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Motivating Labour’s huge volunteer army can be at odds with managing election expectations

May 4th, 2018

How losing seats can be presented as a victory

I have just got off the phone from someone who was working for the Conservative campaign yesterday in a key ward in Wandsworth which was eventually held by the party by margin of 36 votes.

One of his observations was that Labour had dozens of activists on the ground with apparently very little to do. He said that they seemed to be without direction and they would go mob handed from one street to another in a manner which in many ways did not help their cause – rather the reverse. Seeing large groups of apparently hard-left activists outside your front door might just have helped turnout in a tightly contested ward.

One of the big challenges for party organisers on election days is managing the influx of volunteers and finding things for them to do. Normally they are deployed “knocking up” which means going round to those who are identified as not having voted yet to encourage them to cast their ballots. My friend observed that perhaps you need maybe 8 people on the ground in a ward the size of the one in Wandsworth. Labour simply had too many people willing to help who wanted to be doing something who could not be deployed effectively.

it struck me this that this raises a bigger question about the huge number of people who are ready to support Labour at elections. A key strategy of the party under Corbyn has been to generate enthusiasm amongst the half million party members who have mostly been attracted to the party because of the leader. Generating that level of interest requires getting over the message that seats and councils are winnable when in fact that many of them are at the very least extreme marginal hopes.

There is little doubt that the expectation game ahead of these elections has been won by the Conservatives who’ve managed to create a narrative that they were in for a hiding so that anything less than that appears like a victory.

The Tories lost eight seats yesterday in Wandsworth yet they are able to present it as a victory.

Mike Smithson