Editorial: Why Labour is not a brand

For as long as Labour has been in power, I have worked on Marketing. I have become a homeowner under new Labour and had children. I have taken them to McDonald's because of the people who tell me I shouldn't, and because they enjoy it - in that order.

I have refused to look at an Ofsted report because I have seen outwardly good people abandon any kind of moral code in their muscling for school places, claiming perversely it is to the benefit of their children.

In work, I have seen middle-ranking marketers rise to become the country's leading marketers. I have seen brands, as well as the agencies that helped to build them, grow and prosper. British business, and the creative industries in particular, have benefited under Labour rule.

The government has admired the marketing industry and cosied up to many of its leading figures. It has also adopted many of its winning methods. At the same time, it has demonstrated misunderstanding and mistrust of what marketing is and does. It has restricted, and continues to restrict, what advertisers are permitted to do within a media landscape that it has also helped to liberalise and shape for a digital future.

I feel tied up, personally and professionally, in the mass of contradictions that is New Labour. I am a Labour man and always will be. Despite everything.

The reason that any of this personal reflection is relevant is that my experiences under three successive Labour governments have taught me that New Labour is not a brand. As the 10-year 'anniversary' of Labour rule comes to pass, there will be no end of observers claiming that it is; that New Labour is built on the politics of spin, on policy formulation by focus group and on the cult of personality.

One reason that I know they are wrong is because the party is about to elect a new leader who, tarnished by his bankrolling of the Iraq war, stealth taxes and pension grabbing, is brimming with conviction, but possesses little of the charm or charisma of his predecessor. Also, an early indication of his electoral success rests in a poll that shows the UK's voters would prefer to live under a David Cameron-led government by a 10% margin.

I could attempt a commercial simile to this, questioning what type of brand would remove a still successful product 'T' from the shelves and replace it with the clearly defective product 'G'. But as New Labour is not a brand, I shall not.

Yet the choice of Labour's next leader is just one incident of many that should prove that politics and marketing have little in common; to suggest otherwise is an insult to both.

The use of focus groups, databases and direct marketing, and tightly managed media relations is merely the adoption of certain modern marketing methods and applied, with mixed success, to an organisation whose behaviour regularly defies commercial logic.

Show me any enduring democratically elected government from any century and I'll show you one that knew who its best 'customers' were, had superior 'insights' and demonstrated a mastery of the communication tools of the day to disseminate the right 'brand messages'.

What we have witnessed over the past 10 years is one political party outsmarting its opponents, nothing more. As a concept it is not new and it is not Labour's.

- The Labour revolution 10 years on, page 26.


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