We need to woo women voters to win

by Sarah Rabbitts

A few weeks ago, the Labour Women’s Network held it’s political day, looking at how the Labour party can be a more electable party and the importance of women’s votes. As we come to the end of the year, the lessons from that day are worth reflecting on if we are to build on our current poll advantage.

Deborah Mattison, the founder and director of Britain Thinks, explained that Labour needed to target women because they are more likely to be concerned or affected by cuts to local public services and, crucially, are also more likely to switch party.

British elections are very different to the US Presidential elections in terms of scale and funding, but there are lessons in how to engage with women that we can learn from the Democrats. Merici Vinton, a former new media campaigner for the Democrats, advised Labour campaigners to respond to every email and social media post in order to engage with a high number of potential voters. It’s difficult to monitor and reply to everything because we have fewer resources in the UK, but this strategy makes sense.

The next general election will be fought using new media for the first time; we’ll have to embrace it and its ability to generate a two way conversation with voters. Josie Cluer, who’s on the board of North London Cares, acknowledged that the growth of twitter since the 2010 election has been immense: it’s grown from 3.5 million users, to 12 million users. However, Josie rightly argues that Labour’s twitter reach is limited if voters don’t chose to voluntarily follow our twitter campaigns. We need to be more creative with our use of new media. Labour needs to look at all the new media channels in the UK and how we can most effectively talk to different women’s groups through sites like, for example, Mumsnet.

Merici also argued that Labour needs to be “communicating clear messages in a simple and effective way”. As anyone who works in communications has found out, without consistent, simple and engaging messages campaigns will often leave audiences confused or uninterested. Campaigns also need to deliver messages using the right channels and simple language which voters understand. The complexities of crucial legislation, like the NHS and energy bills, have been switching off both journalists and voters.

Labour must learn from the Tory election mistakes, like the big society, which proved too difficult for voters to understand.  We need to answer the following questions ahead of the next election: where are we now, where do we need to go and why do we need to go there? Without clearly and consistently answering these questions, it will be hard to tell voters who we are, what we stand for and how we might help them in government. We’re looking to Jon Cruddas’ current review of Labour policies to produce values and election promises that are easy for our voters to understand.

Observers of the US election will know that Obama’s campaign focused on locating field offices in communities across the states. Mitt Romney’s campaign spent on average an additional $108.2 million in all the swing states, but only had 208 field offices. Spending less, the Obama’s campaign had 596 field offices, but lost only two swing states and won the election.

Obama proved that despite the money spent on advertisements and social media, the power of talking to voters in person must not be underestimated. Sara Latham, an Obama adviser, says that working closely with our communities is going to help Labour ahead of the next UK election. We need to decide how Labour is going to engage with voters more effectively at a local level and build on the great work already being done.

“There will be women in your community who have Labour values, without being a Labour supporter”, argued Dorothea Hodge, a former House of Lords adviser. Dorothea spoke about her family’s strong ties with the church in Brixton and how women with an active faith are often aligned with the core values of Labour party, even if they are not a party member. Many of the women she’s met through going to church believe in social equality, the living wage and justice.

Stella Creasy also spoke about the importance of community organising and building local partnerships with groups attended by women. Stella argued that politicians can build strong relationships with different faith groups, who have different values, by sustaining mutual respect and finding common ground. Stella’s advice was that there isn’t a single perfect way of reaching a group of women, but that she tries to bring together women who have the same core values and interests. Stella also tries to utilise the skills available in her community, from those who are good at baking to budget management.

A panel of women Labour candidates agreed that the “best people in politics won’t let go of what they care about”. They shared what they’ve learnt so far through the parliamentary selection process and local canvassing. Suzy Stride, our candidate in Harlow, advised women who are interested in standing to take advantage of any relevant candidate training programmes while also building strong ties with local councillors and influencers.

Our candidates also felt that you’re more likely to succeed with an authentic and genuine voice, alongside a clear mission or passion. There was also some great advice about setting up a strong campaign team with good planning skills and a car, as well as it never being too soon to start building your CV and gathering photos to communicate who you are and what you stand for in your campaign materials.

Sarah Rabbitts is a member of Vauxhall CLP and works in communications

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6 Responses to “We need to woo women voters to win”

  1. tokyo nambu says:

    Twitter and mumsnet? Well, that’s the Islington vote sewn up. Why do Labour discussions about communication always end up with NW3 talking to itself? Ah, no it isn’t: Labour can instead discuss baking in a completely non-patronising manner. “Making a cabinet is like making a fruitcake for the WI sale: you need just enough spice to make it interesting”. FFS. And aligning the Labour Party with the Church is electoral suicide: organisations that are nakedly misogynistic and homophobic might get you a tiny number of voters from their members, but will alienate vast numbers of other people for whom sexual equality and gay rights are non-negotiable. Did Labour learn nothing from aligning itself too closely with conservative religious organisations?

    This is all just triangulation — identifying small, niche parts of the electorate, pandering to them and hoping no-one else notices. “Communities” is, presumably, a euphemism for immigrant and ethnic minority groups: one effect of the Internet is that you can no longer strike deals with groups in private and hope no-one notices, so you need one consistent message that works across all demographics. Again, hasn’t Labour learnt anything from 2010?

  2. AnneJGP says:

    Interesting article, Sarah, thanks.

    Apologies for returning to the same old thing, but the message Labour still hasn’t found simple language to convey is the refutation of the household budget analogy.

    I’m not an economist, my intelligence is average and my education only so-so. I want to understand this point; I’ve tried hard to grasp how it works, over a long period of time; and still I can’t get it. I don’t see how it can possibly work.

    That household budget analogy is so powerful that it undermines every counter-argument I’ve heard, leaving all of them feeling specious and as though something has to be wrong somewhere, even if I can’t spot the mistake.

    The household budget analogy speaks to one’s gut-reactions. Until Labour can identify a similarly powerful counter to it, you’ll be hoping that people are simply prepared to believe it because they’d rather have the good times back.

    That may well work for the GE, but it won’t set your Government up for a lot of support if it can’t work the magic when in power.

  3. Vern says:

    So that’s it then. Simply woo a few female voters and its in the bag for labour!
    This actually reads like it was a school childs homework assignment-and not a very good effort either.
    I’m a parent and have on occassion glanced over the wifes shoulder at the mumsnet site. I should think they would be horrified to learn that the ploitical classes wanted to use their website as a vehicle to promote their own self righteousness.

  4. swatantra says:

    A case for ‘Wooster Woman’?
    No doubt who wears the trousers when it comes to electing a Govt.

  5. john p Reid says:

    all though its region rather than the NEC ,I ‘m annoyed as we have female candidates but some areas e have all men others all women and there’s just not the incentive to campaign unless people are in the wards they’ve fought in, then they won’t given unwinnable areas any money to fight campaigns as we still have a chance to win council seats, and the one women per ward shortlists, seem odd in unwinnable areas were every seat counts,

  6. susan powell says:

    The idea of “wooing” women is in itself objectionable. In similarly patronising fashion, the argument suggests Big Society failed because people did not understand it. It failed because it was a complete con. The whole basis of your argument is that people have to be induced to vote Labour. Why not try offering some decent policies. Why not take up the fight against cuts, instead of being one of the main implementors of cuts? Having received LP material in the election entitled “wrong cuts. wrong time” I told the canvasser that although my entire family had been LP activists and I’d supported the party for decades, I’d rather cut off my right arm than vote for a party that is nothing more than a lesser evil. We’re facing the biggest attack on the working class in living memory, the dismantlement of the welfare state was kicked off by Blair – and your main concern remains the media rather than the message!

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