New Times,
New Thinking.

7 May 2010

What a bizarre night for Labour

Big hitters gone, but overall a comeback campaign.

By James Macintyre

I’m going to make myself even more unfashionable by starting this post paying tribute to easily the biggest loss of the night: Charles Clarke, a man of great intellect and independence of mind. He was also a great constituency MP. His loss was a powerful demonstration of what the Tories and the Lib Dems are being quick to call a “defeat” for Labour today.

Nonetheless, we should also give the other side of the story a hearing. And almost as surprising as Clarke going was the unlikely survival of candidates such as Andrew Smith, Emily Thornberry, Karen Buck, Andy Slaughter, Gareth Thomas, Vernon Coaker, Roberta Blackman-Woods and Gisela Stuart.

As a Labour source points out, this is a party that was 20 points behind for almost a year; 10 points behind for more than six months. Labour had a third of the staff it had in 2005, and was unable to fundraise from high-value donors, unlike the Tories, with Michael Ashcroft. As Douglas Alexander told the New Statesman, it is people not posters that win elections, and it appears that Labour’s candidates and activists would not give up.

The untold story of this David and Goliath struggle was the way Alexander and the Victoria Street team backed winners and held seats that no one thought they could hold. It was an organisational effort that harnessed new media and despatched three million targeted direct-mail letters to undecided voters and those tempted to vote Lib Dem.

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They did it by using live canvass returns during the campaign to see which candidates were showing the “never say die” spirit and backing those winners with the scant resources that Labour had. As one source says:

Never in election history has so much been achieved with so little, by so few. Whatever happens next, take a moment to consider what a triumph the Labour campaign was to get us into this position. We are only able to ask “what now” because of what they achieved.

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