Scottish independence: Labour strategy chief Douglas Alexander gets blame for ‘patronising’ TV ad backfiring

Labour strategy chief accused of ignoring advice on pro-Union broadcast targeting women voters

James Cusick
Wednesday 10 September 2014 10:31
Douglas Alexander is said to have defended his own strategy
Douglas Alexander is said to have defended his own strategy

Douglas Alexander, the head of Labour’s general election strategy, is being blamed by senior pro-Union supporters for ignoring professional advice that a controversial television broadcast intended to target undecided women in the independence referendum would damage the No campaign.

Produced by the advertising agency M&C Saatchi - which Mr Alexander brought in to help shape the pro-Union message - the political broadcast was shown on the BBC and STV in Scotland at the end of last month.

The two-minute video was widely panned on social media and in advertising circles as patronising, sexist and insulting. It features a “mother” sitting at a kitchen table, holding a mug of tea, complaining about how much her husband bothers her about politics while she doesn’t have “time to think” about the issues surrounding independence.

Alongside the poor showing of Alistair Darling in the second televised debate last month, the backlash generated by the advert is blamed for helping the Yes campaign generate crucial last-minute momentum.

Executives from M&C Saatchi working inside the Better Together campaign are said to have voiced internal concern about the direction and tone of Mr Alexander’s strategy.

Pro-Union campaigners told The Independent that Mr Alexander pushed through his own ideas for the marketing strategy, including the controversial broadcast, despite concerns among other experts that it could backfire. One insider said that Mr Alexander “was not listening”.

Mr Darling is understood to have “nodded through” the campaign on the assumption that others involved - including Mr Alexander - knew more than he did.

The outbreak of panic in both Labour and Conservative camps as the polls have narrowed has meant the entire strategy of the pro-union message is now being questioned. Mr Alexander’s general election role is now also coming under fire.

One leading Labour MP, who remains close to Ed Miliband’s election team, said: “To be fair, this isn’t all Douglas’s fault. There may need to be shared blame here. Because if Scotland goes, Ed, Jim [Murphy] and Alistair will all be seen as losers.

“Douglas brought in M&C Saatchi to the Scotland campaign. They were expected to play a critical role for Labour in next year’s general election. But if this all goes wrong there will one hell of an explosion that will go off under the Labour Party.”

Mr Alexander’s parliamentary adviser was contacted by The Independent and asked to comment on events unfolding in Scotland. She did not reply.

The global CEO of M&C Saatchi, Moray McLennan, said no pressure had been put on the Better Together team to pull the controversial advert.

In the controversial advert a young woman is shown siting at her kitchen table dismissing independence as “not thought through” and complaining that her husband was too engaged in the referendum, and she didn’t have the time to make her decision.

In a script claimed to have in origins in verbatim comments taken from focus groups and doorstep canvassing, an actress playing the women says: “My Paul is worse than the telly these days. He will not leave off about the referendum. She adds “I was like ‘It’s too early to be discussing politics - eat your cereal’.”

Rob Shorthouse, the director of communications at Better Together, said that “everyone” had seen the advert before it was broadcast and that the campaign was "perfectly happy with it”.

However in discussions with figures close to Mr Alexander and pro-union campaign teams, The Independent was told not everyone saw the ad content before it went on air.

The ad generated a flood of contributors to a Twitter hashtag #PatronisingBTLady which mimicked the housewife theme.

One said: “Let men worry about politics – I have the washing up to do.”

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