The New Statesman’s rolling politics blog

RSS

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.