5 key things to take away from Labour’s target seat list (and election strategy)

8th January, 2013 6:22 pm

Earlier this afternoon I revealed the 106 “battleground seats” Labour will be focussing on ahead of 2015. But what did that list tell us, and what else have we learned about Labour’s General Election strategy?

No Labour held seats – all 106 of Labour’s target seats are ones that the party is hoping to gain. No Labour seats on the list means that the party is planning to make the election campaign about offence, not defence. That means the party will expect all current Labour MPs to hold their seats, banking on the power of incumbency – and national swing. That’s a positive message, but of course there are a few Labour-held seats with very small majorities where the current MP is believed to be stepping down at the next election. Those seats will need care, attention and money too.

No Bradford West – one of the most surprising omissions from the target seat list was the one that Labour lost most recently and rather memorably – Bradford West. I asked one senior Labour figure this afternoon why Bradford West was omitted from the target seat list, and was told that the party believe it doesn’t need a big key seat campaign to take back the seat from Galloway’s party. I won’t deny that concerns me a little (I think it sounds a little complacent), as the lesson of Bethnal Green and Bow – which Labour took back from Respect in 2010 – was that you can’t take any chances with Respect. A “big key seat campaign” was exactly what happened there, and it was effective. But Labour officials certainly seem confident that Bradford West will be Labour again in 2015 – and whether it’s on the target seat list or not, it’s still getting resources, which is reassuring.

All target seats should have candidates by the end of the year – Around 30 of the 106 target seats already have PPCs. I understand that the intention is to have candidates selected in the vast majority of these seats by the end of 2012. That’s a good start, but it isn’t quick enough. As Marcus Roberts and I argued last week “all 100 target seats for Labour should be filled by Summer 2013”. That would give all of the candidates a two year run at their seats. Any less than that isn’t really enough. And it’s not enough just to select them, candidates need to be trained and supported properly. A candidate contract is being developed by the party, which reflects their obligation to the party, but the party has an obligation to candidates too. Lastly, the party should also have at least one organiser (preferably two) in place in each of the 106 seats by the end of the year. Seats with organisers perform better – with some of the swings required, organisers aren’t an optional extra, they’re essential. However it’s good to see that the party recognises the importance of members and volunteers in the campaign (see point 5).

The importance of Arnie GrafI’ve written about Arnie Graf and his importance to Labour’s electoral strategy before, but it’s interesting to see the amount of focus that Labour HQ are giving the American organising expert. The party will be putting all party staff through training with Arnie Graf starting next month, and that training will be extended to members in target seats. The aim is to have an organiser in the Graf method (mostly volunteers) in every ward in every Labour target seat. That’s almost 1000 people to train, it’s a big task – which will need a significant amount of money, investment and staff time.

The importance of members (and technology to empower them) – Johanna Baxter noted in her NEC report last month that the Labour Party would be making use of the Nation Builder software in 2013 (branding it, unsurprisingly, “One Nation Builder”). In addition I understand that the equally loved and maligned Contact Creator will be getting a user friendly update to its front end in the coming months which should make it easier to use for lay activists (including the ability to use the system on mobiles and tablets). All of this is great – but it’s only important because of what it shows about Labour’s approach to the 2015 election. There isn’t the money that there once was for general election campaigns, so members are to be far more important than they have been before. But that means they need to be empowered. The technology being introduced by the party will help with that.

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  • Danny

    Please, please, please ensure the majority of newly selected PPCs have proper jobs on their CVs. We have a great chance at the next General Election to take a lot of seats off career politicians about as empathetic to the electorate as Margaret Thatcher was to the miners. We need a new generation of Dennis Skinners and not another wave of wet-behind-the-ears politics-obsessed weirdos who have jumped from uni to an internship to an MP advisor role to a city council to a party parliamentary candidacy. Sure, the party needs some of these guys, but the quota is over-flowing. We need more MPs who understand how policy impacts on Jonny and Jill in the street. You get that from being Jonny or Jill in the street, not from a constiuents doorstep, a seat in a city hall or in the shadow of a serving MP.

    • Chilbaldi

      Very true Danny. My fear is that the current political setup both actively discourages and limits the normal sorts you describe however. There is a critical mass of career politicians in Parliament now which means that they keep the status quo going.

  • AlanGiles

    “As Marcus Roberts and I argued last week
    “all 100 target seats for Labour should be filled by Summer 2013″. That
    would give all of the candidates a two year run at their seats. Any
    less than that isn’t really enough.”

    It might well be, Mark, if strong local candidates were selected rather than bussing in chums of the great and the good from far-flung outposts, which often leads to resentment even amongst the most ardent supporters. We could all name names if we were feeling uncharitable.

    • John Ruddy

      Which would you prefer, an untried local candidate who performs poorly against a sitting MP and doesnt win the seat, or the best candidate for the job, who runs rings around the sitting MP and wins the seat?

      • Danny

        The latter is obviously preferable but your question is purely hypothetical. Why would a career politician have an advantage over a local candidate with roots to the constituency and bonds with the constituents? Will no lessons be leatned from Bradford West? Skilled campaigning and proficient organisation will not be as effective as a candidate who strikes a chord with voters. Constituents are pretty large areas. It is patronising to the extreme to implote that Westminster hardened candidates are automatically more suitable.

      • AlanGiles

        I did say “strong” John.

        You know the sort of thing I was referring too – Georgia Gould nearly foisted on Erith & Thamesmead because of who her late dad was and friends like Jowell in the front row. Tristram Hunt, miles from home etc etc etc.

        The most brazen examples include shortlists of two…..

        • reformist lickspittle

          I find this continual obsession of the hard left with Georgia Gould baffling given that she came THIRD in the eventual selection.

          To say she “nearly” won is, quite simply, a falsehood.

        • So what if there are no “strong” local candidates?

          I want the best candidate for the job – if they are local, great – even better – but if not, then so be it.

          • AlanGiles

            But we all know that it is special friends bussed in to various constituencies, it’s not a question of “the best” but the most in favour – or is owed a favour.

  • Charlie_Mansell

    We should also be getting lots of less winnable seats quickly selected too. The reason for this is that those seats will soon be asked to help in the battleground seats and it will be so much easier for the party to motivate and engage with those seats if they are doing it through an enthusiastic PPC who will be going to lots of central and regional events and will be keen to promote themselves for the future by motivating their own CLP members to help in the target seats

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