Back to the future – Labour set to rerun the 2010 election campaign

by David Talbot

Labour, said Douglas Alexander, the party’s general election supremo, would tap in to voters’ “submerged optimism”. The coming election battle would be a “word of mouth” election fought street by street. Traditional mainstays of the election campaign – posters, leaflets and election broadcasts – would be usurped by the surge of digital campaigning. While the party would be heavily outspent by the Conservatives, Labour would instead focus on “community organisation and peer-to-peer communication”.

Announcing that the party had learnt heavily from the Obama campaign, Labour’s use of digital media would pioneer real-time defence against the opposition as well as digital attack ads, raising funds and recruiting volunteers. This was in comparison to the Conservatives  who would spend their considerable war chest on “posters and paid distribution”. Labour’s campaign wouldn’t spend flashy millions and would win not through “one-way communication, but one-to-one communication”. Labour’s approach could be summarised by Alexander’s view that “traditional methods of communication are just inappropriate”.

Sound familiar? Last week Douglas Alexander unveiled Labour’s central campaigning themes for the 2015 general election. But the quotes and context above are all taken from Douglas Alexander’s comments made in February, 2010. The similarity between what Alexander said in 2010, when Labour was to fall to its second worse electoral defeat in its history, and his comments last Friday, are striking. The comments are, in certain passages, in fact almost identical.

In this election Labour will, according to Alexander, engage with “the anger felt by so many in the only way a progressive party can.” In 2010 Labour would deal with “anxiety and anger over bankers’ bonuses, expenses and the recession, a general sense of grumpiness” in, infamously, a “future fair for all.” Labour will “fight this election conversation by conversation, doorstep by doorstep, community by community” whilst in 2010, borrowing from Obama, naturally, it would be “regular people briefing Labour’s message to their neighbours, serving as our ambassadors, block by block, throughout the battleground seats”.

The lack of originally doesn’t just stop in Alexander’s seemingly near-unchanged electoral handbook; Michael Dugher, the then Labour party Vice Chair, talked in 2013 of a “permanent revolution” in how Labour campaigned. In 2014 in Dugher told the same paper in a rather bizarre ‘exclusive‘ that the party was to set up a rapid rebuttal unit. Presumably the Excalibur system used to great effect in 1997 has been forgotten.

The power of digital is where Labour has been most guilty of just repeating itself. No fewer than a dozen, rather dewy-eyed, it must be said, articles have appeared in the past year and a half all on the power of Labour’s digital campaign. And the common theme? All of them reference at length Obama and his election victories. All of them are, essentially, variants of what Alexander said back in February 2010.

Of course, none of this would matter if Labour had a proud recent electoral history. But the party, clearly, does not. Referencing Obama as many times as humanly possible, and copying his tactics down to a tee, did little to alleviate Labour’s heavy defeat in 2010. Nor too did Labour’s focus on “the ground war”. Labour’s loss in 2010 of 91 seats was worse than its previous greatest loss of seats, when the party lost 77 seats in 1970.

But it is on finance where the party comes truly unstuck. In 2010 it would be “people not posters” that would win for Labour. The party’s chronic lack of funding was to be turned into a virtue, with Alexander arguing that a cash-strapped populist campaign would match the austere times of recession-riddled 2010. Dugher even argued two years ago that “money does not matter in a multimedia age”. But, as Alexander again noted last Friday, Labour will attack the Conservatives and their funding at every turn this election, much as they did in 2010 over Ashcroft and his millions.

Either funding matters or it does not.

And as Mark Ferguson has rightly noted, Labour is above all highlighting its own failure; how long has it known it wouldn’t raise enough to compete with the Conservatives? Was this forecast when the trade union levies were changed? And why aren’t traditional financial supporters supporting them?

Douglas Alexander is one of the best and brightest on the Labour front bench. He has been near to the centre of every major Labour campaign in the past fifteen years. But even a cursory glance of his Guardian article on Friday brought on a sense of déjà vu. On closer inspection, the similarity, with his remarks some five years ago, is near absolute. If Labour hasn’t changed its mind over how to win over the electorate, then why should the voters? It may just be that, to paraphrase, if Labour run their traditional campaign they will end up with a traditional result.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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29 Responses to “Back to the future – Labour set to rerun the 2010 election campaign”

  1. NBeale says:

    What a shambles!

  2. Alan Douglas says:

    I love campaigns run by spinners. Wee Duggie seems to get wee-er with each new campaign, shouting at us all through a loudhailer from a greater and greater distance. With any luck he, and his whole rotten party, will imitate the lemmings quite soon. Not that the other lot are any better.

  3. Michael Worcester says:

    Labour could have won the 2010 if they had a charismatic leader, just like in 2015

  4. Tafia says:

    Douglas Alexander is one of the best and brightest on the Labour front bench

    If that’s true then you have a major problem. Nicola Sturgeon took him apart on TV a few months back for over 15 minutes and he just sat there, stunned, with his little bottom lip going.

    mind you, Chuka is another – he just comes across as a rather weak dandy and mummy’s boy.

    Who are Labour’s front bench hard-hitters? Their bruisers? Certainly not crack-wristed and highly discredited Balls or his shriek of a wife.

  5. Dan says:

    I think the Obama comparisons come about because our political class are political nerds to whom Obama and co are rock stars, whom they hope will throw his water bottle at them after the last song of the set. Hence the spunking of money hiring Axelrod (and Messina for the Tories). I think it’s fairly obvious to most people now, that what we see is what we are going to get. Alexander will run a muddled, uninspiring campaign and, with a bit of luck, might just be able to limp over the finish line.

    Hodges got it right in his latest jeremiad.

    “Doorstep conversations. Tory campaign spending. Town hall meetings. Vacuous homilies about hope.

    These are things that Labour activists talk about. They are not things that voters talk about. But for some inexplicable reason, Ed Miliband is still unwilling, or unable, to make eye contact with the electorate.”

    And also…..

    When did we turn into the Americans with their torturously prolonged electoral cycle? It’s Jan 5th fer chrissake! I’ve still got a few mince pies knocking around in the cupboard, it’s far too early for this.

  6. swatantra says:

    They’d be better off running a 1992 style campaign, but without the obvious mistakes, and the Double Whammy and the Sheffield Style Rally and the Jennifers Ear/Mrs Duffy type fiasco. And give poor EdM a soapboc for Chr**t’s sake. he still looks like a boy sent out to do a man’s job, a Spad who’s never had a real job outsde of politics, and never lifted a shovel or done any decorating, apart from icing a cake.
    Today he took 2 questions fro the ‘public’ and managed a dismissive answer to both and failed to give a reasonable answer. He also had a go at Norman Smith, who’s only doing his job pointing out the weaknessnes in Labour’s Campaign.
    I’ve not felt so disenchanted since 1983.

  7. BenM says:

    What is forgotten about the 2010 election is that Labour narrowed a gap of 20 odd points to 8 points thereby robbing the Conservatives of a majority and limiting the damage the Tories could have done to this country – scary when you think of the damage actually wrought on the population and the economy these last 5 years.

  8. Landless Peasant says:

    Labour just seem to be hoping they’ll win by natural default because everyman and his dog hates the Tory scum. Might work. Might not. If Labour want to absolutely guarantee many millions of votes all they have to do is pledge to abolish Benefit Sanctions, increase the dole, and scrap Universal Credit. Easy peasy. Until then, I’ll be voting Green.

  9. John P Reid says:

    2010 was a case of us ,being determined not to let the Tories have a overall majority ,this time we may have a a lot of new young student times, keen because they’ve read the stories ate nasty,and feel that if they believe and is the new Attlee,then we could win, but I think this election is more like 1955 us burnt out from before and a new lease of canvassers won’t changea thing,

  10. Bob says:

    Landless Peasant: Labour ain’t going to be doing that in a month of Sundays, would frighten the horses too much and be merely pandering to people who would vote for them anyway.

  11. Dan says:

    “If Labour want to absolutely guarantee many millions of votes all they have to do is pledge to abolish Benefit Sanctions, increase the dole, and scrap Universal Credit.”

    Cutting the size of jobless benefits has been a very popular move politically, with wide support from the electorate.

    I know you disagree with this, I don’t doubt your sincerity, but the notion that there is some phantom electorate waiting, biding their time, keeping their powder dry — ready to pounce when a ‘Proper’ Left Wing party pops up is just not credible IMO. You are in the minority. If the Labour Party went off to the left (and I’m talking nationalisations, supertax, etc,etc) they would get annihilated. Absolutely smashed, reduced to a rump.

    Also, (serious question I’m not trying to be snarky) — how much do you think the dole should be realistically? (weekly).

  12. ydoethur says:

    An intriguing article that I broadly agree with, but:

    ‘Labour’s loss in 2010 of 91 seats was worse than its previous greatest loss of seats, when the party lost 77 seats in 1970.’

    Surely it lost more than that in 1931, even allowing for the tiny number held by MacDonald’s supporters? Over two hundred, in fact, if memory serves.

    To be quite honest, I don’t think a campaign will make any difference one way or another now – floating voters seem to sort of mentally tune out Labour’s message on the basis that (A) the messenger is dull (B) they’ve heard it all before and (C) they don’t believe a word of it.

    Whether the unpopularity of the Conservatives renders that point moot is another question entirely, but it seems unlikely that it will.

  13. John P Reid says:

    Landless peasant, Everyman and his dog hates Tory scum, you do know theye level pegging in the polls

    If may is a repeat of 2010 have we had the Mrs Duffy bigot moment, with Emily Thornberry, or will there be others, the fact that Cantlebury candidate Andy newman, said Stalin was a great man, the Tianaman square protesters were actually supporters of far right capitalism, or Chairman MAo, was a fantastic man, spring to mind

  14. Tafia says:

    ‘Because I’ve said very clearly the 2015-16 plans are our starting point and we will only spend more if we can find cuts elsewhere.’ Ed Balls, Radio 4, 05 Jan 2014

    Austerity to continue unabated.

  15. Tafia says:

    05 Jan 2015 that should be. It takes me till may to remember the year has changed.

    Funnily enough, as I was writing that Balls was on the news saying that he will have to cut council funding because Osborne failed to meet a target given prior to the euro crisis. WTF?

  16. Tafia says:

    Tonight Labour Scotland started tweeting a pledge promise pledging to fund 1000 more nurses over and above whatever the SNP pledge.

    This is causing a huge amount of merriment on the social media sites etc because the SNP won’t be making any pledges in this election regarding nurses. This is a Westminster election and health is devolved and handled by the Holyrood government in Scotland – not the Westminster one.

    Seems Labour have no idea how the country is even run and who is in charge of what. Dorks.

  17. Vicky says:

    African comedy movies vary in plots and twists, but they are all made with the
    intention of making people chuckle. The first scenario involves you
    as the celebrity character preparing to attend a movie premier where paparazzi and the
    press will be present. This is no wonder simply because it is the house of the greatest movie studios in the world this
    kind of as Walt Disney and Common Studios.

  18. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Bob

    “merely pandering to people who would vote for them anyway.”

    Or perhaps to people like me who might have voted for them but now won’t?

  19. Robert says:

    Miliband speech on the 5th he speaks again about hard working and people in work, he does not speak or say anything about any one else. I think the next time somebody rings me or sends me a letter saying have you forgotten to pay your dues, did the bank make a mistake, did you really want to leave the labour party.

    Alexander who of course is captain of the Progress group which told Miliband last year we are the boys and girls now you will follow us and he did with his attack on the Unions .

    That speech which did not mention the most vulnerable or the poorest or pensioners only the hard working, will this be the next suicide note.

  20. Blairite says:

    @John P Reid
    “2010 was a case of us ,being determined not to let the Tories have a overall majority ,this time we may have a a lot of new young student times, keen because they’ve read the stories ate nasty,and feel that if they believe and is the new Attlee,then we could win, but I think this election is more like 1955 us burnt out from before and a new lease of canvassers won’t changea thing,”
    A lot of new young students don’t Ed Miliband is a new Attlee (far, far, far from it) and they aren’t that leftwing as shown by polls. It’s sad but it’s true.

  21. paul barker says:

    The obvious comparison is 1983. That year Labour ran much the same campaign as at the previous Election but with a more divided Party & a much less impressive Leader & Front Bench. That sound familiar ? Foot managed to cut the Labour vote share by 10% on 1979; I dont predict Milliband will do as much.

  22. John Reid says:

    Paul Barker,you’re right,infact 1987 springs to mind,Labour is so desperate to get back ,Northern Votes,it’s looking at losing Essex completely as collateral damage, as I said 3 months ago

    30%lab 281 8.m
    38%Tory 324 10.1m
    13 % Ukip 1 3.3m
    4%green. 1 1.35 m
    10% lib. 21. 2.5m
    1.5 SNP. 11. 370,000
    4% (8dup)(1 UUP)(2 SDLP) speaker (1Respect)5 SinnFien (3plyd Cymru)

    Tory majority 8

    All that’ll happen is the LibDems will be down 32, labour up 13′ Tories up 9 ,Ukip up 1 and SNP up 7

  23. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Dan

    “how much do you think the dole should be realistically?”

    It should be doubled to £145 per week. This could easily be achieved by scrapping all the completely useless ‘back-to-work’ scams such as New Deal, Work Programme, etc. that are an absolute waste of time and money. Currently the DWP crazily spends twice as much on such crap than on the Benefits themselves. Billions of ££s of taxpayers money is being transferred into the coffers of private companies like A4e, Interserve, Ingeus, G4s, Serco, etc etc.

  24. Tafia says:

    Here’s an interesting thought.

    After a very costly and 5 month long campaign for both Labour and the Tories, suppose the tories form another coalition, abolish the fixed term Parliament, what 9 months or so and call another election with another costly campaign.

    Virtually bankrupts the Labour Party.
    Causes Labour to beg from the big unions (Unite), who in turn will demand their pound of flesh in guaranteed policies.
    Virtually bankrupts UKIP.
    Country returns a tory majority.

  25. John Reid says:

    Tafia, I assume you don’t read the Sun, they had the same conclusion last Friday, the problem I see with it,is all 3 parties could havea different leader, after a minority Tory party form a Gov’t in 4 months, then go to the polls in the fall,
    I pointed out earlier, that with no Sinn Fein at the palace, the Tories could get 325 seats, and not bother with a second election till 2017′ assuming there’s the referndum, promised too

  26. Tafia says:

    John Reid – I’m a Liverpool supporter. I don’t buy or read The Sun. I even used to refuse to serve people in my pub if they had it on them – they had to take it outside or no beer.

  27. John reid says:

    Good for you Tafia, I’ve a friend who’s a copper in Liverpool, she hates the Sun with a passion,I hadnt read the article predicting 2 elections, but the headline was linked on Guido Fawkes page

  28. Tafia says:

    My missus asks people where she works for old newspapers to line our guinea pigs cages with. When she brings them home I go through them and sling any copies of The Sun straight in the bin (not the paper box either – it’s not fit for recycling). It’s not even fit for my Guinea Pigs to shit on.

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