I have just finished reading David Plouffe’s fantastic account of his time as Barack Obama’s campaign manager and after reading his book ‘The Audacity to Win’ I think there are some important lessons which Labour could follow at the next election:
1) Have a clear message and a single strategy. The Obama campaign was good at not getting buffeted by events or setbacks whether that ranged from Jeremiah Wright’s crazy rantings to Joe the Plumber’s sudden appearance in the campaign. It had a message - "Change We Can Believe In" - and a strategy which were inviolable and they stuck to that regardless of what people were saying. Sometimes this placed them under intense pressure but they never changed course. Labour can learn from this. Now that Brown seems to have settled for a strategy based on middle class aspiration we should make sure we stick to that, even when engaging in a bit of class warfare with the Tories might look like an easy option.
2) Be Bold. The Obama campaign was great at taking action which people thought was ‘outside the box’. For example, he made a foreign trip (and speech in Berlin) right in the middle of the campaign which looked and sounded great to American voters at home. He addressed the race issue head on with a fantastic, memorable speech and he performed brilliantly in the debates. The Labour campaign has nothing to lose by following the same principle. It would be great if the Party high command could save up a few surprises for the campaign (and not just new policy announcements) which could set the cat amongst the pigeons. It should also remember to take the bold option when it has to respond to the Conservatives in the midst of the campaign.
3) Build a healthy organisation. Plouffe makes the point that healthy organisations do not thrive under leaders who yell and scream and fly off the handle. Brown who is infamous for the ‘hairdryer treatments’ he dishes out could do well to remember this. Better to run a campaign when there is “clarity, calmness and collegiality” throughout the ranks. Labour has to get over its in-fighting. Brown has to widen his circle of advisers and control his temper. And Party leaders have got to feel confident that they can get on with the job in hand without being undermined by their colleagues. If we can’t trust each other, how will the electorate trust us?
4) Expand the electorate. The Obama campaign always knew that the Clintons would have the Democratic establishment locked up. They also knew that if they relied on swing voters they would end up with a dead heat like in the General Election campaigns of 2004 and 2000. So they decided that they would focus on getting young voters, African Americans and independents who had never previously participated to the polls. By expanding the electorate, they increased the percentage of people who would support their campaign. Labour could do the same. We worry about the middle class vote in the 30 or so swing seats in the south east where elections are supposedly won and lost, but we never think about ways we can get young people or non voters to the polls. If we could do more to win their support, we might find that we have a new group of voters ready to support us.
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