Thursday, 29 March 2012

Labour Needs An Economic Plan People Can Remember!

Labour, says Mark Ferguson in his LabourList article, is ‘not in the game’ when it comes to the economy.
I don’t need to rehearse the government’s disasters and injustices, because the opinion polls prove that the electorate overwhelmingly despises the Tories – yet despite everything, voters overwhelmingly still believe that Labour caused the slump, and that the Tories (however brutal) are right on the economy. Mr Ferguson concludes:
"We’re still not in the game. Either there’s a problem with the message, or there’s a problem with the messengers."
I can tell you now, Mr Ferguson, that the problem is with the message.

So what is the message?
The nearest Labour has come to an economic plan is ‘Labour’s Five-Point Plan For Growth and Jobs’.
“This is a really worrying time for families, struggling with higher food prices and gas bills and worried about their jobs and their children’s futures. That’s why Labour has set out a clear five-point plan for jobs, to help struggling families and support small businesses.”
So. OK. I have a challenge for you.
Can you remember them, these ‘five points for growth and jobs’?

The simple truth is that no one, not even motivated Labour activists, have a clue what Labour’s five points for growth and jobs are!
I recently wrote round a number of ‘important’ people in the Party to ask them to tell me if they or their friends could remember them.
- One Labour VIP failed to answer, but I found it telling that he read them out at the next meeting; and he had to look at a crib-sheet for number 4, and omitted 5 altogether.
- Another Labour VIP became quite irate, complaining he knew them, but ‘needed time to think’.
- A student leader shared a recent campaign when he had tried, and failed, to get his campaigners to remember the list.

Everybody else admitted that they found them impossible to recall. When I asked at my Branch, only two people claimed to be able to remember ANY of the five points (and to be honest, their guesses were incorrect). Someone found them on an i-phone, and they were read out to me … but when I challenged that person to turn over the i-phone and recount them again, he was unable to do so.

TRUTH: Labour’s flagship economic statement is UTTERLY UNMEMORABLE.
And if the Party faithful and leadership cannot remember it, what hope have we that it will impact with the public?

(I’m not going to tell you the five points. If you’re desperate to know them you can find them here – but my point is that a policy which you have to look up on the internet is an unmemorable policy.)

The problem with the message – 1. Incohesion
I was a Special Needs teacher for many years, and I regard myself as an expert in presenting information in a ‘memorable’ way.
So what is wrong with Labour’s ‘5-point plan for growth and jobs’ message?

Memory experts will tell you that, to remember something, it helps if you have a narrative which provides ‘hooks’ on which to hang your facts.
But there is no narrative thread to connect the five-point plan.
The points are utterly random and in fact dot around all over the place, from supply-push to demand-pull, from practical to financial, from one area of the economy to another, etc.
They are a mess, not a message.

The team that thought up this turkey came up with a good title – ‘Five-point plan for growth and jobs’ is wordy but explicit, and hits exactly what people want. But when it came to the actual policies, they were too lazy to project them in a way that was memorable.
They thought the slogan would do, and it didn’t.

The problem with the message – 2. Incoherence
The second problem with the list is that it defines a set of economic actions … and who understands the economy?
Most voters can understand ‘debt’ and the idea of a revenue deficit, because these are things they face in their own life. The details, however, apart from the ones that specifically hit their pocket, leave them cold, and the theories totally overwhelm them.

If the intention had merely been to give people a list of ‘five practical things the government could do to help the economy’, then many people would have read them, nodded sagely, and come away with the general impression that this idiot Tory government was neglecting some simple, affordable ‘fixes’.

But if you want people to pick up and internalise ‘Labour’s economic message’, then it needs to be presented in a much simpler way…

The problem with the message – 3. Inconsequence
Which brings us to the third key problem with the message – that it is a list of points not a statement of principles.

Labour’s ‘Five Points’ are a (random) set of ‘things-to-do’. In themselves they are quite minor tweaks to the economy – the kind of thing that would occupy a paragraph in the budget.
Even taken together (and there is no attempt to relate them into a coherent whole) they have a ‘feel’ of ‘tinkering’ – even the most avid Labour supporter would not be able to argue (even if he could remember them) that these measures constituted ‘the solution’ to Britain’s budget problems.

And faced with a set of ultimately inconsequential facts, the brain refuses to be bothered to remember them.

So what would you advise, John D Clare?
Well, you’ve got to smile, because that is the question which no one is ever going to ask, isn’t it!

But if someone did ask me, I would advise that – if you wanted something that people could and would remember – Labour’s message on the economy must have a narrative thread running through it so that each point links to the next, and it must state broad, simple principles, and leave any practical details to the footnotes.

If I was pushed to specifics, my ‘FIVE POINT POLICY ON THE ECONOMY’ would look like this:

LABOUR PROMISES that, when it is re-elected, it will:
1. Resolve the deficit on government spending, stop borrowing, and take steps to reduce the National Debt.
2. Reduce taxes on businesses.
3. Revive the economy.
4. Reform personal taxation by addressing tax avoidance and taxing people according to their ability to pay.
5. Guarantee that it will do all this without damaging the needy and the vulnerable.

I am sure that my ‘five-point plan’ will evoke criticism but you will find that my five principles encompass all five points
– if you can be bothered to look them up – in Labour’s ‘Five-Point Plan’.

But, however derisory your opinion of my suggested policy, I would ask you to do this: read it through three times, wait until tomorrow, and see how many of its ideas you can remember.
Then compare how many of Ed Balls’ ‘five-point plan for growth and jobs’ you can recall.

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