Ed Miliband recruits thousands via text message

But the comparisons with Barack Obama are now becoming more than a little stale.

On Saturday, roughly 25,000 Labour Party members received the following text message:

Hi it's Ed Miliband. Hope you don't mind me contacting you about the leadership election. Can I count on your support? Reply Y or N. To opt out text stop to 86888.

The Ed Miliband campaign claims that this technique is "the first conversation of its kind in British or American political campaigning". Texting was famously used by the Obama campaign in 2008, with nearly three million messages sent, announcing the selection of Joe Biden as Obama's running mate, in the largest marketing push via mobile ever.

Though tiny by comparison, Ed Miliband's effort claims to be unique because it invited a response from the recipient, something that is in keeping with the image he has consistently tried to project of being the grass-roots, low-budget, inspirational candidate.

The Guardian this morning reports that about half the recipients responded, and about 45 per cent of those said they were supporters. Those who responded "Y" to the original message were then sent a second message, asking if they would like to volunteer on the campaign; roughly 1,300 people responded positively to this.

Whether they will actually ever turn up to a phone bank is anther question entirely, but it has certainly provided the campaign with a headline-grabbing figure, if nothing else.

A further 1,500 people responded to say why they were supporting another candidate, which provides a large volume of potential strategy and attack material for the campaign. Sending the message on a Saturday was clearly a good decision, with people less stressed and more likely to respond than on a workday.

As for the comparisons with Obama's campaign, there are superficial similarities, but they don't really hold up under closer scrutiny. It is true that Obama started out in his primary dogfight with Hillary Clinton without much funding or many high-profile endorsements. But as his campaign gathered momentum, celebrities and donors flocked to his banner while his principal opponent frequently imploded on the podium.

Unable to attract the big donors as his brother has, Ed has certainly done well in persuading smaller donors to back him. His use of text messaging this weekend shows a willingness to diversify from conventional techniques in his ambition to become leader of the Labour Party.

The positive response it received shows that, among a certain sector of the Labour electorate, his campaign is gathering momentum. In developing the strategy from Obama's use of text messages in 2008, he demonstrates a desire to move political campaigning techniques forward.

But comparisons with Obama's campaign are frustrating, to say the least. The engagement and borderline euphoria that Obama inspired around the world are now what every politician wants to achieve, and aligning a campaign with such a movement is extremely seductive. However, what happened in the presidential election in the United States in 2008 is never going to be replicated in a party leadership contest in the UK in 2010. Seeking to suggest that it might is backward-looking in the extreme.

Ed Miliband has made a very good showing thus far in the leadership campaign, and is now a serious contender in what is rapidly becoming a two-horse race. At the New Statesman's leadership debate, he asserted that he was the best candidate to "move on from the era of Blair and Brown".

Comparisons with Obama are not going to win votes from union members or constituency parties. It's now time for Ed Miliband to move on from the era of Obamamania and move forward to the conference in September with his own political identity clearly defined.

Read the full profile of Ed Miliband in last week's New Statesman.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.