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10 June 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 6:11pm

Pavement politics, new media, and a little help from Bernie: How Labour fought its ground game

Labour, Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn blended the best of traditional canvassing with the cutting-edge of new media and digitally-augmented campaigns.

By Rachel Godfrey Wood

If there is one message to take from this election, it is that organising in communities is the future of Labour’s campaigning.

When elected, Jeremy Corbyn’s promise of a Labour social movement was characterised by critics as “putting rallies above winning elections”. But the electoral utility of a mobilised mass membership is now clearly visible. The accepted difference a good ground campaign can make is somewhere between three and six per cent. This is well within the margin of many of Labour’s election gains.

Over the last year, Momentum has been learning from the best and developing new models of effective campaigning.

The first principle is an old one – a mass membership is useful. The hundreds of thousands of Labour’s new members who joined inspired by Corbyn should be welcomed, and given a place and a role that fits their talents and interests.

Knocking on doors and phone canvassing does not come naturally to most people, but if welcomed and engaged, then what happened this election can be achieved: more than a million doors knocked on by Momentum efforts alone on election day.

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The second principle is that effective support must be provided to the ground campaign, to make the best use of campaigners’ time. Part of this has been achieved by professional organising training from the Bernie Sanders campaign, which has started to move us beyond a wooden Q&A model of doorknocking that is still too common, to a model of effective persuasion.

Other support has been provided by new technology, such as “My Nearest Marginal”, which mobilised 100,000 campaigners in key areas. A quarter of Facebook users viewed a Momentum video during the campaign, and a new app developed by the Corbyn leadership campaign allowed members to phone canvass from home.

Momentum held mass campaign weekends in critical seats such as Croydon Central, Derby North, Sheffield Hallam, Battersea, Leeds North West, and Brighton Kemptown – and in all of these, Conservative majorities collapsed in the face of energy and enthusiasm channelled into a movement. This movement can now grow and build durable, all-year-round organisation that wins local victories, motivates people, and can mobilise swiftly at election times to inform, persuade and turn out.

But every movement has to have something to unite around. From Clement Attlee to Corbyn, Labour has only ever advanced when voters are absolutely clear what it stands for. Corbyn has done well in making policy the centrepiece of the campaign, with a manifesto that has both a serious plan and roots in shared values.

That plan – investment in people and communities, higher wages and working rights, democratic control of rail and energy, stronger public services and redistributing power – remains as relevant after the election as it was before. It was the most widely-read document of the election, and remains a programme to unite people around.

The way it was delivered is critical too – by a politician known for his authenticity, in a series of exciting set-piece rallies attended by thousands, with limited stage management and a flair for heartfelt and unscripted moments. This campaign has been unafraid to be people-powered, and that has been its greatest strength (although the strategic infrastructure developed for it has helped.)

The Labour party, Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn have blended together the best of traditional pavement politics with the cutting edge of new media and digitally-augmented campaigns, to create a model that will pave the way forward (and in fact is already being borrowed in parts by the Conservatives).

May’s government is weak. She took a monumental gamble and it backfired, destroying her Commons majority. She is now reliant on a tiny, unstable and extreme party to get a Queen’s Speech through. There is every chance that a vibrant campaigning movement can put constant pressure on her, and at the next opportunity we are given, force the Conservatives from office in order to build a better Britain.

Rachel Godfrey Wood is Momentum campaign coordinator and a Labour party activist.

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