Raising our game: 5 things Labour can do to counter Messina

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The Tories’ near-million pound hire of Jim Messina is a brilliant psy-op against Labour. We love Obama, we’re proud of our ground game, we dismiss the Tories. Why? Because we feel that we are the People’s Party, we’re the Movement that represents masses whist they are the direct mail-only party, incapable of mobilizing properly on ground

All of that feels threatened now.

But as Messina’s old boss Rahm Emanuel would say “never let a good crisis go to waste”. Now we feel threatened we should take a deep breath, assess our strengths and weaknesses and mitigate and reinforce accordingly.

So here’s how:

1) The Campaign Manager: Mark was dead right yesterday: we can’t waste time and talent playing internal Shadow Cabinet politics over who gets to be Campaign Co-ordinator. Instead we need a full time, professional campaign manager. Maybe it’s an American, an Australian or a German for all I care, but what really matters is that they have the time, energy, skill, experience and professionalism to go toe-to-toe with Crosby and Messina alike – and win. That’s a full time job that’s far more about Brewer’s Green and marginal seats then it is about Portcullis House or Milbank studios.

2) Data: Labour’s already made great strides in moving away from crude slicing and dicing of the electorate as a whole (“Mondeo man”, “Worcester woman” etc.) but as Katie Martin noted some months ago the “quiet revolution in progressive political campaigning” brought about by adopting field tested, maths and psychology-based methodologies to improve voter turnout, are key to Labour victory. The Party needs to put its money and faith in this now.

3) Fundraising: We’ve all seen the improvement in Labour’s small donor drives (even the email writing sounds more like the shadow cabinet members they’re meant to be!) but what of the high-end donors? Here special responsibility lies with both Ed’s. Do they know how much money the party needs to raise by 2015? Do they have quarterly goals? How much time at present do they spend fundraising?  Do they understand that their time raising money for field organisers is more valuable then countless think tank speeches?

4) Candidate training: Labour is on course to select more candidates in more key seats earlier in the cycle then ever before. But what of the support given to those candidates? The party does offer good media training and an impressive community campaign programme too. But more is needed. How soon after a selection does Ed sit down with them to work out how best to work together to win that seat? Are new PPCs given the seed money they need to raise more money on their own? Are they trained in fundraising, as well as media? Is there guidance on the optimal use of candidate time as well as on how to run community campaigns? No resource is more powerful for winning a seat then a candidate, so is Labour at all levels doing all it can to support them?

5) Message & Manifesto: ‘One nation’ still holds much promise but it needs substantiating. Ed’s brand of optimism and change needs to be fleshed out in a way that reassures crucial, anxious C2DE voters. A small but radical manifesto can help with this. A few big pledges, clearly costed and made with an argument about shared sacrifice, long term change and partnership with individual and communities alike holds the key here. In economics, this means the living standards argument. In public spending, this means prioritising infrastructure. In policy as a whole this means making change happen with people not doing change to people. Labour mustn’t promise perfection overnight by government alone but rather a partnership with the British people to rebuild Britain over the long term. That’s a radical politics that’s believable to voters.

Marcus Roberts works for the Fabian Society who next month will publish ‘Forward: Lessons for Labour from Obama 2012’

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