Surveying the Battlefield – Labour

In a series of blogs we’ll be looking beyond the party leaders to the teams behind the scenes. From student door knockers to £10k an hour consultants we’ll be opening the hood of the Election 2015 campaign machines. 



The team: Labour have the large team typical of any major party, with a good, well-staffed press office. They have two main spin doctors: Tom Baldwin, formerly of the Times, a brusque, hard-nosed Alastair Campbell-ish type, and Bob Roberts, formerly of the Mirror, who largely handles the lobby. Labour’s team are ok but have historically been poor at foreseeing crises and grasping opportunities. The bacon sandwich is just the most high profile example.

Douglas Alexander is campaign director and still does many of the big interviews (the kind of “state of the party” ones that the Tories would give to Grant Shapps) but of more personal importance to Miliband is Lucy Powell, a hard-edged Mancunian MP who reportedly runs Ed’s morning media grid meetings with the comms team and Shadow Cabinet.

Arnie Graf, the US community organising guru brought in early in the Miliband era to sort out the party’s ground game, has been side-lined more recently, but he did make sure they have an organiser on the ground in all key marginals.

David Axelrod, a former Obama right hand, has been hired to give advice but has largely been a peripheral figure, though he insists he is in regular contact with key activists, has visited the UK 4 times and is coming again on April 26th.

The strategy: Labour are big on data-driven communication with voters. A company called Blue State Digital which worked on the Obama campaign, led by Matthew MacGregor, has aimed at driving small donations through personalised email campaigns. Sometimes these can be a bit gimmicky: a notable recent example was one in which a random party activist called David Cameron was sent round appealing for donations to help him beat his namesake. But they work — as of yesterday the party had raised £2m of small donations in the past 12 months.

Data, too, comes into play on the ground — they managed to beat Ukip in a bidding war last year for a data guru called Ian Warren, who is helping them to target their message. And they do well on social media; an interesting piece of data by the Oxford University computer scientist Karo Moilanen during the first TV debate found that Miliband provoked a much stronger emotional reaction than David Cameron. Perhaps that explains why he’s got his own rabid “Milifandom.”

Their hot button issues remain the relatively traditional ground of the NHS and the cost of living, and their main hopes lie in their ability to speak directly with voters on the doorstep.

Key “air war” tactics: It has always been all about Ed, who tends to turn up to do big events outside his comfort zone, e.g. a recent speech on culture, or Labour’s education manifesto launch. For a long time, this frustrated many in the party, including many of the shadow cabinet, who pointed to his poor personal ratings. The idea was always that, once the public saw enough of Ed, his personal ratings would start to climb, and that seems *finally* to have been vindicated.

Tim Bale, Chair of Politics at Queen Mary and author of a new book on Miliband’s leadership, points out too that the inclusion in the TV debates — which the Labour team were most committed to securing — have allowed Miliband to get across his message in a forum relatively unmediated by the print media, who have historically been Miliband’s most committed opponents in the journalistic world.

Key ground war tactics: doorsteps doorsteps doorsteps. And it’s working. 70 per cent of voters in key marginals have now heard from Labour, according to one recent poll, and Douglas Alexander says they are ahead of schedule to hit their target of 4m doorsteps by the end of polling day.

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