Doorstep campaigning is the backbone of any Labour victory. But unfortunately the importance of knocking on doors is not acknowledged by vast swathes of our new membership. An article was published in LabourUncut last week that warned of the ‘cult of the Labour doorstep’ which the author claimed did us more harm than good. This attitude towards going out and speaking to voters face-to-face is worrying and only serves to widen the gap between us and the electorate. The next election will not be won with hashtags and ‘Twitter storms’ and while we need to refine our campaigning approach, we must not lose sight of the value of directly connecting with people in their communities.
Data and door knocking are crucial not only in helping us target information and resources but in allowing us to get to know the communities we want to represent. The article berates doorstep campaigning for not doing the party any good. But we do not need a campaign strategy that simply makes our members feel good. We need one that reconnects us with the public even if we do not always like what they have to say. Doorstep campaigning helps us understand what we are up against. On social media, we spend our time finding people we agree with. On the doorstep, it is not like that. People are remarkably honest on the doorstep and, while the truth can be tough to hear, we must be in touch with public opinion if we want to become a party of government.
This does not mean we should ignore the rise of social media. The Tories used social media incredibly effectively in the run up to 2015. But their strategy was effective because of expensive targeted Facebook adverts, not an influx of #DC4PM Twibbons among Tory activists. Social media is widely used by younger voters, but the over 65s who voted overwhelmingly for the Tories do not use it nearly as much.
I would also like to stress the point that external elections are not the same as internal leadership elections. Social media undoubtedly played a pivotal role in Jeremy Corbyn’s victory but it simply will not have the same magic touch when he tries to win over the wider electorate.
No election is won on doorstep campaigning alone. Ed Miliband and the national party were wrong to put so much pressure on activists in the run up to 2015. Our national message and the performance of our party leaders also play a fundamental role in influencing what the public think of us. When members of parliament and local activists say things like ‘that’s not what people are saying on the doorstep’, they are not trying to assert control over disobedient new members. When the people we speak to week in, week out, in the areas we need to win back do not liking what Labour has to say, we need to listen to them and rethink our message. Established party activists are not sitting in back rooms coming up with stock criticisms which we can throw at the feet of new members. We are out speaking to voters come rain or come shine talking to the public about the issues they care about and finding out what they really think of us.
Our doorstep campaigning approach is not perfect but it is a proven way of gauging public opinion and finding out where our voters are. We have to think seriously about how we improve and modernise the way we campaign and we need to make our party’s structures more welcoming to new members. It can be intimidating going out door knocking for the first time but it can also be educational, eye-opening and occasionally, dare I say it, fun! We cannot allow this view that doorstep campaigning is not relevant to take hold and gain traction otherwise we risk distancing ourselves from the very people we are seeking to represent.
Alice Smart is a Labour councillor
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