The appointment of Douglas Alexander, Michael Dugher and Spencer Livermore this week to Labour’s core general election team signals the start of a more sharpened focus on 2015. From now on in, they will be working together to build a successful general election campaign – allocating spending, pushing our messages and building our support base.
With many of our target seat candidates selected and soon-to-be over 100 organisers in place, the fight to return a Labour government has already begun. The task now is to hone our strategy to defeat a Conservative party that has the advantages of money, Messina and most likely mainstream media-backing.
While the lack of women in the team is glaring and disappointing, its members bring a number of strengths to the campaign. Dugher is seen as an ‘attack dog’, while Livermore is the more discreet strategist, bringing a wealth of experience, having played a key role devising party strategy in the 2001 and 2005 general elections.
Experience is a theme among the appointments, with Alexander having been the general election coordinator in 2010. Then, he commanded the respect of party organisers for his decisive, clear and honest leadership. Last time he claimed it was the ‘word of mouth’ election, highlighting the importance of activists on the ground and online and offline social networks. This time there will be a bigger focus on social media, which is likely to form part of a wider digital strategy that is focused primarily on mobilising volunteers. Alexander’s true greatness is in understanding the value of activists – these people will be key to taking our message to a wider audience.
Maintaining message discipline and ensuring our messages get cut-through in a world of 24 hour news cycles and social media saturation will be a challenging and important part of the job. In reality, messages are chosen by the leader and, as Pat McFadden wrote recently, our main message is likely to be around the economy – most likely sticking with the cost-of-living theme already set out by Ed Miliband. In order for this theme to resonate fully with the electorate, we must successfully make the case for our economic credibility. This, combined with strong messages, will help to build our support base.
The new team will need to coordinate the revival of the registered supporters’ network, transforming these supporters from a list of names and email addresses into an army of activists. Where we are unable to outdo the Tories financially, on-the-ground activists will be our most valuable resource. Tory money alone will not make up for their rapidly declining membership and collapse in grassroots activists, but in order to fully exploit this weakness we need to build a force to be reckoned with. As Arnie Graf said at our pre-conference NEC meeting, making contact with voters multiple times has a big impact on their likelihood of voting, so the more activists we have on the ground and knocking on doors as soon as possible, the more times we will be able to contact people and ensure they turn out for us on polling day. There is a correlation between a constituency’s contact rate and the resulting swing to or from Labour in the 2010 general election: Labour’s superior ground war in seats such as Gedling and Oxford East counteracted the national swing against Labour and ensured victories where we weren’t expected to win. The depleted Tory membership and larger Labour membership will mean that in 2015 this effect will be amplified. The importance of voter ID can never be overstated.
Community organising as a key part of the strategy will be a change from previous general elections, with Arnie Graf training organisers and activists in key seats. Community organising is just one part of the equation, however, helping to build support for the party and increase the amount of activists on the ground, who can then be encouraged to knock on doors.
The job of our new campaign coordinators, along with Iain McNicol, is to lead this growing team, promoting unity, making tough decisions as problems arise and communicating clearly with organisers, activists and the electorate.
With 19 months until the general election, the race is on to develop a winning strategy.