We know he voted not to join in the first place. We know he has been a Eurosceptic for years.
But the Labour Party is pro-European, in terms of official policy and, here is the killer for Jeremy, in the view of its membership. The Labour Party, in parliament and in the constituencies, wants to stay in. The unions want to stay in.
Statisticians tell us the vote is finely balanced. The Tory vote is split; older people (the ones most likely to vote) want out; the younger generation (the ones least likely to vote) want to stay. So mobilizing and getting out the ‘Labour Vote’ could prove the deciding factor.
That means like it or not, Jeremy has to step forward and convincingly campaign for something we’re not entirely sure he backs. And he certainly doesn’t want to be seen as supporting David Cameron, George Osborne or anyone else from the Conservative Party in the process. That’s one lesson Labour has learnt from the Scottish referendum!
So how to do it?
He might hate me for saying this but Corbyn has a brand; and he’s consistently true to it. He’s a conviction politician. He doesn’t give way for expediency’s sake. He doesn’t do things for show.
The strength of his brand makes this change of direction (or even about turn) potentially believable. Imagine if he had compromised or ‘evolved’ his position on a few things in recent months. Then we’d probably think he was just blowing with the wind again!
There’s a clear lesson for businesses and leaders here. Understand what you have to offer. Understand what your audiences want. Then define your brand accordingly and make sure you live up to it, even if that means you have to ‘grow into it’.
Next comes the media management of the first clear, unequivocal statement of support for the ‘remain’ campaign. Corbyn’s not brilliant at media management because he doesn’t really believe in it and certainly has little respect for some parts of the press.
I think that’s a mistake. The media is incredibly influential. Social media may mean those of us in PR and comms can reach our audiences directly but we’re fools if we think we can completely by-pass journalists.
Here’s what I would have done if I’d been running his media strategy:
- Get that statement right. The obvious objection is that he doesn’t really mean it so tackle that up front.
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. The media coverage immediately after his speech yesterday was even focusing on his body language!
- Brief key outlets in advance. Give them the inside track on why he truly believes it’s important to stay in Europe. Then they’ll include elements of his explanation in their advance coverage, which begins to make his case.
- Brief key potential allies, and this includes Labour MP’s not normally his friends. You don’t want anyone undermining the position to make a point or because they don’t understand what he’s done and why.
- Line up one or two post-statement interviews for Jeremy with carefully selected outlets. This would give him the chance to develop his argument further and prove it to be robust in the face of interrogation.
- Line up a range of spokespeople, coming from different areas of the party, for all the key outlets. You want them hammering home the point with a united voice.
- Get a couple of opinion pieces published the morning after, one in a broadsheet and one in a red top. It might make sense to hit a couple of the online platforms, for example Huff Post or BuzzFeed.
- Finally, make sure the statement and rationale is all over the Labour Party’s own platforms.
This approach stacks up for a business too. If you’ve got a tough message to get across, think it through carefully. Predict the obstacles, hone your messaging, build a team of supporters, build up to the announcement and then maintain momentum.