I’ve written a chapter for the Hansard Society’s new report, ‘The internet and the 2010 election‘, in which I argue that Labour’s online team and local campaigners learned some important lessons from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. There is now an imperative on the leadership candidates to continue the party’s “cultural glasnost” process by using technology to enable engagement with members.
I argue that:
“[In the general election] The Conservative party’s approach focused on improving the user-based experience of the wider electorate by investing in a shiny new website and spending money on Google ads. The Labour party, meanwhile, has tended to focus its online efforts on increasing the number, and enhancing the work, of its activists.”
Examples of the online effort include the party’s single issue websites like Ed’s Pledge which brought in new activists, putting policy briefings and rebuttals online so activists could get the information they needed directly, and facilitating the best ideas from the grassroots like ‘Mob Monday‘ which encouraged activists to use the party’s online phonebank. Not everything went to plan with the crowd-sourced poster depicting David Cameron as Gene Hunt a particular downpoint.
Offline, local campaigns embraced Obama’s “respect, empower, include” mantra. Greater numbers of volunteers and greater activity on the doorstep was recorded than at any time in recent years. The result was that a YouGov poll showed that, despite the money that Lord Ashcroft had poured into marginal seats, by the end of the election more members of the public had been contacted by a Labour activist than by an activist from any other party. Over the course of the campaign 17 per cent of the public had been contacted by Labour’s foot soldiers – by telephone, on their doorstep, or somewhere neutral like a shopping centre – compared to 16 per cent by Conservative activists and five per cent by Liberal Democrats.
Labour’s leadership candidates have expressed warm words about continuing the party’s process towards becoming a more open, grassroots movement. But this will mean little unless they give members greater power including “in the decision-making of the party”. I warn that:
“If Labour is serious about giving its members the tools to self-organise and in letting go of its command-and-control, this must extend from the online to the offline with restraints on vibrant local branches lifted.”
The Hansard Society’s book, ‘The internet and the 2010 election: putting the small ‘p’ back in politics?’ is edited by Rachel K. Gibson, Andy Williamson and Stephen Ward. It contains chapters Blue State Digital’s Matthew McGregor and Liberal Democrat Voice’s Mark Pack among others.
There is an event to launch the report at Portcullis House from 6.30pm to 8pm this evening. Register online.