How people power can beat the big donors – from crowdfunding to tactical voting

This brief campaign has signalled a shift in British politics


In the past British elections have been mostly funded by big donors, with party bureaucracies spending their millions on on flashy national advertising campaigns and centrally-designed leaflets. The majority of citizens were relegated to the status of passive consumers of top-down campaigns, with local outcomes decided by nationwide swings.

In our age of social movements and networks, all this is starting to change. The Conservatives’ traditional advantage in getting millionaires to sign big cheques is no longer the silver bullet it once was. Labour’s surging mass membership has given it a robust people-powered funding model, and a host of new campaigners to engage the voters. Most excitingly, amidst the disarray of the snap election, an unprecedented swarm of bottom-up initiatives are springing up. Citizens are deciding to take politics into their own hands; and while not all these campaigns will succeed overnight, we should expect many more surprises after 8 June.

Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn were written off by the Westminster commentariat before this election campaign even started. Winning the battle of the manifestoes helped transform their fortunes; but even more significant were the actions of their supporters, in local communities and online. I spent time in the US last year with the insurgent movement which powered Bernie Sanders into contention in the presidential race and made him the most popular politician in America. In the last month we have finally started to see similar wellsprings of energy in this country, as opposition strengthens and public desires for change find a channel.

Momentum, the movement which grew out of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, crowdfunded over £100,000 on Crowdpac in the opening weeks of the campaign. It swiftly put these funds to good use, building tools to help activists find their nearest marginal constituency and equipping them to get out the word; and its viral videos are regularly reaching millions of people around the country — far beyond the traditional echo chamber of the left or the media.  

Non-partisan youth voting campaigns like Rize Up and She Votes have been similarly successful on our platform, in parallel with impressive efforts from Bite the Ballot and more partisan campaigns like Grime 4 Corbyn. Almost three million people registered to vote last month; the vast majority of them were young; and the signs are that many more under-30s will vote than in any recent general election. Regardless of your political persuasion, everyone should see this as fantastic news for our democracy — and a surge of young voters could yet swing the outcome in many seats.

Tactical voting could become another critical factor in the results on June 8th. One in five voters now say they plan to use their vote strategically for a party which can win, rather than throw it away (quite remarkably, more than twice as many people are now ready to do this compared to 2015 – showing the speed with which tribal loyalties are decaying). With almost no preparation, a wave of new strategic movements like the Progressive Alliance, More United, Tactical2017 and Best for Britain have been mobilising impressive bottom-up power, crowdfunding hundreds of thousands of pounds between them, providing voting recommendations and doing independent campaigning for candidates who share their views.

Local factors and local campaigns could make more of a difference than ever before. In South West Surrey, the main challenger to Jeremy Hunt now looks to be Louise Irvine of National Health Action; while Claire Wright, the popular independent who came second in East Devon last time, has raised her full budget for the election on Crowdpac and has hundreds of activists campaigning for her. These “new politics” candidates are also being lifted up by the new movements as the best placed candidates to win.

Many mainstream party candidates are also going out of their way to emphasise their independent-mindedness, and starting to run more locally tailored campaigns. In Brighton, Peter Kyle has been crowdfunding a successful Corbyn-skeptic campaign — while next door, Kemptown challenger Lloyd Russell-Moyle is embracing the progressive alliance which could help him win with Green support. But there remains an element of self-defeating reluctance among the parties to embrace new techniques (and some officials are still warning candidates against crowdfunding, despite the fact that Crowdpac now makes it easy to raise vital additional funds completely legally!).

People-powered campaigning is not the exclusive preserve of the left; as I have written elsewhere, it played an important role in the success of the Brexit and Trump insurgencies. But it is striking both how tightly Theresa May’s Conservatives have stuck tightly to their repertoire of big donor money, focus-grouped messages and micro-targeted advertising, and how hollow these tactics are beginning to look. While this old politics playbook may be enough to win this time, it is increasingly looking like such a victory will be pyrrhic.

Ultimately, the future of politics in Britain is about much more than Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn. Both are accidental leaders. The real question is who can open the door to a new politics — one in which citizens are more empowered and able to live larger and more fulfilled lives, and we can navigate the tricky straits of twenty-first century politics together as a society. There will be many lessons to learn in the days after the election, and new campaigns to fight. But this brief and turbulent campaign is already revealing many reasons for hope.

Paul Hilder is co-founder and chief international officer at Crowdpac

3 Responses to “How people power can beat the big donors – from crowdfunding to tactical voting”

  1. Juteman

    Talk of a progressive alliance is fine, but maybe tell that to Labour in Scotland. They are urging voters to vote Tory to beat the SNP in certain seats.
    They seem to have forgotten that this is a GE, not Indyref2.

  2. Tony

    The Labour website allows you to donate to a particular Labour candidate. This is a great idea although I am a bit sceptical as to whether that is what really happens and so I only donated a modest sum.

  3. GordieRee

    Tony, scepticism? Be bold. Take a risk. Increase your donation. Let someone else decide where the biggest bang for the buck can be found. This is about getting 326 seats. Which ones is a matter of secondary importance.

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