Starmer should resist spin to restore trust in politics

Keir Starmer speech Bristol Jan 24

Mike Tyson said to a reporter ahead of his fight with Evander Holyfield: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

His phrase came back to me this morning listening to Keir Starmer’s pledge to transform the way politics is done.

The Labour party managed the campaign launch at the National Composites Centre so tightly that attendees didn’t know the exact location until 8am to avoid protesters gathering at the event. Altough a small number turned up before the end, I’m sure the party will be happy with how the event led the news agenda throughout the day. 

I was pleased to be amongst attendees to hear Labour’s leader set out his pledge for turning politics into a ‘force for good’.

Speechwriters peppered his address with buzz phrases we can expect to hear more of in the months ahead as the election campaign steps up.

‘Hardworking people’ featured at least half a dozen times. ‘Project hope’ surfaced twice. And a phrase to bug pedants like me to ‘get Britain’s future back’ (how, exactly, can we do that?) sat boldly across pull-up banners to Sir Keir’s right. He mentioned this a couple of times. Brexit, in contrast, wasn’t mentioned once. 

Beyond the buzzwords, and despite the media’s best efforts to pin him down on future tax commitments, there was little detail on how a Labour government would deliver its five missions which frame its ambition for a ‘decade of national renewal’.

Trust us to do it differently was his message to the country today. Expect more probing on why, and how, over the coming months.

Winning back trust

As a comms person who’s banged on about spin for years, and has worked for and with government, it’s churlish not to welcome today’s commitment to restore trust in politics.

This is far easier said than done, though. Its five missions – around housing, clean energy, the NHS, anti-social behaviour and creating opportunities – need time and a huge collective effort to complete.

If Labour wins the next election, it can expect opponents and hostile media to frame every misstep and missed target as proof of why the public shouldn’t trust it.

And this brings me back to Tyson’s comments about plans failing at the first sign of pressure. The true test for Labour’s pledge will come at tough moments, which will surely happen.  

How will they respond if the pledge to reform planning to ‘get Britain Building’ falter in the face of severe challenges facing the development industry and local authorities? Open, honest engagement is a must here. 

What happens if a Minister fails to declare a potential conflict of interest that creates public outcry?

Will the government own its issues and – another buzzword here – ‘level with the public’ about how it will address them? Or will they hold the line for dear life until the pressure to come clean overwhelms them?

If they take the tough approach and own the issue, they have a fighting chance. If they don’t, public trust will slip further from politicians’ grasp. 

Sir Keir’s team can be happy today with how his pledge to rebuild trust in politics landed. But the devil will be in the detail.

The public is fed up with spin. 

We’ll only know how good the plan to win our trust is when the first reputational blow strikes them squarely in the mouth.

Photo credit @UKLabour Twitter/X

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