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Cablegate: Labour Party Preps for Conference, Hones Elections

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P 011113Z SEP 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 002027



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/31/2019


Classified By: Acting Political Minister Counselor Robin Quinville, rea sons 1.4 (b/d).

1. (C/NF) Summary. The Labour Party's key electoral message, which it will unveil at its September party conference, is "all about the economy," Patrick Loughran, Special Advisor to influential Labour heavyweight Lord Peter Mandelson, told Poloff August 28. It will have three themes: the economic measures PM Brown took - which the Tories opposed - are working; Labour is building a better strategy for the future of Britain's business community; and, in the difficult budget times ahead, Labour will protect key public services, while the Tories will not. The September 27 - October 1 conference will be the party's only opportunity for Labour's central leadership to project its vision to the rank-and-file, which it will need more than ever in the first elections since 1997 where Labour is "fighting on the back foot." Loughran argued that David Cameron's Conservatives party's "branding does not match its policy," especially on the "compassionate and green" agenda, but the question is if these issues will come to a head before or after the elections. Labour has sought to exploit these policy fissures, but scandals have prevented the attacks from gaining momentum. Additionally, the Tories' electoral funding dwarfs Labour's, allowing for the Conservatives to have targeted and strategic messaging in swing areas. End summary.

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Labour's Campaign Message -------------------------

2. (C/NF) Patrick Loughran, Special Advisor to influential Labour heavyweight and Business Secretary Lord Peter Mandelson, told Poloff August 28 that Labour's core campaign message is "all about the economy" and has three major themes. First, the economic measures that PM Gordon Brown took - which the Tories opposed - to avoid the worst recession in history are working and have set Britain's economy back on the right track. Second, Labour is working strategically to build a better future for the business community; its "industrial activism" will secure the future of Britain's economy, making it less dependent on financial services. Thirdly, given the difficult budgetary times ahead for the UK Government, Labour will make cuts that serve the public's interests; the Tories will not. Loughran said the third message is the most important and also the most difficult. Labour's mantra, especially under PM Brown, has been that "Labour invests, Conservatives cut." Adapting that message will require a level of nuance that resonates with the public, demonstrates Labour's commitment to public services, and differentiates it from the Tories.

3. (C/NF) At the September 27 - October 1 conference, one of the main goals will be to put energy behind the campaign and overcome the hopelessness that Labour's low rating in the polls promotes, Loughran explained, especially amongst sitting MPs. At present, Labour does not have the money to compete aggressively in a close election, including to hire the necessary staff, and it does not have the energy to attract the necessary volunteers. "This is the first election since 1997," Loughran said, "that Labour is fighting on the back foot." The 2008 conference was about Gordon Brown shoring up his position in the face of leadership challenges; this year will be about getting the party ready for the polls.

4. (C/NF) Loughran said Labour's real problems began in the autumn of 2007 when Brown decided against calling elections, after much public debate over it. Loughran said this had clearly been a mistake, which he attributed to Brown not wanting to loss seats in Parliament after having just settled into his premiership. Brown wanted to "have the numbers to really get some stuff done" in Parliament.

Elections Timing ----------------

5. (C/NF) Loughran said no one is the Labour Party is thinking about the timing of the elections: "Conference is first." Strategists will see how that goes and then re-assess. Loughran said a May election, timed with the next local elections "makes sense," but reiterated that the elections "just are not in focus yet."

The Expenses Scandal, Individual MPs, and Prospective Candidates -------------------------------------

6. (C/NF) The parliamentary expenses scandal "had its moment" in the national media, Loughran said, and it is now over as a national discussion, though it did diminish the public's faith in the political class. Instead, he said, it has become a conversation between individual MPs and their local party and constituents. The expenses scandal and a significant number of MP retirements will mean there will be a lot of new candidates standing for the Labour party. Previously, the central party was able to vet these candidates thoroughly, and even "parachute in" senior party leaders who had not previously held a seat. This time, Loughran explained, the central Labour party's support "hurts a candidate," and the local party leadership has much more influence in prospective MP selection. The central Labour Party's lack of funding also means that the party is much more reliant on local party funding for campaign efforts. Consequently, the central Labour Party will not be able to place party leaders in constituencies; party heavyweights previously parachuted in will likely be "de-selected;" and, the central party will have to work harder to make its messaging consistent.

Cameron's Conservative Party: "The Branding Doesn't Match the Policy" ---------------------------------------

7. (C/NF) Loughran said Conservative leader David Cameron's strengths are that he comes across well in the media, with a level of charisma that Gordon Brown does not have. Cameron knows how the party works; he rose through the Conservative ranks working primarily in the party's central office. He understands how to play the Tories' internal politics and to ensure everyone tows the same line, which is why the Conservatives appear to be so well disciplined in their messaging and policy rhetoric.

8. (C/NF) However, "the branding doesn't match the policy," Loughran assessed, especially over the UK's role in the European Union. The Tories are disunited on this key issue, and on the more "compassionate and green" elements of their campaign platform. They will, he projected, "have a meltdown over it." The important question is when -- before or after the elections. Loughran acknowledged that the Labour Party has been trying to expose these fissures, but issues like the Damian McBride email scandal and the parliamentary expenses scandal have preempted any real policy debates that force the Conservatives to commit publicly to anything (reftels A - C).

9. (C/NF) Loughran said the strengthen of the Tories' campaign is its financing. The Conservatives have the assets to target swing areas very strategically for long periods of time, developing messaging "sometimes as specifically as street by street." Labour simply does not have the resources to compete at that level.

Mandelson's Return: "He's Loving It" ------------------------------------

10. (C/NF) Reaffirming his decision to move from Number 10 to Mandelson's staff as Special Advisor when Mandelson returned to cabinet in October 2008, Loughran said Mandelson is "loving" being in government. He predicted Mandelson would want to stay in cabinet if Labour wins the next elections. Loughran described Mandelson's nearly five years in Brussels at the EU as good way to "re-set" Mandelson politically in the UK, both within the Labour Party and with the UK media: "he's no longer a toxic asset; he's more mature." Loughran said senior Labour figures are able to see the contribution that Mandelson can make, and younger Labour ministers are not intimidated by his ambition. Referring to Mandelson's past, Loughran said Mandelson did what he needed to do to modernize the Labour Party with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. Mandelson had, however, the role of leading the revolution internally in the party and championing the change, and that created a lot of enemies within the Labour Party who were opposed to change. That dust has now settled, Loughran said. Comment -------

11. (C/NF) Labour insiders recognize and admit openly the party's difficult campaign road ahead. Even if Labour strategists succeed in exposing the Conservatives' policy fissures, Labour will still need its rank-and-file's support and advocacy to mount an effective electoral campaign. The conference will be the central party leadership's only opportunity to promote its vision to the membership and restore the energy and excitement necessary to rebound in the polls. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX

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