Here in Tory Trafford – Eric Pickles’ favourite local authority – we’re fighting one-third of the council seats in next month’s local elections. And despite a current Tory majority of 11 on our 63-seat council, the vibe on the doorstep feels good. Voters clearly dislike the aggressive approach to cutting the deficit – they know the cuts are too deep and too fast. So the mood of our campaign team is pretty upbeat – and nowhere more so than in Broadheath ward, where we’ve been trying out some new organising and campaign techniques.
There’s been much talk recently about better organising, the need for Labour to reform our approach to campaigning, and to embrace new methods of building campaign teams. And having seen it in action here in Trafford, I’m really impressed at what can be achieved. Our Broadheath campaign team, led by organiser Sam Bacon and candidate Andrew Leask, is showing us how easy, effective, focussed and fun good organising can make a campaign.
Broadheath isn’t a natural target ward for us: the Tories took nearly 55 per cent of the vote in 2008, and although they saw a substantial drop in their share of the vote last year, most of the gain went to the Lib Dems, not to Labour. But precisely because that’s meant less pressure, there’s been a huge opportunity for us in Broadheath to learn and practise a new way of campaigning.
Whatever the result on 5 May (and we expect a good one), we’ve seen many positives already in terms of the number of new activists we’ve got involved, and the engagement of Labour locally with the community. We now have a campaign model that we can spread into our future campaigning, and we’re keen to learn the lessons from what Andrew and Sam have done in Broadheath.
I’ve therefore been observing and thinking about the key elements of the success of their campaign. First, before campaigning started, Andrew and Sam invested time in building the capacity of the campaign team. Briefings and get-togethers ensured that every volunteer was informed about the campaign, the ward and the issues, so that they felt more confident talking to voters. A campaign pack, telling them about the candidate, the council and the community, was prepared, and made available to every volunteer.
Activists attending each campaign event were debriefed on how they’d found the day, and specifically and personally invited to return for the next event before they left, and to bring another volunteer with them next time – many of them did exactly that. Newcomers were encouraged to ‘tell their own story’ about why they’d got involved, not least as a means of bringing others on board.
The team began to hit the streets, and here too, a change of tactics was adopted. Volunteers were encouraged to take time to talk to voters on the doorstep, not just to grab their voting intentions and run. This not only gave voters the sense that we were interested in and cared about their priorities, it also enabled us to identify some key community figures and start to build relationships with them, providing us with excellent intelligence about local issues and good contacts for getting our message out.
Of course, the traditional techniques were also retained: contacts recorded, follow-up calls made by the candidate, leaflets and targeted mail got out. But importantly too, the campaign’s retained a strong social element – whether it’s a barbecue after a Saturday’s doorstepping, or just come back to the house for a coffee and a quick debrief and to share experiences.
The result is that at least 15 activists have been out every single weekend, with more than 50 regularly participating in the campaign. The team have even redeployed to other wards to help provide additional capacity. And as a long-in-the-tooth campaigner, I’ve been really impressed.
The energy, enthusiasm, and commitment of the team has been brought about by an enabling, empowering and inclusive way of planning and delivering a campaign, that looks simple in action, feels great to be part of, and where everyone knows they’ve contributed. It’s not rocket science, but it’s been a fantastic experience, and whatever the result on election night, it’s an approach we should repeat.
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