The Labour party held a briefing this morning for party campaigners on how they can follow up Ed’s speech on the doorstep. Activists had arrived at conference hoping for a simple message that they can sell to a voter in a dressing gown with their arms crossed and a sceptical expression on their face, and now they’ve got one: frozen energy bills. They were told that campaigning on energy bills wasn’t just something they can use on the doorstep this weekend, but a major digital and ground war campaign that is going to go on for months. The idea is to demand that David Cameron freeze bills now, using petitions. The party is handing out these ice cubes, although it quickly ran out at the briefing, with campaigners scrabbling over who should have one, because they carry such a clear message.
This is an example of the M&S-style so much more than just a political party model that Iain McNicol spoke about at last year’s conference, describing community organisers who ‘don’t just ask for their vote. They ask for their views. They construct real campaigns to solve real problems’. This is Labour trying to masquerade as a campaigning charity trying to force the current government to change policy, rather than just talking about its own ideas for its own time in power, whenever that comes.
These campaigners with their clear doorstep message are the first group who will help Ed Miliband follow up his conference speech. The second group has so far been rather less effective: the Shadow Cabinet. At a fringe meeting last night, Sadiq Khan said that much of the criticism of the way shadow ministers operate has been valid. He said:
‘One of the things we have lacked is message discipline. We’ve got to do better. it’s a criticism from journalists of Shadow Cabinet members in the last 12 months which are legitimate. We lack message discipline and we have to be coherent and laser-like.’
This week we have seen bids from a number of key Shadow Cabinet members who are under threat to hold on to their jobs. Liam Byrne got all angry and lefty in his speech on Monday – and a number of MPs I spoke to last night thought he’d done enough to hold on to the Work and Pensions brief – while James reported Stephen Twigg’s attempt to hold on to Education, and do his own thing in the job too. When Miliband does get around to reorganising his team, he’ll be looking for those who can get out and shout on his behalf. Clearly Khan thinks he’s one of them.
But the third group are the Conservatives, who plan to unveil their own ideas on helping voters with the cost of living at their own conference in Manchester next week. They are currently helping Ed Miliband by responding to the announcements that he and colleagues have made this week in exactly the way Labour hoped. MPs and spinners are trying to highlight condemnatory comments from the energy companies and economic experts at banks, as though the public will think that trusting a banker’s judgement is a good idea. Perhaps they could wheel out Chris Huhne to condemn the policy too. Even though Ed’s energy policy is an astonishing intervention in a market already pock-marked and weakened by government meddling, voters will hear ‘do you want us to stop your energy bills going up?’ and think ‘yes’. Labour are thrilled that the Tories appear to be siding with the energy companies: this was just what they were looking for.