Lucy Powell MP: into the breach

Lucy Powell was perhaps the candid choice for taking on the role of Shadow Cabinet Office Minister and vice-chair of the election campaign. Despite being relatively new to the House, having become MP for Manchester Central in 2012, she is a staunch ally of Ed Miliband. She previously ran his leadership campaign in 2010, and worked as his Deputy Chief of Staff after that. 

Now, however, she seems to be more in demand than ever. Her schedule already fully packed only three weeks into the job, we caught up with her about how it was all coming along.

Ellie Groves [EG]: What does your role as vice-chair of the general election campaign entail in and how does it mesh with Douglas Alexander's role?

Lucy Powell [LP]: Douglas is my boss, he and Ed Miliband are in charge of setting strategic direction of the general election campaign - although I do have some input in that too. My job is to make that happen, to deliver that campaign as they set out: whether that is running the 'grid' for the next six months, which involves coordinating what's happening when and who is doing what; or ensuring the key messages and promises are deployed and making sure we make some real impact on that, both in terms of what Ed does himself but also the rest of the Shadow Cabinet. Also I am ensuring that, out in the field, candidates have the very best services and materials and are equipped to do the very best they can around the country.

EG: Are you enjoying it?

LP: I wouldn’t say enjoyment is quite the word [laughs]. These types of jobs, especially with six months to go until the General Election, are very very intense, relentless and demanding - rightly so!. There is a lot to do with not a huge amount of time. I haven't had a moment in the last three weeks. We are definitely no longer in the planing phase but in the phase of delivering. That comes with commitment that is not necessarily enjoyable but is a privilege and a fantastic job to be given. These types of jobs are more enjoyable with hindsight.

EG: When you worked on Ed's leadership bid there was a buzz around him, four years on people are struggling seeing him as a future PM, what changed and do you think you need to recreate that buzz?

LP: Of course we want to re-create a certain amount of energy, buzz and vigour but it is obviously a different type of campaign. When Ed asked me to run his leadership campaign his chances were 31 to 1. He was an outsider and therefore we had nothing to lose and everything to gain. However, when you are a Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Labour Party with six months to [go before] an General Election, there is a great deal of responsibility on your shoulders. So obviously you approach things in a different way. Being Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Labour Party for four and a half years, it is a very demanding job that I'm sure changes you as a person because everyday you're having to make big decisions and do difficult things, you become a stronger person for having done that job.
Another thing that has changed is the prism in which Ed is seen. This is often through a media which is frankly very against what he stands for, and is hostile. One of my jobs is that we break through that barrier and ensure that Ed directly connects with people in other ways.

EG: How are you thinking of breaking through that barrier?

LP: Partly Ed is going to be out and about on the road, meeting and talking with and listening to swing voters, right across the range of our key seats. Also, upping our game in terms of broadcast media operations. We have some amazing people in the party to help - Gloria De Piero has been working with us on that and she is fantastic. Obviously social media and other mechanisms too, and making sure use the full palette of the Labour Party.

EG: Why do you think it is that people struggle to ‘get’ Ed and get behind him as a future Prime Minister?

LP: I am not sure I would accept the premise of that question totally, I mean, we have seen spontaneous and quite remarkable campaigns on Twitter over the last few weeks, #WeBackEd for example, which were huge in number. But look, I think Ed would be the first to say he needs to ensure that people see the true Ed and the real man, what he is about, and what he would do to change the country and what he would do to get us there. We are going to see more of that over the coming weeks.

EG: Your approach over the first few weeks in regards to shoring up Ed's position in the wake of leadership challenge rumours could be surmised as "attack is the best form of defence". Will this translate into the wider election narrative in the months to come?

LP: Elections are usually won and lost on the same thing. The questions that people will ask on the elections are 'Have Labour got the solutions to make this country a fairer place where the economy works for everybody not just a few?' and on the flip side of that, 'Is David Cameron somebody people want to trust again?'. Our job is to show he is not up to the job and that what we offer is a better solution for the country. You need to do both those things in an election. Personally I don't think just running a campaign of fear is at all inspiring and is really what the mood of the country. The country wants to be offered hope for the future and that is a core part of Ed's political strategy, it always has been.

EG: Touching on that last point, there has been talk that the Labour campaign has been quite negative rather than offering that hope, is the hope aspect going to come out a lot more over the next six months?

LP: Absolutely, Ed has always done that and the rest of the Shadow Cabinet. It is though always harder to get publicity on a positive. It is easier to get in the headlines when either our own side is attacking you or when you are attacking your opponents. We have a huge wealth of policies, I think more than any other opposition party has had at this stage in an election cycle. They are all about how we can build our economy and make this country work better for the vast majority of people who live here and that is what we're about.

EG: Following "flaggate", how can Labour shore up its credentials as the party of the working class?

LP: The Labour Party has always been the party of the working people, the clue is in the name. I think we have a fantastic policy platform in terms of how we want to ensure the country works and rewards those who play by the rules, who work hard and who want to do well for themselves and their families. The Labour Party has always been about this. I am a firm believer that having those conversations and that discussion, especially in today’s very cynical and sceptical climate, is important. It is not just about the air war, in fact this is a lot less than it used to be, but more about the conversations you have on every street and in every workplace across the country.

EG: What do you think are the key challenges in next six months?

LP: Well obviously the key challenge is winning the election. This is an incredibly tight and important election – everything will be thrown at us from opponents. As long as we keep in mind our mission and goal; remain resilient to the attacks Ed will get personally and we will get as a party, get our heads down and all play our part in that election campaign, then I think it is an election we can and will win.

EG: Do you think voter apathy will be a challenge, or is there just a threat from other parties?

LP: No, gosh no - I think that voter apathy is a massive problem. Look, I got voted in on the lowest turnout ever in a parliamentary election; Manchester Central by-election in 2012. This is a challenge to all all of us. We have got to be the party that address some of those issues and make sure that in how we talk, what we say and offer we are talking about the change we want to see happen and why it matters. This is incumbent on politicians, I don't think we can blame other people for not engaging.

EG: Finally, is there anything you want to say to the Young Fabians?

LP: Young Fabians do a really important job in debating issues and engaging young people in the political dialogue. This is important because, as I said, young people in particular feel disengaged with traditional politics and so having other peers who are engaged build some of that trust in politicians - more power to your elbow!

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