Thursday 9 December 2010

A true test of Ed Miliband

On the back of yesterday's PMQs it seems that Ed Miliband's political career isn't dead after all - at least that's what the media seem to want us to think.

Back in September, I blogged about how, if Miliband's leadership was to be a success then his media team would have to raise their game considerably. On the evidence of how many punches Labour have landed on the coalition since then I would say they have failed.

In opposition you very rarely have a chance to seize the agenda. You snipe from the sidelines, occasionally deploying your attack dogs (where is Michael Dugher by the way?) and generally use every opportunity available to get your message across - no matter how small.

Events do shift around in your favour every now and the - anyone remember William Hague's Conservatives nudging ahead of Blair's government as fuel strikes gripped the nation? Today's vote on tuition fees has all the hallmarks of also changing opinion polls, but I don't believe for the long-term.

What Miliband needs to do, as he cracks open door number 9 on his advent calender this morning, is look toward Christmas. Journalists live off a set calender of annual events, reports and pre-arranged photo-opportunities. These fill the majority of a newspaper every day of the year supplemented by real news - e.g. something actually new. At Christmas this doesn't happen very often. But they still have to put a newspaper out.

This, then, is the test as well as the opportunity, for Miliband's Labour. Basically, if Labour fails to get in the papers during the Christmas period I think they may well be doomed. 

It is a test I myself passed with flying colours back in 2003 when we devised a story hitting at the heart of Gordon Brown's tax-grabbing. The story was that the Scrooge like Inland Revenue had started taxing Christmas gifts given out by company bosses. This meant one employer who we tracked down had been landed a bill of £6,000 on the gifts he had given his employees. Normally a story of this sort, like a Christmas turkey, would have failed to fly, but, with a bit of creativity it was front page of the Daily Telegraph (Christmas Eve and Boxing Day), Daily Mail and even the Guardian wrote a story. Read two of the original stories here  and here.   

As you'll see in drafting the press release I hit the creative writing button and even spelt out the story of Bob Cratchitt, Tiny Tim and the Christmas goose - you can never be too sure how well read the Lobby journalists are. I was also aided by a willing young MP who was happy to put his name to a story that hit Gordon Brown where it hurt while also raising his own profile.

The young MP I worked with then was George Osborne. Let's hope his officials haven't been fiddling with the tax rules but, if they have, Labour here's your chance.

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