Compare and contrast the following.
Exhibit A – “over the next four weeks, this campaign will be shining a relentless spotlight on Scott Morrison‘s failures as Prime Minister”.
Exhibit B – “we are going to be ruthless in showing how 13 years of Tory government has broken our systems and held everyone back”.
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The first is an email from an Australian Labor party director during Anthony Albanese’s successful 2022 election campaign.
The second is from an e-mail sent by a UK Labour official and leaked to the Sunday Times newspaper this weekend.
So no prizes for guessing where Sir Keir Starmer’s team took inspiration from for their latest close focus attack campaign.
But after all, Labour here are trying to pull of the same trick as Labor there.
A leader generally accepted as honest, but frequently accused of being bland, trying to overturn a party whose lengthy spell in government has been beset by chaos, scandal and incompetence.
There’s one key difference though.
While Australia’s Labor party had the unpopular Scott Morrison to take chunks out of, Keir Starmer finds himself pitched against a man with similar attributes to himself whom the public like more than the Conservative Party he leads.
As Tory peer and pollster Lord Hayward puts it: “What the Labour Party seem to be trying to do is making sure that the Conservative Party is not dragged up to Rishi Sunak’s level, as he is polling better than the party.”
But while the prime minister’s poll rating and persona could be the motivation for this campaign, it may also be its undoing.
“For it to work, it’s got to be aimed at the right sort of person…Scott Morrison was a certain sort of individual who you could attack and the population wouldn’t mind, if they’d been going at Boris then people wouldn’t have reacted in the way that they have done,” said Lord Hayward.
Policy and the polls matter here too.
The coming 18 months will likely see Rishi Sunak attempt to divorce his premiership from the 13 years of preceding Conservative rule, culminating in a pitch for the British public to hand him his first full term as prime minister in next year’s general election.
There’s some evidence he is already making his way down this path, as a handful of polls throw up reduced leads for Labour following progress made by Number Ten on key policy issues.
A new poll by Redfield and Wilton puts the gap at 14 points – the narrowest since Mr Sunak became prime minister.
Other pollsters give Starmer chunkier leads, but nevertheless Labour are trying to stop Mr Sunak airbrushing away the policy unpleasantries of the last decade by pinning on him any failure they can find – including ones predating his time in politics.
The trio of Easter attack ads – created in house at Labour – attempt to do this by borrowing heavily from the Vote Leave Brexit campaign.
‘Mission accomplished’ for Labour
The strategy goes like this: put out content that is so controversial it generates coverage and carries your core message further than it would otherwise have travelled.
As one Labour source involved in the campaign says, “it’s mission accomplished – we’ve dominated the news agenda and started a serious conversation about the Tories appalling record on crime”.
Labour’s attack ad is straight out of Vote Leave playbook
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The strategy doesn’t have universal shadow cabinet support though.
Several senior frontbenchers haven’t shared the attack ads on their Twitter feeds, with concern about playing fast and loose with the facts and the apparent politicisation of child sexual abuse.
Those on the left of the party have been most withering in their criticism, suggesting the strategy is a symptom of a moral and values-led vacuum at the heart of Labour right now.
But despite all that, we’re likely to see more of these ads.
Party sources confirmed the campaign would move onto the cost of living in the coming days with likely attempts to link Mr Sunak to Liz Truss’s disastrous time in office.
So the gloves have clearly come off, but most in Labour know they need to do more than poke holes to pull off an Australian-style ousting.