[Originally published in LabourList on 25 April 2017]
It has been a week since Theresa May called a snap general election. The main Tory election strategy so far has been to repeat opinion poll findings through their biased media outlets and satisfy themselves they are on course for a landslide victory. This is why May will not even bother to defend her record in a television debate.
Labour members should ignore these opinion polls, however, because polls do not win elections. What wins elections is getting out and speaking to voters. Labour has the largest number of members of any political parties in Europe. Thousands of new members have joined the party since this election was called. This is an opportunity to mobilise and form the biggest people-powered electoral campaign in British political history.
First off, the entire Labour family must come together as one united force. Labour has had its fair share of divisions since the 2015 general election, but now is not the time to have those internal debates. The electorate will not vote for a divided party. Members should take a leaf out of Sadiq Khan’s book. The London mayor has backed Jeremy Corbyn to be the next prime minister although he supported Owen Smith during the last leadership election.
Labour has been and will always be a broad church. In the 1983 general election, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were elected as Labour MPs under Michael Foot’s leadership even though they both went onto set out a fundamentally different vision for the Party. Instead of internal ideological differences, Labour members need to focus on the bigger picture, which is to oust this Tory government on 8 June 2017. The entire labour movement is united in this vision.
Spending even one minute debating our own differences is a minute wasted which could be spent attacking the Tories right now. A recent example is when members were circulating petitions on Facebook to expel Blair because he had appeared to suggest that people should vote Tory or Lib Dem candidates if they were open minded about Brexit. He has subsequently clarified that he does not propose tactical voting. However, that is not the point. The point is that as Labour members, all our energies should be focused on attacking the Tories. If members must circulate anything on social media, there are plenty of articles about Tory failures from over the last seven years.
Let us not forget May’s cynical motive behind calling this election, which is to boost the Tory majority significantly. This is where Labour members will need to campaign cleverly. Members from relatively safe seats will need to go to marginal Labour seats to help out with campaigning there. By way of example, I live in the safe Labour seat of Tottenham, which has a majority of 23,564 and I have been co-ordinating members to go and help out Tulip Siddiq defend a majority of 1,138 in Hampstead and Kilburn and Joan Ryan defend a majority of 1,086 in Enfield North. Up and down the country, Labour members should deploy themselves accordingly to ensure that we hold onto all our seats. We need to get our house in order first.
We will then need to look at Tory, Lib Dem or SNP marginal seats where Labour can make gains by putting in a strong people powered campaign. We need to learn from how Barack Obama mobilised a grassroots campaign in the run up to his famous presidential win in 2008.
Labour can run a similar grassroots campaign in this election. It has been reported that more than 100,000 under-25s have already registered to vote since this election was announced. Because Brexit will have the biggest impact on young people, this election means more to them than ever before. This is one particular demographic that Labour should target. If young people turn out in large numbers to vote, it will have the effect of turning traditional opinion polls on its head.
Some 34 per cent of registered voters, including significant number of young people, did not vote at the 2015 general election. There is widespread disenfranchisement and apathy amongst these voters. In the same way that hundreds of thousands of new members have been energised to join the Labour movement in the last couple of years, they now need to speak to their friends and neighbours to take the same leap of faith and vote Labour. This is the “neighbour-to-neighbour” campaigning model which emerged from Obama’s successful electoral campaigns.
There are 44 days left from today until 8 June and we have about 46 million voters in the UK. Labour has over 500,000 members. If each member speaks to at least two people every day, we would reach over a million people every day and we would have spoken to every single voter by the time of the election. As well as knocking on doors, we need to make sure that we speak to our relatives, friends and neighbours. We can also do this from the comfort of our homes using various social media platforms.
If any party can turn the opinion polls around, Labour can. It has a huge energised membership, which is its biggest strength. Opinion polls only represent opinions. After the 2015 general election, the president of YouGov, Peter Kellner said that politicians “should campaign on what they believe, they should not listen to people like me and the figures we produce”.