How Labour is losing the battle for media relevance

by Atul Hatwal

Last week Ed Miliband, gave a major policy speech at the IPPR. One of the biggest of his leadership. The Labour party mounted a significant press operation around it: there was the mandatory trail to the Guardian the previous night, lots of morning chatter on Twitter among Milibelievers about what a big deal this all was with shadow ministers deployed to comment immediately following the speech.

But within two hours of Ed Miliband finishing his Q&A, the story was elsewhere. Rather than discuss the deeper policy or electoral ramifications of the intervention, the media’s attention was captivated by something else entirely: owls.

The Labour party’s twitter account was hacked with this tweet going out.

Owl Tweet

The rest is history. An analysis completed for Uncut by Twitter analytics experts, of tweets by the Westminster media (lobby, press gallery, columnists, political reporters and bloggers) illustrates the extent to which this one rogue tweet overshadowed the big Miliband speech.

From the point Ed Miliband stopped talking, to the end of the day, there were over double the number of media tweets about owls compared to Ed Miliband’s IPPR speech.

Owls vs Ed

By the early evening, loyalist MPs were having to use the owls meme to crowbar Ed Miliband’s speech back into the Westminster conversation.

The media fall-out for Labour was best summed up by Jonathan Haynes, web news editor at the Guardian.

Arguably the sudden fixation with owls is a reflection on the fickle nature of the press corps. It’s also likely related to the viral nature of Twitter.

But more than anything else, this minor episode illustrates a very big problem: how Labour is losing the battle for media relevance.

When opposition leaders are in the ascendant, the press tend to go overboard hanging on their every word, reading ideological and political significance into every last pause and nuance that issues forth from their lips.

Think back to those articles before the last election trying to rationalise a coherent ideology behind the Big Society. Or the equally vapid attempts to philosophically systemise the Third Way almost twenty years ago.

What happened to Ed Miliband’s speech was the opposite of that.

The Labour leader’s peroration was full of policy substance and the IPPR’s Condition of Britain report, which Miliband was launching, is chock full of measures that Labour could yet adopt.

But one tweet about owls and all of that was passé.

The reality is that the media’s reverence for an opposition leader is directly proportionate to that leader’s perceived proximity to power. If Westminster’s scribblers believed that Ed Miliband was headed to Number 10 next year, then the owl tweets would have constituted a few minutes mild distraction before returning to a sober and sonorous discussion about the implications of Milibandism for Britain.

It’s almost as if we are watching the scene from Back to the Future when Marty looks at the photograph and sees members of his family vanishing. That’s what’s happening to Ed Miliband.

Slowly, but surely, Labour’s leader is fading from the political photo. Last week it was owls. Next week it might be squirrels. Or the weather.  Or anything at all.

Unless he and his team work out a way to reverse the process, by the time of the election, even unveiling a time-travelling De Lorean and a Doc Brown endorsement might not be eye-catching enough to re-insert Ed Miliband into Britain’s electoral picture.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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12 Responses to “How Labour is losing the battle for media relevance”

  1. John Reid says:

    David Blunkett is right if labour lose this election we’ll be out of power for 15 years, not just Because ed thinks he can stay on and then lose a second time like Kinnock did, and not because the infighting as the likes of left futures, who’s readers keep calling Ed part of the progress party ,while calling those on Labour first like Johanna Baxter, Ellie Reeves and Peter wheeler far right of the party, and jokingly calling Livingstone and Christe Shawcroft, centre Left! lol, as this will be the sort of fighting that will see a repeat of the mid 80’s “we’ve lost as it isn’t left wing enough”

  2. Ex Labour says:

    If the public believe the politician is irrelevant they will treat the policies the same way. Miliband is rapidly morphing into Kinnock and even some of the Owl Tweets and subsequent references said that, things like ” Well owlright” in mockery of Kinnock’s premature triumphalist outburst.

    Rumours continue to circulate about behind the scenes about unrest in the Shadow Cabinet and PLP, not to mention a whole swathe of the Labour Party sensible wing. Polling tells us Miliband is hugely ineffective with some of the poorest ratings ever. Insiders say he is aloof, arrogant and out of touch with real people. He was and always will be a political wonk, his credibility is shot, and the ‘owl event’ means that effectively he has become a laughing stock (price of milk, weekly shop, bacon sarnie etc). The only thing left is for him to fall on his arse on the beach.

    If Labour win, then it will be despite Miliband not because of him. His statement that he will stay as leader even if Labour lose will send despair through large sections of the party and huge delight throughout Labour’s opponents.

  3. paul barker says:

    “An Owl in every Pot.” It worked for Teddy Roosevelt, it could work for Eddy Milliband!

  4. Rallan says:

    Yeah, well, you see, Ed Miliband is so inspiring and charismatic that, uh… something. Um. Where was I? Never mind. Anyway, you should have specified that Labour was offering a Yosemite Owl per person. Most people assumed you were only going to give Tawny Owls.

    Much more interesting.

  5. Madasafish says:

    I try to imagine Ed M as PM and Ed Balls as COE and the resulting decision making when things go wrong – as they do in the real world.

    If they cannot make the current Government appear out of touch and incompetent – the squeeze on spending gives the right music to promise the electorate things will get better under Labour – then I shudder to think what their reaction in a crisis will be..

    After all. politics comprises two important areas: acting in a semi competent fashion and making your opponents look incompetent by comparison with you.

    Mr Miliband manages to achieve neither.

    The only comparison I can make is with the England national football team…but the comparison breaks down as they can score a few goals against their opponents. If Mr Miliband was the National coach he would by now be the ex-coach.

  6. BenM says:

    Labour isn’t going to lose the next election.

    But like Cameron it won’t win it either.

    It’ll be the largest Party in a hung parliament.

    Cameron will thankfully be gone, Osborne will be LoTO and Austerity will be terminated after a well timed emergency budget.

  7. WG says:

    So, Miliband speaks at an IPPR shindig and the bubble dwellers in their ivory towers can’t understand why the plebs on the street are not one bit interested.

    I can never decide whether the author of the piece above is guilty of arrogance or naiveté (I don’t want to use the word stupidity because I seriously bear the author no animosity)

    Here we have an organisation (the IPPR) a proclaimed ‘charity’, receiving huge amounts of money from the European Union (taken from our taxes) at a time of supposed austerity, forming policy for the Labour Party to impose on a public who are supposed to doff our caps and feel eternally thankful.

    And you wonder why you are losing the media battle – the people are thoroughly turned off by this type of organisation.

  8. Tafia says:

    These owls, are they means tested or can everyone have one.

  9. Tafia says:

    And what about immigrants? Will Labour be letting them have free owls and if so won’t that play into UKIPs hands?

  10. Henrik says:

    “Labour isn’t going to lose the next election.
    But like Cameron it won’t win it either.
    It’ll be the largest Party in a hung parliament.
    Cameron will thankfully be gone, Osborne will be LoTO and Austerity will be terminated after a well timed emergency budget.”

    And sparkly unicorns will fart rainbows all over the country as the urban proletariat and all the other workers with hand and mind celebrate the dawn of a new Socialist day.

    Or not. I know where my £500 bet has gone, unfortunately the odds are such that I won’t make a lot of money.

  11. Delta says:

    Well, lets see, Tom Watson is back to make more money out of the victims of hacking, charities are being infiltrated and hacked by Labour to snatch away as much money from the recipents they were created for….then you have the history, Balls -Co-Op and cocaine, public money spent on cronies in opposition, no economic position beyond GCSE blatent deception about the one you did have, division over welfare, no real policy agenda, no vision beyond the firm establishment in the hereditry principle with your future MPs being either the son and daughters of past failures who had no vision beyond getting rich at public expense and the people who hacked the charities….wow that some achievement lol oh and your party is broke because the funds it generates goes to your HQ and money is raided by your Mps via the property Labour “owns”. Lol Labour’s true vision, cash-in, bodge-it and scarper….

  12. Landless Peasant says:

    Fuck the IPPR, they’re just as bad as the CSJ.

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