In a series of thoughtful analyses, defeated Labour candidates Nick Bent, Mari Williams and Lucy Rigby all argue that the one aspect of Labour’s campaign that went right was the ground campaign in target seats.
I am afraid I disagree. As Luke Akehurst’s analysis makes clear, we did worse in key seats than in the rest of the country. While Labour was highly effective in concentrating resources into the key battleground seats and our campaigns worked superbly in their own terms, our model of constituency campaigning was flawed. Why was this?
I think we were applying a model devised in the 1950s, when Labour lost elections because Labour supporting manual workers, exhausted after a long shift at the factory or foundry, would instead of voting, rather sit in their easy chairs listening to the wireless unless we knocked them up. While we were trying to drive to election victory in our 1950s Morris Minor, albeit a Morris Minor that had been lovingly restored and upgraded with the latest technology, the Tories cruised past us to victory in their brand new top of the range Jag.
The overwhelming majority of our organisational focus was on getting out the vote. We were looking for Labour voters then seeking to check they had voted. Some persuasion happened, but it was not the main focus of our activity. Most of those we were targeting were going to vote for us anyway. Of the 100 odd people I knocked up on polling day, I think I only found one extra vote, an old man whose wife had died the previous week who had forgotten about the election. Worthwhile but not enough.
Our ground campaign was weaker at reaching out to and persuading undecided and wavering voters. The Tories benefitted from incumbency, but there was more to it than that. Gavin Barwell, the Tory victor in Croydon Central explains what they did differently.
There are three lessons we should learn. The Tory campaign used more sophisticated voter ID questions to identify and target voters who were open to persuasion. We need to improve our strategic analysis and voter ID practice to match this.
Second, conversations are only conversations if we listen and act on what people tell us. I had many detailed doorstep conversations where the only thing recorded on Contact Creator was voting intention related information. When another canvasser went back to the same house 6 – 12 months later there was no information on the previous conversation, so no opportunity to update voters and track changing views. If we record more information it can also be fed back into the central campaign so that national messaging can be adjusted to reflect the concerns of target voters – the Tories did this brilliantly with the SNP issue.
Last, when a canvasser visits a household, they can collect additional information to help with micro-targeting. What age bracket is the voter in? Do they have small children? Does the state of the house suggest the family are comfortably off or struggling? All of this information can be used to build a more detailed profile of the electorate, which can then help us focus our message on the issues that concern target voters most.
For the last 20 years, we have believed that high contact rates have won us elections. This year we tested that theory to destruction. If we want to win in 2020, we need to use our organisational advantage to better effect.
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