- Tue May 10, 2016 3:04 pm #457268
This is a very informative piece on Khan's campaign strategy. They are mainly Ed Miliband's team who had taken a beaten from the Tories but were now learning from their mistakes from last year and turning the tables.
For a man, who until a few months ago was a little-known former transport minister, it has been an incredible transformation. And it is a transformation which comes after one of the nastiest and most bitterly fought election campaigns in living memory.
Many in Labour feared the attacks would cause a collapse in turnout among Labour supporters. In fact, when the results finally came in, Khan had not only won, but had done so on a scale bigger than either Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone before him. It was a result which clearly vindicated the approach taken by the Labour candidate.
The key to understanding Khan's success is to realise that both Khan and most of his senior lieutenants are former Miliband staffers. Khan, who had previously masterminded Ed's leadership bid, watched in horror last year as the Conservatives successfully defined him as weak, awkward and unfit to be prime minister. It was a brutal experience, which most of those around Khan witnessed first hand. They were all determined not to repeat the same mistakes again.
"The most important lesson from Miliband was that Sadiq needed to define himself before his opponents had a chance to," one ally of Khan told me.
With this in mind, Khan's team sat down, worked out how the Tories were most likely to attack him and then tried to neutralise those attacks in advance. Khan's decision to nominate Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader (to "broaden the debate") was one obvious weak spot. With this in mind, shortly after being selected, Khan gave an interview to the Mail on Sunday in which he repeatedly laid into his party's new leader.
Long before the Labour anti-semitism row broke, Khan attacked Corbyn for allowing the party to be seen as "anti-Jewish" while savaging him over his connections to Hamas and Hezbollah. Khan also attacked Corbyn for refusing to sing the national anthem and slammed Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell for "condoning" the IRA. It was a brutal interview which enraged many Labour activists who had voted for Khan as the 'left' alternative to Tessa Jowell. But it was also highly effective at closing off what could have been the Conservative's best line of attack against him.
The other key line of attack that Khan's team anticipated centred on his previous work as a human rights lawyer in which he represented, in his own words, "some unsavoury characters". Khan's team were right to anticipate this line of attack. Several commentators have suggested that Goldsmith's campaign resorted to these attacks out of desperation. This is not the case. In fact, even before Goldsmith was nominated, a source on his campaign told me that they were likely to attack Khan for his 'extremist' connections. Khan's former brother-in-law Makbool Javaid's previous status as a firebrand was also specifically mentioned to me. Sure enough, a story linking Khan to Javaid was the first 'extremist link' story to appear about Khan on the front page of the Evening Standard earlier this year.
Again, Khan was well prepared for the attack. Knowing it was coming, Khan gave a well-received lunchtime speech to the parliamentary lobby in November last year. He spoke passionately about his own experience of fighting and being subject to attacks from Islamic extremists. In a line clearly targeted to the views of certain newspapers and their readers, Khan argued that British Muslims had a "special role" in tackling Islamic extremes. Again, Khan's speech and its warm reception by 'the Tory press' won grumbles and even outrage from some on the left, but it was highly effective in neutering the attacks which were soon to come in abundance.
Key to the success of Khan's pre-emptive strategy was his chief spinner Patrick Hennessy, a former Telegraph journalist with strong links to Conservative-supporting newspapers. Whereas Goldsmith's team had pretty poor relations with any but the most supportive publications, Hennessy ensured that Khan's messages appeared in exactly the sort of newspapers which the Tories would later seek to use to attack him.
"They made sure that The Sun and Mail readers had already heard from Khan before they heard from the Tories about him," one ally of Khan tells me.
But heading off attacks wasn't going to be enough. Khan's team knew they also had to avoid the biggest mistake made by Miliband, and positively define the Labour candidate with voters. So long before the race properly began, Khan began to wheel out his lines about being "the son of a bus driver" and "the council estate boy who will tackle the housing crisis". Khan followed these lines so religiously that journalists covering the race would often grumble that they could recite them in their sleep. This was another lesson learned from the Miliband years when the Tories endlessly and successfully repeated messages such as Osborne's "long-term economic plan" to the increasing boredom of journalists.
"We had a few simple key messages, which we devised early and keep repeating," one source tells me.
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