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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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.