Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Knock, knock

Hopi Sen has an excellent post on how Labour's strategy needs to change to have a chance at the next election. He argues that:

"Given that third term entropy means that some Labour voters will be attracted to the Conservatives and the Conservative vote will be motivated to turn out, we have to do three things.

First, we have to turn out Labour identifying voters in unheard of numbers.

Second, we have to attract occasional Labour voters. Those who have on occasion voted Lib Dem are a vital target.

Finally we have to focus relentlessly on the current undecided voters, making it abundantly clear to them what the choice that lies before them is.

...I think the priority must be a relentless under the radar focus on the difference a Labour government makes to communities up and down the country, and the spelling out, in human terms of what is at risk from a Conservative government...It is a message that can only be got out voter by voter, door by door, church hall by church hall."

In essence, this is a modified and improved version of the Ken Livingstone strategy, as of 2008. Ken's Mayoral campaign certainly boosted the Labour share of the vote and attracted occasional Labour voters, including many who voted Lib Dem in 2005.

But Ken still lost, and one big reason for this is that the work of getting out the message 'voter by voter, door by door, church hall by church hall' didn't get done on a sufficient scale in London in 2008.

The scale of the kind of grassroots campaign that Hopi is talking about is quite daunting. I've had the privilege of helping Labour candidates in local elections who managed to beat the national swing against Labour, and the secret of their success was that they made sure that they personally, or other Labour activists on their behalf, spoke on the doorstep with as much as half of their whole electorate in the year before an election. That's the kind of work, along with the leaflets, phone calls and all the other parts of campaigning, that every local Labour Party needs to build up the ability to deliver. Scale that up to constituency level, and it means knocking on the doors and speaking to something like 40,000 people in each constituency. To put that into context, in one hour, one canvasser will speak on average to between 6 and 10 people.

With the best will in the world, that is simply not going to happen in areas where people from the Labour Party haven't knocked on anyone's door in generations, or even where campaigning is something that Labour only does in the month before an election.

But every little helps when it comes to campaigning. And regular campaigning builds its own momentum. The more doors we knock on, the more people we speak to, the more people we help, the more people volunteer to help us, the more talented people come forward to stand as local councillors, the more doors we knock on and so on and on.

The leadership to make this possible has to come from our MPs. If they aren't prepared to go out and meet their constituents week in, week out, rain or shine, then it's hard to see why others should do so on their behalf. Many MPs have got quite used over the last few years to the idea that their own success will depend on the fortunes of the government nationally, and that they don't have to worry about doing much in the way of local campaigning, but it doesn't work like that any more.

The implications from recent opinion polls isn't that hard, and should help to focus people's minds. Any MP who has a majority of less than 5,000 and who isn't out campaigning at least a couple of times a week from now to the election should expect to lose their seat at the next election. And any MP, no matter how big their majority, who neglects the local campaigning runs a serious risk of getting a nasty surprise like Keith Bradley in Manchester Withington in 2005 or Michael Portillo in 1997.

It is difficult, it is relentless, but it is possible, and we'd have better policies and have been quicker to spot many of the problems of the last few years if all of our representatives had this level of contact with the people they were elected to represent. And the reward is that there is no better feeling in all the world than turning up to an election count where the Tories expected to win easily, and wiping the smirks off their faces.


At 12:00 pm , Blogger Tom said...

We could have done with some more active Party members by this point, but even up until six months ago the party had allowed itself to be tempted into this 'virtual politics' stuff, i.e. the contention that feet on the ground don't matter.

Only someone who doesn't canvass would reach such a conclusion.

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