The shadcab mini-makeover – It’s not just the party’s policies that are getting refreshed

by Atul Hatwal

Step back Gok Wan. Take a break Trinny and Susannah. Competition is on the way.

Although the identity of the new makeover maestro remains secret, what we do know is that they work with the Labour party and they are operating at the highest levels.

A few weeks ago the news section of the Labour Party website got a facelift. But it wasn’t just the site that changed its look. At the same time, a small number of the file photos of Labour’s top team were also miraculously transformed.

Amongst the lucky few, the leader of the Labour Party went through a metamorphosis.

Before the change, Ed Miliband’s manic grin and staring eyes were reminiscent of a crazed teddy bear. The composition of the picture and the stark white background made it look like something from a school year book:

“Ed Miliband, student most likely to join the U.S. postal service”

What a difference a simple snap makes.

In the new picture the grin is gone, the colours are more sobre and the little dab of white in his hair is in shot to lend gravitas. And then there’s the expression. He’s looking the viewer knowingly in eye, measured and focused. It’s an expression that’s strangely familiar.

Ah yes – Blue Steel.

But even more than the creation of Edlander, the makeover triumph was Angela Eagle.

She has always had the reputation of being a dour workaholic and her old photo didn’t really do much to challenge the stereotype. The drab colours, the lack of discernable make-up and the work photo-pass pose all did little to show her in a more positive light.

The contrast with the new picture could not be greater.

A vibrant green jacket, bold make-up and highlights in the hair. She’s even standing at a jaunty angle. Angela Eagle exudes breakfast sofa glamour.  She’s camera-ready, primed to be beamed into the sitting rooms of the nation and not scare the kids.

The before and after shots are amusing, but there’s a serious point here. Many in the party will have an instinctive reaction against these types of changes.

Style should not matter over substance. Being ready for small-talk with Adrian Chiles is not the reason anyone got into politics. And given the scale of the problems facing the country, image shouldn’t really count at all.

But it does.

Part of winning the general election is passing the number ten doorstep test.  What would the leader of the opposition look like standing on that famous step? Would they look right there?

In one sense, this should be deeply uncontroversial. Labour’s presentation evolution from a donkey-jacketed leader at the Cenotaph to New Labour’s control of image has been well charted.

But in the name of moving on from New Labour and being different, some of the basics on presentation seem to have been forgotten along the way.

At the last election, one of the most striking TV images was the launch of the Labour manifesto at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham. The venue was pristine and it should have been a symbol of what Labour had achieved.

But the images on the screen behind the podium didn’t work on TV. As the Guardian said on its liveblog at the time:

“There is a lot of comment on Twitter already about the background against which Brown is speaking. It looks like an overgrown cornfield, but the picture seems a bit fuzzy. You’d be forgiven for thinking that your telly was on the blink.”

Something as important as the manifesto launch hadn’t been checked on camera.

The new pictures for Ed Miliband and Angela Eagle are a sign that somewhere in the party, there are stirrings within the corporate memory of what used to work.

Although pictures alone won’t make the difference, as part of a broader presentational overhaul, Labour might have a chance to look more like the kind of party that the electorate can see themselves voting for.

By way of example of the scale of change that can be achieved through improved image, here’s a picture of a callow young politician who would never have passed the number ten doorstep test.

This was taken four years after Blair entered Parliament, the same length of time David Cameron had been in the House when he became leader. And only one year less than Ed Miliband’s tenure before he won the leadership.

Blair wasn’t ready in 1986, but when his time came eight years later, a carefully honed visual image was a central part of his appeal.

One of the things he and his team clearly understood was that opposition is one long job interview. Few would think of turning up to an interview in whatever scruffy clothes were lying around on the bedroom floor.

Ideas and policies are fine, but without effective communication they are just paper.  And ultimately the real cost of Labour’s failure to communicate will be felt by the country when the Tories get in again.

It might seem trivial at times, and even uncomfortable, but if ever there is a doubt about whether the emphasis on presentation is getting too much, the answer is simple.

Because the voters are worth it.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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4 Responses to “The shadcab mini-makeover – It’s not just the party’s policies that are getting refreshed”

  1. David Talbot says:

    Is it just me, or just Blair look incredibly sleazy in that photo?

  2. Gillian Troughton says:

    I have been saying the same thing for some time. Unfortunately how we look influences whether people even listen to us; only after they have done so can anyone subscribe to the message. Some time ago there was talk that prominent MPs had had their ‘colours done’ and while this sounds naff we should remember that dressing appropriately doesn’t come naturally to everyone. (Why else are there so many TV makeover shows?)
    Equally performing in front of a camera isn’t second nature. You have to remember who the audiance is ie the viewer at home. This is particularly of importance when there is a live audience too. Speak engagingly to each camera rather than roving your gaze from side to side, back to front. Whilst your instinct is to engage with those in front of you , they are not your primary audience.
    We need, as a party, to ensure that MPs and others receive instruction in this area just as they are briefed in other important aspects of their role.

  3. John says:

    Image is everything these days in politics. Angela Eagle and Ed look great!

  4. AmberStar says:

    She’s even standing at a jaunty angle… looking like she’s on a ship in a storm or, even better, p*ssed as a newt. 🙂

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