Jamie Bartlett

Why Labour’s new video should worry the Tories

Why Labour's new video should worry the Tories
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Last week, the Labour Party released a video called Our Town. It is a genuine piece of art, which shows that Labour takes the medium of video seriously. The Tories need to take note.

It’s not impressive because of the message itself, since the message itself is familiar: we’re going to kick-start the economy, we’re going to create decent jobs, we’re going to magic-up smaller class sizes. Everyone says that. No, it’s a piece of art because of how it’s produced. Every medium of communication has styles and modes that suit it – the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously once said. Video, as an audio and visual medium, trades on emotional resonance, feeling and mood. Our Town takes those features seriously. If you haven’t watched it yet, take a look here. (The rest of this article will be far more enjoyable if you do.)

Welcome back. Good, isn’t it? You’ll have noticed the cinematic style – lots of sweeping drone shots, accompanied by an orchestral soundtrack. Everything is moving too: the camera often goes (intentionally) in and out of focus, which creates a subtle sense of movement and growth. And very unusually for a party broadcast, nearly all of it is in slow-mo, which adds further emotional resonance.

Everywhere there are clever and well-made moments designed to elicit feelings. There’s the gloom of a decent man looking at a (we assume) shut down factory. We lost jobs, intones a salt-of-the-earth voice-over. And our town, our town that was once so proud, now sits desolate, abandoned. But suddenly! A flash of red as a Labour manifesto arrives – change is coming! That red looks like it’s been made redder in the grading process, touched up to stand out. A subtle yet powerful subconscious message, carefully aimed at your amygdala.

Most importantly, and in keeping with the broad Labour theme, Our Town is about people. The characters are believable. My hunch is that they actually live in that town, not bussed-in from central casting. Our Town includes around 20 video portraits: close-up shots of faces that stare straight down the camera lens, right at you. They appear to have been shot on what’s called a ‘prime’ lens, which gives the video the same look as beautiful photography, by having a depth of field – for example a sharp foreground and blurred background. (Traditional video is ‘flat’, so everything looks the same). The literal and metaphoric focus is on people, ordinary people - with wrinkles and spots and imperfections in high definition – just like you.

In short, whoever made this are professionals who really understand the unique strength of video as a medium, and know how to create beautiful content that can combine a strong message with techniques to make it stick emotionally. The result – maybe a first for a party video – is actually moving. That’s why Our Town has been watched over a million times.

After watching this several times, I scrolled through the Conservative YouTube Channel page. Compare Our Town to this wooden affair about voting Tory or something, narrated by Theresa May.

No imagination. Little attention paid to the emotional nature of the medium. Some of the most generically uninspiring music I’ve heard in years. Not one human looks down the camera lens, 'prime' lens or otherwise. It’s also crammed with stats. We’re investing £109 billion into – I can’t remember what – and we have abolished stamp duty for 80 per cent of first ti– oh please make this stop – and we are creating 1.9 million good and outstanding something-or-other, and did you know we’re spending 44 billion or trillion or million on building new houses.

Don’t worry if this number feast is too much! Dreadful late-90s text is ‘typed’ ungracefully on top of the video to remind you. By comparison, there is one stat in Our Town: Labour will build one million homes. I know that, because I remember it.

Our Town is on the Labour party’s website landing page. In fact, you’ll struggle to turn the damn thing off when you load up the site. There are no videos on the Conservative website homepage, and you’ll have to work to find any at all on the site. Given what I’ve just said, maybe that’s advisable. But it’s a mistake. Video is taking up a greater proportion of internet traffic and all projections suggest that more of us will watch more videos in future. Where traffic goes, politics must follow. This is one of those slow but important trends that is going unnoticed. The sum effect, in my view, is that political debate will become still much more emotional, more windily vague, and more about feeling and mood than it already is. (It will also become more angry, but that’s a problem for another day). The spoils will go to whoever understands and masters the medium. At the moment, that's Labour.