The Four Year Rule
The Four Year Rule was thought up by a former colleague of mine, who had been involved in organising and campaigning in hundreds of different local elections across the South East. It is this:
Any ward, anywhere in the country, in which four activists campaign properly over a period of four years can be won by a Labour candidate.
Now clearly there are some areas which will be more challenging than others, but if a local Labour Party keeps in touch with local residents, puts out regular newsletters about the things which people are most interested in, and identifies its supporters, then even areas where people aren't tribally Labour can be won over. There are enough people prepared to vote for the person who they think is best, regardless of party affiliation, at a local level. In most wards, four years' worth of campaigning is enough to meet personally just about every single voter, and with a team of four people then delivering a leaflet every 2-3 months is not too time consuming. There will be some years that national circumstances or a popular and effective opponent might prove too difficult to beat, but often other political parties are just as complacent in their safe wards as us at our worst.
The campaigning does have to happen all year round, not just at election time. There was one council by-election where a Lib Dem councillor stepped down in a ward which Labour had done nothing for several years, and the local Labour Party decided to try to target it intensively. They put out something like 6 leaflets to every household in the 3 weeks of the campaign...and their vote went down.
There was a study which looked at this particular area, interviewing voters, and it turned out that because people were used to receiving regular leaflets from the Lib Dems (and none from any of the other parties), they just assumed that when they were getting all these extra leaflets that they were from the Lib Dems. So their vote went up, and that of their opponents fell.
I don't think Howard Dean can help us win the 2007 elections, but if he can help us develop our own version of his '50 state strategy' and start to make sure that right across the country local Labour parties are getting into the habit of getting leaflets out and keeping in touch with the electorate - whether an election is coming up or not, then we will be in a much better shape for future elections.