THE BLOG

Labour Is Setting the Pace - Online as Well as on the Streets

16/02/2014 12:16 GMT | Updated 18/04/2014 10:59 BST

Last week Labour launched a new Facebook video - 'David Cameron's Facebook Movie' - a look back at four years of Conservative-led government with all its failures and broken promises.

Within 24 hours, it had appeared on the Facebook timelines of more than a million people. Already, more than 600,000 people have watched it on YouTube, far outstripping anything the party has produced in the past. In an era where pundits and politicians alike bemoan a growing disconnection between voters and parties, it is significant that this 60-second video should have such a reach and reaction.

The video was picked-up and was featured on websites ranging from GC to the Metro. Indeed, when interviewed on BBC's Daily Politics last week, Jim Waterson, political editor of the social news and entertainment website Buzzfeed, called it "the first online video from a British political party to break through the Westminster bubble".

How we communicate continues to change. The rise of social media and online news means that elections will be fought in new ways. It will be quicker, more open, more democratic and more discursive, not least because for the first time it will also be fought online. Broadcast media still continues to dominate, but the fast-declining, overwhelmingly Conservative-supporting press will not have anything like the disproportionate influence they have had in the past.

There are now some 33 million UK Facebook accounts and four out of five daily users do so on a smart phone or tablet. At a time when the readership of the print press continues to fall sharply - major dailies' circulation is down by an average of 30% since 2009 - online news just keeps growing. A third of UK adults now use the internet as a source of news. This itself brings new communications challenges for political parties.

Like the Obama campaign, Labour is taking digital seriously. Our brilliant Digital Taskforce is now a standalone team for the general election campaign and we have hired ex-Obama staffers to sharpen our operation. Already this investment is paying dividends - literally in the case of the growth of our online donations. Our Facebook reach is up 700% on 2013 and our Twitter engagement up 179% on 2012.

In some ways, Labour's approach is even more personalised than the Obama For America online campaign, and we know that digital activity can extend our reach. Our 'thunderclap' last year (simultaneous tweeting of "it's time to deal with David Cameron's cost of living crisis") reached just over 4.5 million people. Labour's cost-of-cameron messages, info graphics and pictures were in the timeline of some 14 million twitter followers last month. This is a revolution in political communications and it works because it is fast, direct, individualised and crucially it engages with people.

But our online activity only serves to compliment Labour's community campaigning - which must be just as personalised - led by former Obama mentor Arnie Graf. Following evidence from 2010 that those areas which had a full-time organiser saw larger swings to Labour, we now have organisers in each of our 106 target seats. And whereas in 2010 the ratio of Westminster HQ staff to those working out in the regions was two-to-one in Westminster, now there is parity with the regions. Labour is breaking out of SW1 - a one nation party in action as well as outlook.

Lord Ashcroft's polling has pointed to bigger Labour leads in the marginals, but the benefit of Labour's community organising approach was also in evidence this week in the Wythenshawe by-election, where Labour now has the largest majority in the history of the constituency. The Tories, who blamed the bad result on the presence of a large council estate in a way that must have had Margaret Thatcher spinning in her grave, ended up eleven per cent down, with a share of the vote lower than in 1992, 2001, 2005 and 2010.

David Cameron is now leading a hollowed out party without roots or a connection to many parts of the country, in particular in large parts of northern England. This weekend we have already seen noises off about David Cameron's indifference to working class issues in Wythenshawe, while Nadine Dorries has gone as far as to call for Boris Johnson to be drafted in to come to Cameron's rescue. If ever you needed evidence of how desperate and out-of-touch the Tories are it is the idea that Boris could be the saviour to re-engage with the working classes up north.

The Lib Dems predictably got battered again. They suffered a staggering 17% swing against them and embarrassingly demanded a recount in Wythenshawe in the vain hope of at least keeping their deposit. The truth is the Lib Dems have now gone from pavement politicians to serial deposit losers.

As for Nigel Farage, despite the privately-educated former City trader's attempt to pitch UKIP as the 'working class' party against Labour, he failed to make the breakthrough he had hoped, not least because UKIP had so little presence on the ground. As the SDP found out in the eighties, you cannot just run a political party from a Westminster TV studio - your demise can be as fast as your rise if you fail to have roots in communities. In the words of Wythenshawe's new MP Mike Kane, voters "rejected the isolationism and scaremongering UKIP".

A combination of winning and mobilising support in the community, a relentless focus on living standards and community worries like the threat to the local hospital, combined with an innovative campaign led brilliantly by Toby Perkins MP, delivered victory for Labour.

Under Ed Miliband, Labour is a party that is changing - in our policies and in how we are opening up our politics with big party reforms. The transformation of our organisation and the modernisation of our communication operation are also significant. We still have a lot of work to do, with Miliband describing himself as the "eternal warrior against complacency", but whether it is online or on the streets, Labour is setting the pace.