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After the results – a few election thoughts for campaigners

I’m still in that post-election daze, trying to catch up with sleep and making sense of what happened on Thursday. There are already acres and acres of writing about what we can make of the result, given that few saw it coming, so I’m just going to add a few reflections for campaigners as we look at what happened and look ahead.

1. Jeremy Corbyn can really, really mobilise people – I was running a Campaign Centre in Tooting on Thursday. Normally for a General Election, you’d expect a few hundred people coming through to help get out the vote. Thursday was something else. We had close to a 1,000 people come down and join us.

Whatever you thought of Jeremy Corbyn before Thursday, his ability to mobilise and energise people to get involved is phenomenal. Most of those helping out in marginal seats hadn’t ever got involved in a political party before. Lots of lessons for campaigners looking to mobilise to be learnt, but my hunch is that he’s embodied much of what’s been written about networked campaigns – a central strategic goal, but a huge amount of autonomy beyond that to allow individuals to express that in different ways.

2. Celebrate that turnout amongst young people is up – While I have a nagging concern that it might not be sustained – so I hope someone is thinking about the turnout operation for the next election – it something to celebrate. For campaigners, it’s time to identify how your issues poll with young people. This slide from a presentation I saw in Canada (which experienced a similar bump in youth turnout when Justin Trudeau was elected) a few weeks ago shows how the priorities of millennial are very different.

The other good news about the increase in turnout is that, as this Economist article suggestsone of the strongest determinants of a person’s likelihood to vote is whether they voted in the previous election‘ so that bodes well for future elections.

3. Targetted is the new broadcast – While been lots written about the Conservative’s use of Facebook targeting at the election, much less has been written about how Labour used social media. This Guardian article suggest Jeremy Corbyn also benefited massively from lots of content that was shared across the internet, again often outside of the view of commentators and many others who weren’t the target for it – I didn’t see any because I’m clearly getting old. A reflection for me that while as campaigner we can often obsess about getting mainstream media coverage, lots of campaigns can now be hugely successful by reaching the right audiences through social media.

4. Welcoming new players to electoral politics – I wrote in my pre-election piece about the more active role campaigning groups like 38 Degrees was planning to play. I don’t think these can be underestimated in the final results. For example in one of the seats that 38 Degrees focused on turning out the vote, they saw an increase of 6.6% in Hove – that’s well above the 2.3% increase in turnout across the country.

Avaaz is reporting that in focusing on 50 key constituencies it saw them ‘flood them with 1.9 million Facebook ads, sending 3 million emails with voting information, reaching 737,000 people, 48% of women voters on Facebook, and making sure young people turned out to vote. Finally, Avaazers SMSed 50,000 people on polling day’. 

Beyond that, the existence of organisations like More United who were able to quickly provide funding to pro-Remain candidates can’t be underestimated. Unexpected elections cost money and those donations would have been invaluable. Zoe Williams reflects more on the role of these groups here.

5. To influence you must build local power – I’ve written before about why marches aren’t going to stop Brexit. Given the new political arithmetic, I’d argue even more strongly that those who want to see a ‘soft’ Brexit need to look to build power in the places where they can have the most impact – but it’s the same for all topics.

Right now over 50 MPs sit on majorities of 2,000 or less, so for those concerned about their issues need to demonstrate pressure in the right places. With such a small overall majority, just a few dissenting voices from the Government benches and you could have a huge amount of leverage, but that needs local pressure to make it happen.

6. The Lobbying Act needs to change – if I’m correct, given the fact a Hung Parliament could mean an election at any time, we could be living in a state of a perpetual Lobbying Act, as the rules regulate any activity that happens 12 months before an election could be seen as regulated activity. That doesn’t seem like a sustainable situation, where campaigning charities are going to have to influence, especially when the Parliamentary maths means that smart campaigning is going to have to make the most of the different parties positions.

7. Don’t assume anything and prepare now for the next election – It’s easy with hindsight to suggest it would have been sensible to plan for a Hung Parliament, but as campaigners sit down to think about the possible scenarios for the next election, if we’ve learnt anything from the last few years is the importance of gaming out all possibilities from a Labour or Conservative majority, through to another Hung Parliament.

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