Mid-week media coverage of Labour’s campaign was dominated by discussion of an appalling performance by the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott. In a radio interview she stuttered and hesitated while presenting contradictory and, at times, ludicrously inaccurate figures on the costs involved in deploying 10000 extra police officers – thus ruining the impact of a commitment that could have had some immediate attractiveness. For overseas readers the interview can be accessed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-39775693
I was surprised. I knew Diane Abbott in my days of activism in the London Labour Party of the early 1980s. She was hardly in tune with my brand of Labour politics and proved to be an aggressive infighter in the factional battles of the time. Subsequently she attracted a deal of flak for sending her son to a fee-paying school – after being prominent in an earlier criticism of another MP’s decision to send her child to a selective (but not fee-paying) grammar. I was therefore disappointed when the North Norfolk Labour Party nominated her for the Party Leadership in 2010.
Nevertheless I always considered Diane Abbott to be able and intelligent. She can hardly claim inexperience: Cambridge educated, she has been in Parliament since 1987 and is a frequent performer on TV and radio. In her interview she displayed a complete lack of professionalism at a time when it really mattered and let herself and the Labour Party down. Inevitably she has been pilloried in what she would regard as a hostile press who have seized on her confession that she ‘misspoke’ when questioned in the LBC radio broadcast on 2nd May.
There are however some more fundamental points to be made on what has been described as a car crash interview. The first is that electoral prospects are heavily dependent on giving the impression of competence – particularly in Labour’s case economic competence. The party therefore needs to demonstrate that proposals are costed and that there is a clear identification of the impact of the various initiatives, rather than a bland assertion that all will come out of increased capital gains tax, corporation tax and dealing with tax avoidance.
The second point is more subtle: if Labour is to win back support from the voters who have defected in recent years it must show that it is the party of the future and not the past. Putting more bobbies on the beat may be an attractive sound-bite but the nature of crime is changing and new methods of detection and prevention are needed. Cybercrime is an obvious example. Current TV crime series always show detectives in front of computers, not uniformed police walking the streets. It further appears that Labour’s proposals, when they subsequently published a clarification, ignored the costs of training and equipment (estimated by the BBC at £130 million). As a former professional training manager nothing used to infuriate me more than the idea that such costs can be absorbed ‘in existing budgets’.
All in all a wasted opportunity. A poor effort and best forgotten.
leftyoldman will be blogging regularly through the election campaign. To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.