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What Keir Starmer can learn from the history of Labour leader documentaries

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01.06.2021

The news that Keir Starmer is considering starring in a fly-on-the-wall documentary, brings back memories of similar endeavours. Kinnock: The Movie (1987), Blair: The Biopic (1997), Ed Miliband: A Portrait (2015) and Jeremy Corbyn: The Outsider (2016) were each part of attempts to return Labour to government.

Kinnock, Miliband and Corbyn looked to revive their flagging personal opinion poll ratings through these documentaries, while Blair looked to maintain his popularity. The films gave behind-the-scenes insights into the leaders and tried to convince the public that Labour had changed.

In 2021, if he is thinking of having his documentary, Starmer is likely hoping it will help to turn around his own low approval ratings. A Labour party source revealed to The Times they believed the documentary would be “a highly effective way to broadcast Starmer’s personality”.

Looking at the history of Labour leader documentaries, Starmer, if he does go ahead with his own, can learn what works and what doesn’t.

The Kinnock documentary, directed by Oscar-nominated director Hugh Hudson, formed part of Labour’s 1987 election campaign. The film marked a decisive shift in Labour’s message but did not focus on specific policies.

The Movie presented Kinnock as the family man who could be a tough leader. In particular, it highlighted his 1985 expulsion of members of the Militant Tendency (a Trotskyist group) from the Labour Party. The documentary was successful because it distanced Kinnock from Labour’s 1983 election campaign, where the party, on a left-wing platform, achieved its lowest number of MPs (209) since 1935. To achieve this separation, The Movie foregrounded the leader, ending simply with the word “Kinnock” displayed alongside a Red Rose in contrast to the usual “Labour” branding.

It had a significant impact on Kinnock’s popularity with his approval ratings........

© The Conversation


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