Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Improved Labour

Ah, the Halifax in its heyday. When Howard was cheerfully asking us to pop our nest-eggs into his branch to be looked after by his chums, we could relax safe in the knowledge that a nice bloke like him would be careful where he put them. His was the face of a warm cuddly bank made up of solid Northerners - people who invested our savings wisely then went to bed early with a cup of cocoa. How could we have known what was really happening?

Now that the cat's out of the bag, now that we know that it wasn't Howard at all who was looking after our pennies, that it was nasty Southerners in red braces all along, buying up toxic mortgages owed by web-fingered dirt-poor banjo-twangers in Arkansas to make a fast buck - well! It's just not the same. It's no good simply telling us our money is safe - there's no pleasure in it any more. Our illusions are shattered. We don't just want products... we don't want to look at the nuts and bolts, we want them to make us feel good about ourselves. When we buy something, we buy its image, its vibe, its identity, its brand.

Something poor old Gordon knows only too well, or should. I saw some of his speech today... he did his best, some have said it was a great speech, others disagree. It doesn't matter though, because his brand is shot. We've been given a peek into the back office, seen what's really going on, and found that Prudence doesn't work there any more.

Politics, unfortunately, doesn't permit putting up a complete fake in place of the CEO.
The carefully-honed persona of the honest dour Son of the Manse - willing to sit at his desk all night looking for new, safer and better ways to make us wealthier and at the same time more sensitive to the needs of others - can't be separated from the man we see as the boss. As the real man stepped forward, the image evaporated, exposed as a marketing myth.

Even the Halifax had to find its new Howard. It knew the public needed something else to believe in even before the current crisis of confidence happened. Next, it will seek to move away completely from anything that reminds people of its previous incarnation - not an explanation, not an apology, a complete change to restore confidence. Labour needs to do the same.

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