Friday 8 November 2019

Labour's General Election Campaign

You've seen the polls and I've seen the polls, and it could happen again. The Tories lead but not by the same margin they enjoyed in 2017. And once the general election starter pistol fired we've seen a modest rally in Labour's numbers and one that, with some hard campaigning and smart messaging, could climb higher and higher. For Tories who had the jitters about Boris Johnson's gung-ho approach to the election, a small turn around even at this stage of the campaign is enough to activate the tingly terrors - especially when their campaign is hitting the buffers already.

As I've recently argued, there are good reasons to compare what will happen at this election with 2017's outing - and not just because it was two-and-a-half years ago. 2017 and 2019 are elections in which mass politics comes back in to play. By mass politics, I mean parties are once again large campaigning machines. Labour's advantage here is obvious, but the Liberal Democrat organisation is at an all-time peak, the SNP are huge - proportional to Scotland's population much larger than Labour - and even the Tories have undergone a mini revival membership-wise, though how much those joined at the urgings of Arron Banks will do the hard campaigning yards remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Labour's numerical advantage in England and Wales matters. Therefore, as the election campaigning gets under way what is Labour's election strategy looking like?

First of all, on the nuts and bolts there is a big difference versus last time. Then, with many Labour MPs convinced oblivion was skulking around the corner we saw something of a split effort: some MPs, mostly of the Corbysceptic variety it has to be said, ran their own efforts. At time the campaign looked like 229 separate parliamentary by-elections were being fought. And we see it again, with some candidates pushing their names in Labour-coloured leaflets and claiming to stand for something called 'real Labour', or some such nonsense. How well these efforts fare depend on whether sitting MPs have alienated a chunk of their activists or not, but what matters is the unavoidable and all-encompassing Brexit horizon. In 2017 exit day was just shy of two years off (lol), and so it was an issue relegated to the never-never. Not now. If you're determined to stand as an 'independent' candidate, relegating the party label to the background invites scrutiny of your personal positioning on Brexit, and the consequences this may entail. Such candidates may come to rue the day they decided to strike out on their own.

Thankfully, this time Labour is running a proper national campaign. No arms tied behind the back as per previously. You'll recall back then it was basically social media plus Jez rallies, while the centre egregiously misallocated funds and resources to super safe seats, and Momentum and local activists filled the vacuum. Now there is a very clear target seat strategy, a disciplined and political approach to campaigning with a key message each day, and allocation of resources matching local need. And yes, Momentum's toolkit has evolved too - informed by real time data activists can be directed to where the need is keenest. When Jeremy Corbyn talked about the most radical campaign the country had ever seen, he wasn't just thinking in terms of the politics. Labour almost achieved complete success in 2017 because the party became a swarm that swamped its opponents, circumnavigated the media, was self-activating and pulled the vote out thanks to the millions of conversations its members head with their workmates, neighbours, and friends. Remember, few are the people who don't know a Labour Party member.

Also significant is the major reduction in the number of distractions from our own side. The worst of Labour's 2017 cadre of MPs have absented themselves from the scene, and the self-cancellation of Tom Watson and the implosion of Chris Williamson significantly reduces the scope for unhelpful interventions from the right and the ultra-left. Nevertheless, there was something interesting about the social media reception toward the fates of both men. On the Chris front, his followers in the main expressed disappointment but did not go out on a denunciation limb nor resign en masse. And the departure of Tom Watson was met by a wall of equanimity too. No gloating, overt celebrating, nor cross words but, weirdly, tributes from those who wouldn't otherwise give him time of day. Now this is interesting because the media are desperate for something, anything to beat about the campaign's head. A series of tweets from Labour activists sticking it to Tom while sticking up for Chris would have been just what the doctor ordered, and yet they were denied. Yes, there is an election on but the response is suggestive of something more: a growing maturity of the movement. And why does this matter? Because, if anything, its responses to the last 18 months of demobilisation and siege has been fractious and bordered on the pathological. If the right were looking for an easy take over should Labour not win, they might wish to think again. But more importantly where the cut and thrust of election battle is concerned, the party is in a process of becoming - of becoming spontaneously cohesive and disciplined, which makes it much harder for the Tories to blow off course and undermine.

And so Labour enters this election trailing in the polls with the odds seemingly stacked against it. We've been here before. But only a fool would bet against a Corbyn insurgency, following the two surges that transformed the Labour Party and the third which transformed the political situation. Labour has the message, the policies, and the social weight. We can win this comrades.


Anonymous said...

Spoiler: UK opinion polls consistently over-represent the Tory vote share, because they still conduct most surveys via calls to landline numbers.

Hell, there will be adults reading this who don't even know what a landline is!

There is no amount of weighting, profiling, or otherwise fannying-about-with, that could ever bring such distorted data into proper alignment with reality.

This polling folly has been going on for well over a decade, but really came into focus when Cameron's Conservatives only drew against Gordon Brown, having been forecast a working majority. The heat of the media's Brown-bashing and Conservative crowing drew a veil over the party's near miss.

The only time when the pollsters have underestimated Tory support was in 2015. I think the jury's still out on what went wrong; my own hunch is that--this being the fag-end of the Coalition--there were "shy Tories" hiding in the Lib Dem figures.

In terms of the pollsters' Tory tilt, 2017 needs no further explanation.

The only certainty in 2019 is that this is going to be another polling catastrophe.

Anonymous said...

"No gloating, overt celebrating, nor cross words... "

There was in our house.

Anonymous said...

The 2015 polling error was due to their presuming young voters would turn out in force - on that occasion, they didn't.

Pollsters then (mostly) assumed they wouldn't in 2017 as well.

Famously, they got that wrong too.

Anonymous said...

"In short, pollsters did not contact enough people from hard-to-reach groups that do not vote in elections. Though these non-voters do not affect the votes cast in the election, their absence from polls has an important consequence: by weighting samples to look like the population as a whole and not just those who vote, pollsters ended up over-counting the voting intentions of those who demographically resembled the missing non-voters. These voters were Labour-leaning in 2015 – for example, those under the age of 25, who turned out in low numbers but were likely to support Labour when they did. By including too many of these voters in their samples, pollsters inflated Labour’s apparent support in 2015."


So yeah, my hunch about "Shy Tories" was wrong, but the real reason for the miscalculation seems to be failure to contact households with no under-25 non-voters. In which case, I revert to my stance concerning landlines.

Tasker Dunham said...

The online DM is depressing reading. Let's hope no one is taking much notice of their poisonous bile.

Blissex said...

«The online DM is depressing reading.»

My impression, supported by several studies, is that newspapers have a small impact on voting, probably because their marketing strategy is to target specific segments of public opinion, that is they are preaching to their choir. I doubt that they much impact on turnout either, because those DM/Telegraph readers terrified that Corbyn may send them to the gulag will already be voting against him.

What really matters is the BBC, because a much larger spectrum of people watch it, and it has a (fading) reputation for being "fair and balanced". Indeed in 2017 the catchup in the polls for Labour started when the BBC had to switch from 80-90% platform for the government to split time equally, letting the public see that Labour's argument are sensible socialdemocracy.

But the BBC seem to have found a way around the rules, by giving time to "independents" who campaign for the Conservative Party, hoping in this way the time they give them doesn't count with the excuse that they are not official Conservative advocates,