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 web editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.
For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.
IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.
Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.
Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.
Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.
The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.
His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.
He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.
I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.