Friday 26 November 2010

Labour’s ‘squeezed middle’? I'd ask for my money back

Ed Miliband started well but ultimately put in a pretty weak performance on this morning’s Today programme. John Humphreys was typically irritating but Miliband failed to deal with him. Miliband, like most modern politicians, is a pretty adept media performer but was today let down by his message.

Miliband’s key point – and point of difference he hopes – is that Labour will stand up for the people whose life is being made “a lot, lot harder” by the coalition or, the people he terms the “squeezed middle”.
When pressed to define who is in that group, he said it was people “above and below” the median salary of £26,000.
I’m not sure what focus group came up with the language but, if I were Labour’s director of campaigning, I’d ask for my money back. This is a classic case of a political party in opposition trying to be all things for all people, while at the same time attempting to define themselves, but failing miserably.
For messaging of any kind, in politics or business, for them to resonate you need to be able to demonstrate to your audience you aren’t talking at them but are instead standing shoulder to shoulder with them. Hearing a politician talk in this way turns people off. What Miliband should be doing is finding issues that attract his focus group defined target audience, which negates the need to ever refer to them.
A classic example of this working was Bill Clinton, successfully landing punches on the economy during the 1992 Presidential election despite a strong economic situation. He didn’t speak in generalities but instead demonstrated his understanding of families on ‘Main Street USA’ and why he was on their side.
The problem Miliband has is he has set his party off on a policy review – another classic opposition tactic that delays taking a position on pretty much anything. As a result it is very difficult for Labour to champion particular causes that are necessary to catch the ear of the ‘squeezed middle’.  
Unless Labour can run some more focus groups and deliver specific examples of middle class resentment, including what they would do differently, I wonder how long ‘the squeezed middle’ will last.

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