‘One rule for them’: how a simple slogan helped change the political landscape

There are two fundamental truths that I’ve learned during my time in politics. Primo, the best leaders are those who see politics in the longer term, can look around corners and shut out the day-to-day noise. Secondo, incompetent, tired and sleazy governments lose elections.

I vividly remember the first time I typed “one rule for them” in a press release. It was the evening of Friday 22 Maggio 2020. Britain was in lockdown, the best thing on television was the 5pm press conference and it was only seven weeks since my then boss, Keir Starmer, had been elected Labour leader.

At 8pm, il Mirror e il Custode revealed that Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown rules. Within minutes, my phone lit up with every working journalist wanting Labour’s response. I scanned Pippa Crerar’s article in the Mirror and spotted the perfect line from someone in Durham: “It’s one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for the rest of us.”

I tapped out Labour’s response, spent a worthless 10 minutes trying to get hold of any politicians to put their name to it, cleared it with colleagues and issued: “The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings."

The next day the story was everywhere. The outrage was real and the sentiment – first uttered by a member of the public in Durham (and if you’re reading, I owe you a beer) – was being shared by the British people and repeated everywhere. We captured that message and hammered it home relentlessly. In attack videos, Starmer’s clips and press statements.

What happened to Cummings next is well documented. tuttavia, that incident introduced a potent dividing line that could be drawn between Labour’s new leadership and Boris Johnson’s Conservatori.

Perché? Because one rule for them was not a one-off. It was a pattern of behaviour that happened time and again, exposed by some outstanding journalism and pursed with vigour by the shadow cabinet and my old colleagues. The Conservatives believed then, as they do now, that they were above the rules and even the law. Contrast that with a new Lavoro duro e faticoso leader who built a career defending the rule of law and prosecuted politicians who broke it.

It seems obvious now, but at the time there was criticism of Labour’s focus on sleaze. Some argued that it was “priced in” with Johnson. That the British people didn’t care or didn’t notice. That was wrong for three reasons.

Primo, people do care. The public reaction to Cummings and the recent Downing Street revelations come from a very British sense of fairness and dislike for hypocrisy. Secondo, Johnson has never been universally popular. Il suo personal ratings durante 2019 election campaign were lower than Theresa May’s in 2017.

And third, the political impact of the vaccine at the start of the year was hugely underestimated. Talk of the “vaccine bounce” in January was more than just expectation management before local elections. If the government could lift restrictions, reopen the pubs and deliver a successful vaccine programme, then it would be rewarded at the ballot box. I would be lying if I said I didn’t question my instincts at times, especially after the Elezione di Hartlepool, or reflect on our mistakes in the first year. tuttavia, politics is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes more than one scandal or one bad headline to turn the public against their government. It is a cumulative effect.

Cummings, “cash for favours”, cronyism, il Owen Paterson affair and the Downing Street parties have collectively damaged this administration’s standing. Poll after poll now shows Labour are ahead, Johnson’s ratings are down and the government is seen as incompetent. Voters might have given Johnson’s government the benefit of the doubt but now they don’t – and that’s a difficult position to recover from.

My former colleagues have reason to end the year feeling optimistic, while knowing all too well that nothing can be taken for granted. As quickly as the polls go up, they can go down again. Arguably, British politics is more volatile today than it has ever been. And the Conservatives are the world’s most successful political party for a reason: when they need to change, they change.

Many people know why they won’t vote Conservative, but are still asking why they should vote Labour. Tarnishing Johnson’s reputation is not enough. To win in two years’ time, Labour needs to go after the Conservative brand and regain trust on the central issue of the next 12 months and, I suspect, the next election – the economy.

There is a strong argument to be made about the Conservatives’ economic record: high tax, low pay and low growth. The rises in inflation, interest rates, tax and energy bills will only make this more compelling. Labour must pursue this, while communicating that it is the party of economic growth.

For most voters, the questions they ask at the ballot box are straightforward. Do this lot know what they are doing? Do they have some good ideas? Would I trust them with my money and the security of myself and my family?

How Starmer responds to these questions will take time to cut through, but by staying focused on the long term, rather than chasing headlines, his position can grow from strength to strength. And if Labour is ever looking for a good soundbite, I suggest asking someone from Durham.

I commenti sono chiusi.