Barack Obama with David Axelrod at a basketball game in 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The lessons for Labour from America

Digital communications combined with thousands of ground campaigners - Labour's great strengths today - are now more important than ever. 

"Voters no longer just consume content, they produce it, they share it and they persuade each other." These were the words of Jim Margolis, who ran Barack Obama’s advertising strategy during the 2012 presidential race. In many ways, these words define a modern political communications landscape that is more diverse, democratic and discursive.  
 
I recently met Margolis and others from the 2012 Obama team, including David Axelrod who arrives in the UK this week, during a visit Chicago and Washington to discuss political communications and campaigning. They offer a unique insight into winning elections by utilising new technology, having expansive field operations and by deploying a powerful cost-of-living argument. That's why it's great news that Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander have hired Axelrod and co. to play a central role in Labour’s forthcoming election fight.
 
As Axelrod and his colleagues meet with the shadow cabinet this week, it is worth reflecting on some of the lessons from the US on campaign communications which are relevant for Labour.
 
The first is the importance of retaining and strengthening your argument. Those who argue Labour must change course from cost-of-living are wrong. Labour’s living standards agenda resonates and must be reinforced. Labour’s cost-of-living argument is about taking action now – like freezing energy bills or taxing bank bonuses to pay for youth jobs – but also it's about making big changes to our economy for the future – like fixing the energy market and the banking system that are ripping off hard-pressed families and small businesses.
 
Barack Obama put the challenge well when he said in a speech in Kansas in December 2011: "This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class… At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family…this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share
 
Similarly, in January this year, Ed Miliband set out Labour’s general election argument: "The British middle class is being squeezed by a cost-of-living crisis as never before…The greatest challenge for our generation is how to tackle a crisis in living standards."
 
The cost-of-living argument is the right argument and it's also a winning argument. On the 2012, eve of poll in the US, Mitt Romney had a 7-point lead on "best to handle the economy" and a 14-point lead on "best to handle the deficit".  But Obama had an 8-point lead on "understanding economic problems facing ordinary people" and an 11-point lead "looking out for the middle classes".
 
Another big lesson from the US is the increasing importance of online communications in modern campaigning. Obama himself said that "one of the biggest surprises of the campaign [was] just how powerfully our message merged with social networking and the power of the internet". Today in the UK, there are 33 million Facebook accounts – half the population. A third of adults read their news online, whilst nearly a quarter use social media for news.
 
That is why every aspect of campaigning, whether online, on the doorstep or on the airwaves, should be integrated to mutually reinforce the same message. Like on the doorstep, in the digital world you can’t expect the voters to come to you. You have to build relationships and empower them. Labour is making strides here, which is why Dan Ryan, head of web-design for America 2012, recently said of Labour’s website: "This is the most innovative political splash page I've seen…It's really great to see a political party really innovate in the web engagement space."
 
Equally importantly, Obama in 2012 used online campaigning to expand the electorate, appealing to new and young voters - vital when recent figures in the UK highlight that 60 per cent of young people say they will not vote in 2015. The Obama mantra of "go local" replicated the doorstep conversation online. They used "big data’"to "ladder" voters from curiosity to activism.
 
Obama in 2012 also prioritised attack and rebuttal (just ask Mitt Romney if he regrets writing off 47 per cent of the American public).  That is why Labour is building a new operation at our Brewers Green HQ so that when the Tories and their friends in the press tell a lie about Labour, we will hit back immediately and nail that lie.
 
What we are seeing in this local and European election campaign is how community and doorstep campaigning is driving Labour’s online communications - and vice versa. We know Labour is able to to call upon thousands more activists than a Conservative Party that has seen its membership halve under David Cameron. But in the face of hugely more powerful digital communications, the right-wing-dominated print press is also no longer the force it once was. And an online focus means that big money does not perhaps bring the same comparative advantage for the Conservatives that it once did. For example, an "infographic" is basically the same as an poster on a billboard, but it costs a lot less and far more people can see it on social media.  
 
So digital communications combined with thousands of people campaigning on the ground - Labour's great strengths today - are now more important than ever. As we will discuss this week with those who delivered Barack Obama to the White House, and kept him there, this will be a central part of Labour’s activity as we approach the general election.
 
By relentlessly focusing on how we as a country build an economy that works for working people, one where we earn and grow our way to higher living standards and shared prosperity, just like Obama in 2012, Labour has a winning argument as well as a winning campaign for 2015. 

Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and the former Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.