Amol Rajan: How to turn a long dark winter into a new dawn

FreeView, from the editors at i

In late 1983, the mercurial advertising executive Hal Riney began thinking about Ronald Reagan's re-election campaign the following year. American presidents only serve for two terms, and Reagan had been elected four years earlier on a wave of disillusionment with Jimmy Carter, the Democrat incumbent.

By now, the US economy, stagflating at the end of the 1970s, was beginning to turn around. Growth and jobs were returning. Inflation was being tamed. How, Riney wondered, could the pessimism of the Carter years be recast as the optimism of Reagan's reign – while at the same time saying, as Tony Blair's Labour put it in 2001, "a lot done, a lot still to do"?

Riney's answer came to be known as Reagan's Morning in America campaign, formally called "Prouder, Stronger, Better", and the most effective political advertisement in modern history. Riney himself wrote and narrated the script, over images of town, country and suburban bliss, in which people did wholesome things like get married and go to work. "It's morning again in America," he began. "Today, more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history." Finally, his 118-word homily concluded: "Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?"

Substitute "five" for "four" and you have the basic pitch of both Tories and Lib Dems in the General Election of 2015. Expect to see the metaphor of the daily cycle, with its promise of routine and renewal, feature prominently in their thinking. They will be declaring Morning in Britain, whether it is or it isn't.

And this is the impossibility of Ed Miliband's position. He has to argue it isn't. So a politician who instinctively wants to cast himself, like Blair or Barack Obama, as an agent of change instead sounds like Mr Doom and Gloom. In his speech to London Citizens this week, Miliband essentially said: "Things are really bad, and the Coalition is making them worse. Things will soon be exceptionally bad. Vote Labour." With three years to go until the next election, and a stubbornly flat economy, that dispiriting message isn't going to evolve much. So a man who is young and positive by nature is trapped in a language of hopelessness and negativity.

He and his brother, teenagers in the Reagan years who saw a Labour leader declare a "new dawn" in 1997, dreamed of delivering Morning in Britain. But now Ed finds himself constantly bemoaning a long, dark, winter night. The dream has turned into a nightmare from which he might not wake up.

Comments