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.

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.