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17 January 2023

Inside Labour’s plan to wage digital war on the Conservatives

The party is hiring a team of digital campaigners to micro-target voters in Tory seats with videos and attack ads.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Labour is preparing to wage digital war on the Conservatives with a strategy modelled on Joe Biden’s winning campaign for the White House.

The party is hiring a team of digital campaigners, at least a dozen of whom will be based in nations and regions outside England and London, to micro-target voters in Conservative seats with videos and attack ads that leave Tory MPs with nowhere to hide from their voting record. 

The party is also launching a digital and data academy, offering Labour organisers the chance to take up professional qualifications in data science, as well as investing in developers, analysts and new mobilisation and data-sharing platforms.

Aiming not just to “meet people where they are online, but meet people everywhere they are online”, the strategy will also look to engage hard-to-reach groups who rarely consume traditional media and, in common with the US Democrats’ campaign, will heavily feature content with “real people and real voices”.

Recent examples of the digital team’s work includes clips crafted from the Conservatives’ rancorous leadership campaign last summer, which attracted millions of views, including, the party says, from hundreds of thousands of target voters; a localised Facebook campaign in Bolsover, constituency of the Conservative MP Mark Fletcher, where ads achieved more than a quarter of a million impressions; and a drive to engage the business community on Twitter with clips including industry leaders.

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Labour’s new team will micro-target specific Conservative MPs

Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said the party failed to keep pace with developments in digital campaigning in the 2019 election, and paid the price at the ballot box. “There was a period where we led the way on digital campaigning, but the Labour Party of 2019 didn’t keep up with modern Britain electorally, politically or digitally, and we were outmanoeuvred. We’re determined not to let that happen again.

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“Labour has changed under Keir Starmer: we’re focused on voters, listening to what they have to say, and our digital campaigns are at the heart of that. We’re harnessing innovation as part of a laser focus on winning elections, to deliver change for our country.

“Our new digital trainee scheme shows Labour is serious about this. We have taken inspiration from the best election-winning campaigns globally and are investing in a new generation of talent to embed the skills we need to drive a cutting-edge digital campaign at the next election and at future ones.”

Labour activists gathered in the West Midlands after Christmas to war-game their campaign strategy. Despite the party enjoying a 20-point poll lead over the Conservatives, Keir Starmer is determined to solidify Labour’s advantage and regularly instructs MPs to act as if the party is just two points ahead. Since Rishi Sunak entered office last October, Starmer has put Labour on an election footing, telling MPs that he believes the government is so unstable that it could fall at any moment. 

Strategists will work with agencies to hone the content mix, including rapid rebuttal messages, aggressive adverts and highlights of Labour successes in office.

The new digital strategy will be rolled out at the local elections, which will be a trial run for the next general election, expected in 2024.

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