How to follow the General Election as a curious campaigner

With the election campaign in full swing, here are some thoughts on how can you take a step back to follow the election as a curious campaigner – rather than get swept up with the latest ‘hot takes’.

I LOVE elections!

So since the General Election was called I’ve spent way too much time scrolling through Twitter/X, listening to the latest podcast and gossiping away on WhatsApp.

But with the campaigns in full swing, here are some thoughts on how to follow the election as a curious campaigner.

1 – Get beyond the ‘what’s happened’ analysis – there are some brilliant people getting under the skin of the election campaign to help unpack the tactics and approaches that the parties are using, as there are lots of interesting ideas for campaigners to take.

I’ve especially been enjoying ex-Labour adviser Dr Nick Bowes daily updates on LinkedIn, Benedict Pringle who’s been taking a deep dive at the advertising strategies of the parties, Aggie Chambre on the Politico Westminster Insider podcast and Tom Hamilton’s excellent Substack ‘Dividing Lines’ on the art of political attack.

2 – Follow the election on a different platform – The parties are all investing huge amounts of money and time in digital campaign, so it’s been interesting to dive onto some less familiar social media platforms to see how the parties are approaching different audiences.

What you see on Facebook is very different from what you’ll get on Instagram – and there full of creative and innovative ideas about how to communicate your message. I thought this was good on the approach the parties are taking on TikTok.

3 – Jump into listen to a Focus Group – amongst the pollsters I find that More in Common consistently share some of the most interesting polling insight (and not just on the way your biscuit preference informs your vote).

They’ve got a great series of deep dives looking at the polling on different issues, but they’ve also launched Focus Groups Live – which is bringing the views of focus groups, that are often only accessible to those who fund them to everyone. A great way to listen to what others are thinking. I’d also recommend The Times Radio Focus Groups.

And if you want the ultimate Focus Group then I’d strongly encourage you to pick a party or candidate you want to support and go knock on some doors for them to see what voters are really thinking.

4 – Pick some different constituency races and follow from your laptop – depending on where you live, you might be getting fed up of hearing from the parties who are competing for your vote, or if you live in a safe seat feeling like you’ve been totally overlooked.

But thanks to internet you can do that from the comfort of your sofa – so pick some races that are different to where you live, follow the candidates on social media, see what they’re serving up on the Facebook Ad Library and set up Google News alerts to get a sense of how the parties are approaching winning over voters in very different parts of the country.

The team at Democracy Club also have Election Leaflets. Don’t have time to do that, then I’d recommend Who Targets Me for getting more on what the parties are doing.

5- Watch the news with the sound off – this was one my top takeaways from this Institute of Government discussion on communication strategies at the election – the point being that many people are watching the news on TV while trying to feed the kids, get the washing in, or rush out to the gym, and often with the sound off.

So the pictures and visuals matter as much as the words. A good reminder that as campaigners that it’s not all about the policy narrative – and often about the images that are linked with your campaign.

Getting Ahead of the Curve – 6 Considerations for Campaigners ahead of the next UK General Election

I spend a lot of time thinking about the Labour Party – my wife would suggest at times it’s been way too much time!

But as we’re now around 18 months out from the last possible date for a General Election, and with Labour holding a solid lead in opinion polls, it’s something that I’ve started to think about more and more in my campaigning work.

As I’ve thought about it, I’ve considered some areas that campaigners need to consider in their approach.

1. Too much focus on policy as opposed to politics – it’s very easy for campaigners and changemakers to spend lots of energy focusing on a list of what they’d like to see a future government do on their issue.

Of course, you need to engage in a process to try to influence manifestos, but that needs to be done with a focused look at the politics of the election.

The Labour leadership has a clear sense of what they think they need to do to win the election: the constituencies, voters, and issues that are going to matter. So any thinking about policies needs to be ruthlessly considered through that political lens.

Right now, Labour is focused on demonstrating economic credibility in its approach and appears to have an interest in pursuing a similar ‘small shield’ strategy with a narrow focus on a few issues and pledges running up to the election, like the approach taken by the Australian Labor Party in 2022.

But beyond that, they’re certainly doing more polling than you are about what matters to voters. So ensuring that you spend time understanding what matters to those key voters that Labour needs and how your ask might fit is vital.

I try to keep on top of this on my semi-regular polling threads over on Twitter, but at the very least, I’d recommend a regular review of the monthly issues tracking data from Ipsos and More in Common.

2. Assuming it’ll be easy to influence policy under a Labour government – It’s been 13+ years since we had a Labour government, so there are fewer campaigners around who’ll remember what it was like. It was early in my career, and I think I’d characterize it as ‘easier but certainly not easy’

Now admittedly, on lots of issues, the starting point for influencing will be more favorable, so getting a meeting or finding a sympathetic backbench government MP to push your cause might be easier.

But the economic conditions that the next Government is going to inherit will lead to tough choices. Those campaigners who can offer policy ideas that don’t require significant funding are likely to find a warmer reception.

Any changemaker approaching the next year with a ‘fingers crossed’ strategy – hoping that if Labour wins, they’ll do the right thing on their issue – is, in my view, making a mistake.

Any incoming government is going to find itself in a tight spot economically, with potentially limited bandwidth to do much else.

3. That today’s Labour is the same as it was in 1997, 2015, or 2019 – From the outside, Labour might look like one large happy political family, but like any political party, it’s really a group of different factions, groups, and viewpoints who are working with each other – sometimes together and sometimes against each other.

While the formal policy-making processes of the party are largely the same as they have been at previous elections – with the National Policy Forum process currently ongoing ahead of the conference in the autumn and the formal ‘Clause V’ meeting once the election is called to approve the manifesto.

Beyond that, this is a new edition of the Labour Party with a new leader and new individuals influencing him. So spending time understanding which groups/factions are growing in influence, and which aren’t, matters as it’ll give you key insight.

You can draw some of this from the background of the candidates getting selected (I’d recommend the Tomorrow’s MP Twitter feed), the announcements that are being made from the leader of the opposition office as they’re the ones that are approved and ‘on the grid’ (the media planning process that political parties use), and who is advising key ministers – see here for one example of a briefing from a public affairs agency which provides some of that.

So while some of the individuals might have been involved in previous editions of the Labour Party, and there might be parallels with previous elections that Labour has fought – campaigners need to start with a blank piece of paper when it comes to power mapping.

4. That your reputational shadow will be enough – I’m a huge fan of the writing of David Karpf, and I especially like the concept of the ‘reputational shadow’ that he writes about – the sense that politicians judge your influence based on their past experiences of the constituency of support for your issue that you’ve been able to demonstrate.

As we know, the Labour leadership will be doing a huge amount of polling at the moment, so they know where the public, especially those they hope will vote for them, stand on issues.

Campaigns need to be careful not to assume that previously mobilised support for an issue still exists and is seen as influential.

Some groups, especially the trade union movement, which is a constituent part of the Labour Party (they’re literally part of the family), will always be central to thinking when decisions on policy and approach are being made. But the views and concerns of other sectors and groups will only be there if they are seen to be important to an influential part of the electorate.

5. The election is a foregone conclusion – Sure, the polls currently point to a sizeable win for the Labour Party, and it’s right to plan with that as the most likely outcome.

But, if we look at polls taken at this moment ahead of both the 2010 and 2015 elections, we’ll find leads that didn’t translate into the final result on election day. For example, 18 months out from May 2010, David Cameron’s Conservatives had a +6/8% lead, and the result was a coalition government.

Now, lots has changed since those elections, and the circumstances will be different. But campaigners need to constantly evaluate what’s happening and adapt their plans and approach, including engaging with smaller parties who could become important if the polls narrow and a hung Parliament looks like a potential outcome.

6. Overlooking the Conservative Party – Not only will they be the party of Government until the election which could still be over a year away – and could plausibly win the next General Election – but they will also be one of the major political forces in the UK for years to come.

So while it might be tempting to pause or stop engagement with the Conservative Party, that feels like a mistake, especially if a period after an election defeat leads to some very public discussions about the direction of the party.

Smart mapping of who is likely to be influential in the future leadership of the Conservative Party and ongoing engagement needs to continue.

What is your target seat strategy?

With the recent local elections out of the way, and thoughts turning to a potential General Election in the next 2+ years, I’m sure many campaigners are looking at their target constituency list and reflecting if they’ve got the right seats and MPs on them.

Putting together a target seat list is more of an art than a science, but when you have limited resources putting in some thought to the approach that you’re going to take and the rationale for it can help.

So where do you start, below I’ve listed a number of different approaches that you think about taking for your list;

  • Political Lifecycle – there is often a temptation to focus on those already holding the key political positions that you’re looking to influence. That can be important, but with Ministers changing regularly, and often by virtue of their ministerial role being less active in their constituencies, I’m not sure that just focusing on ministers is the best approach to take. Not least because it can take time to build your presence in a constituency and you can quickly find that work wasted when a reshuffle happens.

    But looking at other ‘life’ stages for an MP could be useful, for example;
    • Reflecting on those that are likely to get promoted in future reshuffles – perhaps by looking at who’s in junior minister and Parliamentary Private Secretary roles – they’re often the roles future Ministers take.
    • Building a base of support in the seats of MPs who are on key Select Committees or APPGs.
    • An approach that looks at those MPs who just got elected at the last election – based on an assumption that newer MPs might have more incentive to be seen to be active in their constituency as they look to establish themselves, or perhaps still working out what they want to prioritise as an MP.
    • You could play a long game by building power in those seats where an MP might be likely to retire at the next election, so you’ve got a base to influence new incumbent MPs.

  • Swing Seats – a very traditional approach to a key seat list, and ahead of the next general election I’m sure many campaigners will be looking at list of Red Wall and Blue Wall seats to see where to target.

    There is a strong political rationale for this – the views of constituencies in these seats will have an outsized influence in the next election and will see a disproportioned number of focus groups and media ‘vox-pops’ happen as a result, but the challenge can be to ensure that you’re able to build enough power to feel like your able to get cut through in what is likely to be a busy and noisy environment.

  • Political tribes – it’s easy from the outside to treat political parties like homogenous blocs, and while there are of course many things that unite MPs looking beyond party affiliation to the specific political tribe or grouping that they’re in can be helpful – this is a helpful, if slightly irreverent, look at some of the tribes in the Conservative Party (here is another). Membership of some grouping might indicate a greater propensity to support your issue or cause.

  • Local connections – given the importance of rooting your local campaigning in relevant local issues, you could build a list based on local connections – for example, if you’re campaigning on a specific environmental issue selecting constituencies that are home to relevant habitats or similar. It’d provide great opportunities to connect MPs to projects and volunteers.

  • Engage-ability – for supporters, there is nothing more demoralising that being asked to engage your local MP knowing that their MP won’t. The reality is that some MPs just aren’t as interested in their constituents as others so building a list, perhaps cut from criteria but with one eye on if the MP will engage can be a useful approach.

  • Personal background, interest or issues – if you’ve already got a list of MPs who are allies you could focus on building a base of support behind them, but beware that in doing so while it might help to strengthen your relationship with existing MPs it’s unlikely to build you any new or additional supporters.

What criteria do you use to select your target list of MPs?

US Election tactics and strategies – approaches that might work in the UK context.

So we’ve got President Biden in the White House and a Senate controlled by the Democrats – the US election is truly over.

But, if you’re a political campaigner in the UK, you might want to think about what this could mean for May 2021 – when the Westminster government seems set to continue to push forward with many elections in England (and possibly Wales and Scotland), despite the pandemic.

It’s easy to look at the Presidential campaigns and how they’re run, but dive down the ballot, and you’ll find a bunch of candidates and state parties doing interesting and innovative work that is perhaps easy to replicate.

And with elections happening in May, and probably in similar conditions to the US, where the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is going to force campaigners and candidates to adapt, it’s somewhere to learn from.

Here are a few to start from;

1. Stacey Abraham and her Georgia GOTV effort – Abraham’s who narrowly missed out on being elected Governor in 2018, has rightly been praised for building an election machine that helped to turn Georgia for the Democrats for the first time in over 30+ years, and then picked up two Senate seats earlier this month.

Her relentless efforts on driving voter registration and then GOTV across the state certainly flipped the state, indeed there was some suggestion her team was at the impromptu celebrations in Atlanta when President-elect Biden making sure everyone was registered, but it also showed the importance of investing in long-term plans to win.

If you want to find out more about Abraham’s this film is a good place to start, but the big lesson here is that if you want people to vote for you then they need to be registered – or have a look at her detailed game plan from 2019.


2. Beto O’Rourke and how he almost turned Texas blue – An similar story to Georgia, Beto who ran for Senate in 2018 has been running a commanding GOTV operation in the state. Those efforts saw him get some huge numbers turning up for his virtual phonebanks, which saw the campaign making over 2,000,000 calls on the day before the election – just thinking about organising that makes me come out in a cold sweat!

One of the keys seems to be bringing celebrity power to the phonebanks, so you can be dialing along with the stars. With lots of UK campaigns likely to be focused on phone banking in the coming months, it’s a good reminder that making hitting the dialler a fun community experience is going to be really important. If you’re interested, more on the campaign in Texas here.

3. Wisconsin State Democrats – another state which flipped back to the Democrats last week, and this short video is a good look at how the state party, led by former MoveOn.org campaign director, Ben Wikler, adapted to moving to a digital organising program in the middle of an election earlier in the year.

The big lesson I took from this film, and also following Ben on Twitter, is the importance of letting organisers use the channels that work for those that they’re looking to engage, that could be Facebook Live, Zoom or another platform. But it highlights the importance of distributed leadership with those who know their communities left to run the most appropriate strategy.

Another cool thing that I saw the Wisconsin party do was run these virtual reunion events which brought together the casts of shows like Princess Bride, which saw over 110,000 people donate to watch the cast reunite – campaigns need money, and in an age where many of the traditional approaches like fundraising dinners aren’t possible this looks smart (and fun) to me.

4. Ed Markey sees off a primary challenge – this isn’t about a victory in November, but back in the Primary season when the incumbent Senator for Massachusetts defeated Joe Kennedy III to secure the Democratic nomination. Markey has been an elected official for almost 40 years, but his long-standing support for climate action saw the Sunrise Movement support his campaign and it’s thousands of activists to help (and also produced this brilliant advert). More on the amazing operation of the Sunrise Movement here.

As this podcast explores, he won thanks to the work his organising team did to ensure that field and digital was totally integrated, and if you want to deep dive into what that looks like there are loads more lessons in this playbook that the team have shared which could be applied to lots of local races. I’d also really recommend a read of this over on Labour Society of Campaigners site.

5. People’s Action and Deep Canvassing – lots of the talk about the election was about the role relational organising would play in the campaign – but the team at People’s Action focused on Deep Canvassing – candid, two-way conversations where canvassers ask voters to share their relevant, emotionally significant experiences and reflect on them aloud – and showed through a study that this approach was 102 times more effective than traditional electioneering efforts aimed at persuading people to change their vote.

Now as Mark Pack rightly pointed out to me on Twitter there are some questions about if you can scale this given the time it takes for the conversations, but in tight and local races, there could be some value in this approach. One to explore further?

What my tweets could tell us about the political, economic, social, technological landscape for campaigners…

Doing a PEST (political, economic, social, technological) analysis can be a great way for campaigners to look at the external landscape that they’re campaigning in – so as we head into a new year I decided to look back through the 100s of tweets I’d written in 2018 to see if there were some trends that might be emerging.
Politics

    • Brexit – enough said perhaps, and there are lots of great articles out there on the topic, but it’s going to dominate politics over the next 12 months, taking up the bandwidth of Parliament and Government to push forward other legislation, and also the need to shape new policies if and when we leave the EU. But the campaigning over Brexit also shows the new realities in how to use framing, narratives and targeting to win, for those who are looking to stop Brexit it can’t be through using facts alone.
    • The fallout from Brexit – it’s not time for predictions of what will happen, but the end of 2018 showed that events can move quickly, we could get a Conservative leadership election – and a reminder here that favorites don’t always win so look out for outside candidates, or a General Election which means that parties are preparing for it, both by selecting candidates for target seats and starting to think about their manifestos.
    • Metro Mayors – 2019 will see an election for a North of the Tyne mayor to join the existing 22 directly elected Mayors, and with increasing powers being devolved to Mayors they can be powerful advocates to push for issues at a time when Westminster politics can appear gridlocked.
    • A decline in the traditional way that we have engaged and communicated MPs. More and more research is showing MPs saying that they don’t find emails an effective way for supporters to be in touch, so what other approaches should campaigners be looking at?
  • The new divides – it’s been labeled open/closed or anywhere/somewhere but the last few years have highlighted the new fractures in British politics, for campaigners they present a challenge in an increasingly polarised country and show that there are some important strategic choices to be made in who you are trying to engage with your issue and a question of is single issue campaigning is contributing to polarisation.

Social

    • How we gather – While attendance and membership of traditional institutions that have been at the heart of many movements like the church and trade unions might be declining, but that does mean that new spaces are emerging, from activities like parkrun to Crossfit we’re finding new ways to gather together.  

Technological

Economics – Interestingly I didn’t tweet much that would end up in the economic section, but here are a few reflections from the few tweets I did send;

Can we stop the inevitable? Some thoughts on the theory of change behind stopping Brexit

I’ve got a campaign frustration that I need to be honest about – what is the theory of change behind the ongoing ‘stop Brexit’ campaign.
Now put aside for the moment if going back on the original referendum is a good thing, both for the public faith in democracy and if it’s legally possible, but it is one campaign that seems to have an ability to wind me up, because I can’t see anyone outline a plausible theory of change, but yet millions of pounds are clearly being spent towards it.
As I’ve written before, I don’t think that we’re going to be able to reverse the outcome of the 2016 Referendum by –

  • Organising demonstrations in places that comfortably voted Remain – because it’s just making people who already voted Remain feel like they’re doing something, but that isn’t building power.
  • Complaining that the BBC isn’t covering the ‘remain’ campaign – because let’s be honest they cover almost zero demonstrations.
  • Moaning about the statistics the Leave campaign used – because as Nicky Hawkins points out that’s not a way to persuade people to change their minds.

So I’ve been looking at applying the 5 theories to inform policy change outlined in Pathways to Change as a working example of how Brexit could be stopped.
In doing so I’ve found it a useful way of turning what is a really brilliant, but fairly dense report into something that helps campaigners think about the different opportunities to deliver policy change.
1 – Large leaps – crisis or sudden unexpected events create the opportunity to create change. Those in power will see that ‘something has to be done’ to respond to an unexpected or unanticipated event. Too often campaigners aren’t well placed for these moments, for example, the 2008 Finacial Crisis which threw up the opportunity to push for legislation that might put more controls on the financial sector.
So for those hoping to halt Brexit what are the ‘large leap’ moments that might cause a fundamental rethink of if we should remain – have they created a ‘break glass if’ strategy ready to go if something happens? Opportunities to influence and mobilise when those moments happen they move quickly so they need to be thought about in advance.
2 – Policy Window – issues get attention when they become ‘problems’ for those in power, and they know that they have to do something to respond, for example, the impending end of the lifespan of existing nuclear power stations means that the government needs to make some decisions about the future of the UK energy mix, thus providing an ‘policy window’ for campaigners for renewable energy – however for a policy proposal to be successful it needs to be seen a technically feasible and consistent with policy maker and public values.
For those looking to stop Brexit it’s hard to apply this to stop the campaign ahead of March next year.
3 – Coalition – Policy change happens through coordinated activities amongst individuals and organisations outside of government with the same core policy beliefs. If enough people can come together they can force change, however, the magic ‘n’ number of how many people that needs to be isn’t always clear.
Key to this is about recognising that the coalitions that are most likely to be successful are those that include broad and unusual suspects, so the ‘remain’ campaign is to focus on building a coalition that isn’t just made up of those that supported the original referendum. As academic Erica Chenoweth says ‘An increase in the number and diversity of participants may signal the movement’s potential to succeed. This is particularly true if people who are not ordinarily activists begin to participate — and if various classes, ethnicities, ages, genders, geographies and other social categories are represented’ which implies a big effort is needed to mobilise and bring new people into a movement – the new approach of calling for a People’s Vote could help to achieve this.
4 – Power Elites – the power to influence policy is concentrated in the hand of a few – some people have more power than others, so influencing efforts should be focused on the few, not the many.
This feels like the approach that those who are opposing Brexit are most comfortable using, almost all of the output I see from groups like Open Britain is focused on trying to influencing MPs and Ministers, it’s a plausible strategy, but a Power Elites approach requires a really sharp thinking about where power is, and who needs to be influenced.
5 – Regime – Governments must work collectively with public and private interests to achieve its aims and outcomes – these are known as ‘regimes’ – so in the UK we have a ‘regime’ around both political parties – and they coalesce around a shared broad agenda. So those seeking influence either need to become part of the existing regime or ‘overthrow’ the existing regime and replace it with another.
Another potential approach, but with both of the main political parties supporting Brexit it’s hard to see any ‘regime’ to attach to this approach – if one of the parties could be shifted then there could be a possibility of change happening in this way.
For those interested in the theory behind this post, I’ve put together this which is a short summary for campaigners of the approaches outlined in Pathways to Change. You can read the full report here.

What it's really like as a Junior Minister

I’ve been enjoying Hinterland, the memoir of former MP and Minister, Chris Mullin in the last few weeks, so it’s reminded me of this post I wrote in 2009 after reading the first volume of his diaries.
I’ve always highly recommended Mullin’s diaries for anyone understanding how Parliament really works (I’d also recommend Power Trip by Labour spin doctor Damien McBride, all of Alastair Cambells diaries and more recently Sir Craig Oliver’s Unleashing Deamons) .
The diaries are a little dated now as Mullin stood down in 2010 – his valedictory speech is one of the best Parliamentary speeches I’ve watched – but I still think they have lots of useful insight.
I’ve be reading the very enjoyable diaries of Chris Mullin MP over the Easter weekend, entitled ‘A View from the Foothills‘ they’re a great look at life somewhere down the ministerial pecking order.
Mullin was a junior minister at the Department for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), DFiD and the Foreign Office. It’d be fair to say that Mullin isn’t a great advocate of the lower rungs of ministerial responsibility, but reading the book provides some useful insights into what the work of junior minister is like. Something of tremendous use given that much of the engagement campaigners and lobbyist often have is with junior ministers.
A few key lessons stand out;
1. Junior ministers aren’t often particularly interested in the brief they have. Mullin, who before becoming a minister was a influential chair of the Home Affairs Select committee, implies he knew next to nothing about the environment when he started in that job, and kept up simply from reading the briefs provided to him.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when they’re not especially interested, Mullin seems to infer at times that the best issues to deal with are the ones that are trouble free, uncontroversial and mean that they won’t cause any embarrassment. Some lobby for the post they really want but most don’t get it.
2. Ministers sign lots of letters. Mullin talks about spending hours at the office often late at night signing letters from MPs. Few get mentioned, although he does despair when thanks to a Friends of the Earth campaign he has to sign over 500 letter. A good way to make a point, but perhaps a quick way to loose good will?
3. They spend lots of time giving speeches – part of the life of a junior minister is to go out and about around the country and give speeches to organisations which have some link. Mullin suggests most aren’t very well written and he was often embarrassed to deliver them. So the next time you hold an event and the minister doesn’t give the barnstorming speech you expect after watching too much West Wing, it probably isn’t their fault.
4. They don’t have huge amounts of access to the Secretary of State or the PM. This obviously depends on the department they’re posted to (so access seems to be better at the Foreign Office under Jack Straw than at DETR under John Prescott) but most seem only to have access to the Secretary of State at weekly departmental meeting and occasional rushed conversations here and there. Generally Mullin doesn’t give the impression that they get to  set a departments agenda, this comes from the Secretary of State (or often even higher up government).
5. They are advised to pick a few issues to change policy on – Mullin while at the environment and region chose try to deal with leylandii hedges, rent paid to absent landlords and getting away without a ministerial car. All valuable but hardly groundbreaking, and even then it was hard work navigating between special interests, civil servants and government priorities to make progress.
6. So much of politics is informal – from the diaries you get the impression that many decisions are made through quiet conversations in tea rooms, chats in the lobby, a call to a friend who is a friend with another minister or a written note slipped into a box.
7. MPs spend lots of time on the train! Mullin is often talking about catching the 20.00 back to Sunderland and bumping into this or that MP.  I think my next campaign strategy is going to map the MPs my target might catch the train home with!

Do we need a new map? How the referendum changed the political landscape for campaigners.

For those concerned that this is becoming a blog about political theory. Fear not. Normal service will soon resume.
But a skill for any campaigner is considering how the changing external context is affecting the issue that they’re campaigning on. As a result over the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about what the uncertain and turbulent times mean for the political context we find ourselves in.
For a long time we’ve considered politics to be about right and left, and tried to place our targets and audiences on that. We’ve always know it was a little simplistic – David Bull explores this some more – but it works when thinking about who to target and who we need to demonstrates supports our issue or cause.
When you have a right of center government you have to consider who are the allies that you might be able to build on the right that you can engage in your coalition, or think about how you frame your message to appeal to ‘right of center’ voters. And the same happens when you have a left of center government.
But so much feels like it’s changed over the last 12 months I’ve started to think about different approach when considering where we place our targets – especially if the negotiations around Brexit dominate the political debate in the UK over the coming years
Instead of thinking about Left – Right, I’ve been thinking about needing to work from a Populist – Establishment/Internationalist – Isolationist matrix.
new axis
It’s built on the premise that perhaps there are groupings across political parties that have as much in common as others within their parties – we’ve long known that there are factions within parities – but the referendum seems to highlight new alliances across parties – see the emergence of More United led by Paddy Ashdown, or the continuation of Britain Stronger In becoming Open Britain with strong cross party support.
Populist or Establishment – Lots has been written about the rise of Sanders and Corbyn on the political left, or populist movements on the right across Europe and beyond – all of whom have been able to position themselves as ‘anti establishment’. While part of the reason the Remain campaign failed in the EU referendum was that it wasn’t able to shed an establishment image against the more populist message that was being pushed by Vote Leave. This axis also throws up some interesting challenges for me about how many campaigning organisations and our messages are perceived – are we seen as too much part of the ‘establishment’?
Internationalist or Isolationist – this is a question about the range of policies that people want to see enacted, especially when it comes to Brexit. Internationalists are those that believe that the big challenges we face can only be solved by cooperation and collaboration across boundaries. Isolationists on the other hand believe that first and foremost it’s about solving the problems at home – it’s about ‘taking back control’ or ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ depending on your viewpoint.
But if that’s about political targets. What about the public?

This recent research from Social Market Foundation is well worth diving into. It suggests the public could now be grouped into eight political tribes – these aren’t going to replace the existing parties, but highlights that the political views of the public are more complex, and might shape the possible policy directions of the existing parties, as any good politician is going to think about how they can build an electoral coalition that can win.

Taken from http://www.smf.co.uk/publications/dead-centre-redefining-the-centre-of-british-politics/
Taken from http://www.smf.co.uk/publications/dead-centre-redefining-the-centre-of-british-politics/

I’ve tried to place the tribes onto the Populist – Establishment/Internationalist – Isolationist matrix – which is interesting to consider – especially when you reflect on the relative sizes of the different tribes.
The Social Market Foundation suggest that Our Britain accounts for 24% of the population, compared to 5% for the Community tribe. I think it shows that there is possibly a clear pull towards the Populist/Isolationist side of the matrix which could presents challenges that campaigners are going to have to overcome if politicians feel the need to tack towards that group to sure up electoral support.
new axis with tribes
I’m not suggesting that campaigners should adopt policies that will appeal to the Our Britain tribe, but as I’ve long argued, as campaigners we need to spend more time considering different perspectives, and understand that we often live in a bit of a ‘bubble’ so we need to become more aware of different tribes. This means finding ways our messages could resonate with other tribes, or find ways of expanding the tribes that support our calls, or at least giving the impression of more size.
Right, that’s the political theory lesson over – normal service will resume next week, but I’m interested in what people think – as a passionate internationalist I’m concerned about the need for voices in the populist and internationalist box that can energize and engage.

In/Out, Leave/Remain – the EU Referendum and what it means for campaigners

So the starting gun for the EU Referendum has been fired, and for the next 4 months it’s going to dominate the political discourse.
So what does that mean for campaigners? Here are a few initial thoughts.
It’ll shape all political decisions – I’ve highlighted the comment from Tim Montgomery below before, but I think it’s really pertinent and worth every campaigner thinking about.
This government is behaving differently because the outcome of the In/Out referendum (likely to be held in June 2016) may well determine David Cameron’s place in history and is uppermost in his mind. He risks Britain’s membership of the EU if he’s an unpopular mid-term prime minister at the time he is recommending Britain should vote to “remain” (as he certainly will). I underestimated Downing Street’s determination to organise everything in terms of avoiding Brexit. The go-slow on cuts, the living wage announcement, the retreat on tax credits, the extra money for defence… this pre-referendum behaviour is pretty boilerplate pre-election behaviour.
As Tim says the Government are going to want to go into the Referendum looking like they’re in step with the public mood. What does that mean for your campaign, does it provide new opportunities to push, or should you be prepared for an unexpected announcement? Also, now that Cabinet Members have come out for and against the deal what will that do the dynamics of the Cabinet will it effectively mean more briefing against each other?
Prepare if you get caught in the crossfire – Many campaigners will chose not to get engaged in the Referendum, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be immune to the Referendum. My work is on international development and I can already see how the ‘out’ campaign might choose to use that issue to demonstrate another reason we should leave the EU. I’m sure lots of other examples exist in other areas as well, basically any issue where the EU has some involvement. Scenario planning and preparation is essential.
See which messengers get cut through – The anti-politics/anti-elite mood that seems to be engulfing the country mean that I think, that while we’ll see a lot of them, it’s unlikely that politicians will be those who deliver the most convincing messages (see the YouGov Tracker to see why George Galloway was a spectacularly bad idea to use at the Grassroots Out rally on Friday). This is particularly a challenge for the ‘Remain’ campaign, with it focus on a message that staying in is good for both economic and national security, need to find credible alternative messengers to motivate people to get out to vote to stay. Look out for who are the messengers who do get cut through – there might be some good learning in here for your campaign.
Watch out for the grassroots interest groups – To counter the ‘politician’ problem that both sides have, we’re already starting to see an emergence of grassroots groups to amplify the voices of different interests (see this list of some of the pro EU groups emerging – I think Football Fans 4 EU is my favourite so far). These groups are presumably aimed at making the case for different issues and engaging specific audiences to vote. It’ll interesting to see if the most vocal manage to cut through. One of the things I’ve already liked about US election is the emergence of grassroots interest groups, but it’s not really a trend that seems to have caught on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps the Referendum will change that.
Lookout for innovation in campaigning tactics – To be honest, I’ve not seen very much of this from either the Remain or Leave campaigns so far. It seems that they’re both deploying a fairly standard field operation which combines phone calling (and the US primary elections have shown how hard it’s becoming to reach people) and street stalls, with some interesting social media content – which often ends up in an echo chamber of those who’ve already decided what they think. But keep an eye on what the Remain campaign does, it’s got some smart people working on it and has the bigger challenge on its hands, to motivate those who are instinctively ‘in’ but perhaps don’t have the same motivation to get out to vote as the ‘out’ campaign does.
Understand what you can and can’t do – Lots of the rules for how the specifics of this referendum will be run still don’t exist, but in CC9 we already have general guidance about what Charities can and can’t do around a Referendum. In short the guidance says that ‘The principles that govern political activity by charities also apply to referendums. This means that, depending on the nature of the referendum issue or question, there may be some circumstances in which it is appropriate for a charity to set out the pros and cons of a yes or no vote for their beneficiaries’. It also goes into more detail about when it might be appropriate to take a specific position around the referendum when a charity thinks it will directly affect the work they do.  NCVO is holding a breakfast briefing on Friday for anyone interested in this. 
Think about what happens with a Brexit – While negotiating the details of a Brexit will be protracted, it’s worth starting to scenario plan what that could mean for your work. What routes to influence it’d open up or close down. How would your strategy have to change?

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Lessons from the Field – my reflections on 5 years organising for the Labour Party

Last month I shared a few thoughts about what issue campaigner can learn from party political campaigning.
A few people encouraged me to do the opposite post, but as I started writing I discovered this isn’t really lessons for political parties from campaigning organisations, it’s more my reflections from 5 years as a volunteer campaign organiser within the Labour Party.
Some caveats to start with. My experience is perhaps an isolated one, I’ve been focused on working in support of one party in a few constituencies in SW London, and I can’t say that I’ve managed to address everything I’ve written in the constituency I was involved in, but they’re a few observations, which feel timely as the Labour Party considers its future direction.
I’ve tried to avoid too much of a focus on the idea that too many party members are focused on the minutes of the last meeting, that we send too many emails (which we do!) or we only visit at election time (which we don’t).
Why? Yes, it’s sometimes true we do all those thing but it’s also an unfair parody. Many of those I’ve worked alongside have been committed, dedicated individuals who put in hours of volunteer time determined to make a difference in their community. Instead I’ve chosen to reflect on the following.
1. Don’t forget to evaluate – I’ve been through a number of election campaigns now, they’re all different, but in all of them I’ve spotted things I’d do the same or do differently. It’s surprised me that the political parties don’t have a instinctive or systematic approach to sitting down, evaluating the evidence and learning what’s worked and what hasn’t.
Perhaps its because politics is always moving along, win and you’re into governing. Lose and the last thing you want to do is reflect on what you did wrong, but it’s a practice that needs to be encouraged at all levels of the party. Personally, despite feeling numb from the result of the election in May, I’m glad the Labour Party has committed to do a full review of what worked and didn’t work, and it’s great to see some of the candidates do the same. That needs to become the norm not the exception, and the findings need to be distributed widely.
2. Test, trial and try new – Elections are in many ways won (or lost) using the same formula that parties have been using for years. Yes, there are a few examples of doing differently (Birmingham Edgbaston is the example that was rightly praised in 2010 and Ilford North in 2015) but outside a few campaigns committed to pioneering , and the work of the Labour digital team who I think awesome, new approaches seem to be to too often few are far between and not mainstreamed quickly.
Innovation is hard when the risk of it not working is losing an election, and not all campaigning organisations get this right either. But I’d love to see the party embrace a culture of testing different approaches to see what has the biggest impact, trailing something new, building an evidence base based on experimentation.
It doesn’t mean throwing the old playbook out (there is much to be said for the approach of going door to door and being routed in a community) but the playbook needs to have some (evidence-based) chapters added to it.The experience of Arnie Graf and the suspicion with which his community organising approach was viewed is a lesson in how hard this can be.
3. Share learning – In the overall scheme of things I was a fairly unimportant volunteer. But with a (unhealthy) passion for campaigning that took me to the US to learn how Obama did it in 2012, I was amazed at how little learning and good practice is proactively shared amongst other volunteer campaign organisers. I’m sure there is loads I could learn from others across the UK, but I found more ideas from reading books and blogs about what was happening in the US than I did others in the UK.
The Labour Party would do well to emulate a model similar to that of the Analyst Institute in the US and build a closed community committed to share evidence and best practice for paid staff and key volunteers (like me). But learning shouldn’t be limited from within the Party, since the election its been more interesting reading learning from Conservative activists, like any good campaign the party needs to be open to collecting ideas for a range of sources.
4. Remember the pyramid of engagement – A graph like the one below should go up in every Labour Party office. Sure some really skilled professional people just love to deliver leaflets (I’m one of them now – it’s good exercise) but too often that’s all we ask them to do, just knock on doors or deliver leaflets.
Ladder-of-engagement
The pyramid of engagement is a tool well know to campaigners, all about how you help you develop a plan to recruit individuals and engage individuals. Some constituencies do this really well, but sadly most don’t meaning talent is wasted or under-utilised.
5. Invest in your people – The Labour Party relies on a small army of organisers in many of its constituencies, most are recent graduates paid too little, and asked to make huge sacrifices of time in the run up to an election. Some are stick around for year, but most drift away after an election or two. That’s valuable institutional knowledge walking, and a huge cost in training new staff.
We don’t have the culture in the UK of a professionalised political campaign staff, but as a result there a few incentives for the most effective organisers to stick around, the training they get seems to be patchy and the support/supervision from more experienced staff limited. Building a clear career pathway that rewards the most effective rather than those who have the most stamina, and effectively scales to provide the right level of support and supervision is needed if we’re to build a cadre of brilliant campaign managers.
6. Build a culture of accountability – At times, asking how another constituency how many contacts it’s made is similar to asking someone else how much they get paid. It’s shared with reluctance and is probably over or under inflated! Work needs to be done to ensure the metrics are more sophisticated than simply the number of contact made, although that’s still an important benchmark of activity, to ensure they’re capturing volunteer engagement and much more.
But those figures need to be shared and scrutinised. To my mind it’s unacceptable that we don’t have a culture where one constituency can benchmark itself against another and those who aren’t performing, including where we have longstanding MPs, are called out by the National Executive Committee or another representative body.
So a few lessons from me.  As I was writing this I re-read parts of Refounding Labour. It’s a document full of practical recommendations. It would be easy for whomever becomes leader in September to bin it, as a holdover from the previous leadership, in my opinion that would be a mistake.
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