers. I’m talking about you, Mr. C! I will continue to advocate for Labour, but in the back of my mind I know that without your discipline, insight, foresight, commitment, and ability to communicate the Labour story… there’s no fourth term.

  • Alexandra

    Its obvious that David Cameron is a first class PR man ..almost as good as AC . He knows that media manipulation is so important, and no doubt has some real saavy people working for him behind the scenes. Where on earth are labour’s media men ? We need another Alastair.
    To the rats I would say loyalty to your leader now and you will be rewarded by loyalty from the electorate at the general election. But what do I know , I’m just a little old lady.

  • Stuart McGowan

    Mandelson? Adonis? Kinnock? Sugar? Is Gordon running out of willing elected MPs to make up his new team?

  • Andy

    The media including the BBC seem to be on a mission to bring down Gordon Brown. They are supposed show “due impartiality” I haven’t watched a political programme all day that has shown any sort of impartiality.

    The BBC & Sky correspondents sound asthough they are expressing their own views whilst interviewing and commenting on todays events.

    I even heard Kay Burley on Sky News describe Gordon Brown as a foreign Prime Minister whilst interviewing Rory Bremner. I don’t know whether she’s since apologised.

  • Sam

    Mr Campbell – how can you claim that there is no overwhelming desire for the Tories when the local council map of the UK is now pretty much…blue?

  • Kathie

    I will never have the enthusiasm for Cameron that I had for Blair. I will never have the enthusiasm for anyone that I had for Blair. He with his seven homes and selective schools and illegal wars and sofa cabinets – he has killed any belief I had in British politics.

  • BarBar of Oz.

    On my apartment wall here in Melb, Oz, I have a framed copy of the Tom Stoddart photograph of 1997 called “The Campaign Trail”. From the left, it shows Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and a woman who I can’t identify. I paid for the license from Getty Images and put it up earlier this year, after seeing it in the online Graud illustrating a story of how PM, AC, TB had joined forces to pick GB up and pull knives out of his back last year.

    The guy here who did the print for me was fascinated by the power of the photograph, even though he didn’t know what it was about and could only identify TB.

    Mention this because I believe that only AC and Mandelson would be capable of pulling off the unimaginable and achieving that fourth term, whether it is with Gordon Brown or another leader.

    I think you should consider going back to the coalface at an appropriate time, Alistair. It’s not over until it’s over.

  • Stuart Le Gassick


    I can’t believe what I am seeing and hearing! The Labour party isimploding in front of our very eyes. The very obvious desperate deals of the latest Cabinet reshuffle!!
    The Lack of Leadership and fundemental management!!
    Can’t Manage your own office!
    Can’t Manage the Cabinet
    Can’t Manage your ministers
    Definatley Can’t manage the Country!

    Now bringing in Alan Sugar wghose only claim to fame is a TV programme! What about bringing in Nick Leesson as Chancellor! Berscolloni for Foreign Affairs amnd then Dr Crippen for Home Secretary.

    What a Joke!!!

  • Nick

    Good old A.C- still as bigger stranger to the truth as ever !

    “Tories still weak” – err…no, they are not. They have just won your last English 4 Councils off you. You talk about moats. Ask the Burnley Labour Party what parachute-girl Kitty Usher’s snobbish comments about ‘artex ceilings’ did for your vote there !

    And Alistair old chap.. if you have such faith in Gordon Brown…and personally I think you are being a mite dishonest here…why did you go to such lengths to airbrush out ‘the real Gordon’ from your best selling diaries?

    Were you trying to keep something from the British people ?

  • Thomas Rossetti

    I have just posted a comment on John Prescott’s blog, agreeing with him. The big question is: *why* wasn’t there a proper campaign? *Why* didn’t Gordon Brown send the troops out to fight for a party and a cause he believed in? Perhaps he knew he had to record to defend and that he’d be ridiculed.

    For the good of the country, either Gordon must resign or a general election must be called. We simply can’t go on like this.

  • susan

    can someone please tell me if kay burley has been suspended after calling gordon brown a foreign prime minister? surely some action is required! what happened to impartial news readers?