How Labour increased its vote share in the Isle of Wight against the odds

Pubs, marches, local media and Facebook were used but canvassing wasn't.

Julian Critchley is the chair of the Isle of Wight Labour Party. He was its candidate in 2017 and campaign manager in 2019. With his permission, we are re-posting an article from his personal blog.

This article sets out the experience of the campaign from the perspective of one of the tiny handful of constituencies where Labour increased its vote. People already in shock about that actually happening probably need to sit down before learning that it was the Isle of Wight!

We didn’t win, of course. That’s for next time! But we did increase our vote and our vote share when Labour was losing votes and vote share pretty much everywhere else. We squeezed the votes of the LibDems and Greens in an election where the LibDems and Greens were not only increasing their votes nationally, but were being recommended as the tactical option locally by every one of those tediously irritating tactical voting sites.

So the result may not have shaken even David Cameron’s garden shed to its foundations, and nobody’s going to write a book about how the Isle of Wight Labour Party marched triumphantly from second place to, er, a slightly better second place. But this was an accomplishment which very seriously bucked the national trend nevertheless.

I don’t think the Labour Party, as it currently tears at its own entrails in grief, should leave any stones unturned in seeing how it might go about the next election better. And just off the south coast of North Island, the Isle of Wight is a particularly large and lovely stone to examine.

Firstly, I’ll set out what we felt were the main factors for our relatively successful campaign. I don’t think anyone will find these things particularly original or shocking. It’s just the basics of good campaigning.

Secondly, a little sting in the tail, because I’ll make some comparisons with campaigns in our top defensive and target seats, and those comparisons aren’t great. The party’s factional war has moved to a new battleground over whether the loss was the fault of the Right for forcing a change in Brexit policy, or the Left for installing Corbyn.

Yet there’s a “forgotten front” which is being neglected, which is that in some places, our campaigning appears to have been just not good enough. For those who want to skip to this bit and ignore the local campaigning bit, scroll on down to the sub-heading, you brutes.

Context – The Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is the largest constituency in the country. It also happens to be considerably whiter, older and Brexitier (62% Leave) than most places.

We have no higher education institution, so few students. We’re short on public sector professionals and urban liberals, and any minority group you care to mention is more of a minority here than in most of the country.

We’ve also never had a Labour MP, or a Labour council. At present, we have no Labour councillors at all. In short, according to the various pollsters and their cunning “tribes” of voters, we’re the least promising territory for Labour you can imagine.

Yet in 2017, we doubled our vote, moving from fourth (yes, fourth) place behind Tories, UKIP and the Greens, to second place. This despite a ferocious tactical voting campaign by the Greens in which they outspent us by 100%, and which was supported by some of our own people on and off the island.

In the 2019 election, we raised our vote further, again in the face of unanimous recommendations from tactical voting sites for the Greens, in whose favour the LibDems had stood down their candidate. And of course we did so in the context of a national electoral disaster which saw Labour’s vote drop 8%, and rather more in constituencies with similar demographics to ours.

By demographics, we probably have to correct a misconception here. The Isle of Wight is not a wealthy place. It certainly has wealthy people, particularly older retirees. But as you can see from this chart, we’re actually quite similar to plenty of traditionally Labour seats. We are, in short, exactly the sort of place where the Labour vote dropped by a large amount on December 12th. Yet we increased our vote and our vote share.

We used a competent person to do our election graphics

As I wrote in my first blog in this series, the overall increase was relatively small. Brexit buggered us, as thousands of our 2017 Labour Leave voters left us. So that small increase masked our attracting a rather larger number of replacement voters.

I know that we’re all scheduled to be in the meeting marked “bitter factional warfare” for the next four months, but perhaps we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that not everything that happened in every constituency was beyond the ability of the local team to influence at least a little.

Now, to misquote Montell Jordan, this is how we did it.

Start the campaign early

 We started our campaign for the 2019 election in June 2017. It was clear then that this was not a government which could last a full term, and many were predicting another election in months, not years. So while we certainly didn’t keep going at full campaign pace, we never fully took our foot off the gas.

Throughout the period we aimed to release one press notice every week, preferably about local issues, to get us coverage in the local media. When there are no local stories, there’s always a local angle you can try to national stories.

Demanding answers from the current Tory MP about why he voted this way was always a good way of ensuring that local voters knew that the Labour Party was holding him to account. Any local story about council or national cuts would also inevitably see a quote from Labour popping into every local editor’s inbox.

In addition, we aimed for an update to the party’s main shop window, our public Facebook page, every other day. By 2019, that was an update every day. This was very important because it built a page following which was going to be absolutely central to the 2019 campaign. We’ll return to this.

Not all the press notices were picked up. Not all the social media posts gathered lots of attention. There were fallow periods. But by the time this election was called, we had been making the biggest non-Tory noise locally for over two years. A good way of measuring our impact was the complaints from below-the-line Tories on local media about the local Labour Party getting too much coverage.

Get a good candidate

We had an excellent candidate. One of the advantages of being a below-the-radar seat is that we don’t attract ambitious careerists who can only find us on a map because of the clue in the name. Nor does central office ever consider imposing anyone. We get to choose freely.

After my run as accidental candidate in 2017, I decided at the last minute I didn’t want to do it again. This was fortunate for us, because it opened the door to Richard Quigley, a local small businessman with manic energy and no background (and therefore no baggage or enemies) in local politics.

Crucially, he also brought with him two key attributes. Firstly, he was genuinely committed to the policies of the party, which meant his answers were always authentic and convincing. Secondly, and unlike me, he genuinely appears to like people. I don’t understand that, but it certainly worked for us.

I don’t want to overegg the importance of the candidate. After all, every political party could draw up a long list of incompetents, crooks, sociopaths and fools who have nevertheless been elected, and a similarly long list of wonderful, worthy, committed saints who haven’t got anywhere. But in an election where it often felt like people were looking for reasons not to vote for us, the fact that our candidate persisted in only giving reasons to back us was an enormous help.

WhatsApp Image 2019-12-05 at 14.36.31
Who said we had too many policies?

Win the real-world visibility war

In 2017, I’d often had received the comment “I didn’t know Labour was active on the island”. We needed people to see us as not just a viable party, but the biggest. Simultaneously, we knew early on that we would be fighting something which I know other CLPs experienced: shame.

The “othering” of Corbyn had long extended past him alone to encompass the entire party. To support Corbyn’s Labour was, according to most of our national media, somehow beyond common decency. We knew this had happened before the campaign started, and one of our earliest priorities was to create a safe space for supporters.

Not many people are brave enough to put their heads above the parapet when bullets are flying, if they’re on their own. But give them a few visible comrades willing to go over the top alongside them, and that can change. Signage was the offline half of the battle to create a psychological safe space for potential Labour supporters to feel that they weren’t alone, and there was a point in their support and their vote.

We prioritised the ordering of signs, boards and posters, and set up an efficient manufacture and distribution method. Then we emailed all 850+ members every other day throughout the campaign with a central contact point for signage. We would almost always get signs to requests within 24 hours. We also specifically targeted the (very expensive) garden signs on the streets with high traffic. Cul-de-sacs in the middle of the countryside got a window poster. The last sign was put up late on December 11th in a street which was used to go to a polling station. In total, we put out 240 garden signs and 750 A3 window posters.

We also printed 30,000 leaflets with local printers, in addition to the 76,000 freepost leaflets which slowly – oh so very, very slowly – were printed by the national party. The leaflets had a mini poster on the reverse, so we were also effectively giving out 30,000 more window posters for cars and homes.

None of this is rocket science, but it’s a vital building block. There was unprecedented intimidation, abuse (and destruction of signage) in this election. We needed to show our potential supporters that we were out there with them in force.

Combining two of the Island’s favourite pastimes: voting Labour and excessive outdoor Christmas decorations

Maximise activist efficiency

This was an early decision to repeat what we didn’t do in 2017. We didn’t canvass.

It’s a case of maths. Every CLP will know that the ratio of members to activists is not great. Our 850 members yields about 100 who will attend meetings, 50 who’ll deliver leaflets and help out, and 30 who are confident and comfortable talking to voters face to face. Of those 30, all will hand a leaflet out in a town centre, but only a dozen or so are really up for the intensely intimidating business of knocking on a stranger’s door in the dark and asking them to vote Labour.

I’ve done it. I hate it, but I’m quite good at it. When excluding houses with no answer, and those who say “no thanks” immediately, I reckon I end up having about 8-10 actual conversations in an hour at my very best, and 75% of them will be already committed voters for us or someone else. So maybe 2 or 3 actual undecideds an hour. If all 12 of our willing canvassers were able to turn up at the same time, we’d maybe get 20-30 undecided conversations in an hour. We have an electorate of 113,021, living in an entire county of 76,000 houses in over a hundred different towns and villages spread out over 148 square miles.

So we didn’t canvass.

But we still needed to have those conversations and, above all, win the visibility war. So while our opponents were trudging a fraction of the island’s streets, unseen, we were in the town centres.

With the less in-your-face intensity of doorstep canvassing, we had more bodies willing to stand in town centres, hand out leaflets and engage in conversation. On each weekend, we had people out in most or all of the six major population centres on the Island, very visibly wearing red and handing out our leaflets. We were seen by thousands more people who we could have reached canvassing, in more places.

The cherry on the top of the visibility cake was the ‘March For Labour’. Fifty activists were involved in an event where most walked the 7 miles between the two main towns of Ryde and Newport. All decked out in red, carrying banners, this wasn’t an attempt to pay homage to Mao’s Long March. It was done because it took us along the busiest road on the island, where we were seen by many hundreds of cars over a four hour stretch, as well as many hundreds more people in both Ryde and Newport.

And it was an odd enough event that those people spoke to other people about seeing these red-clad nutters marching down the road getting beeped by passing cars. As well as demonstrating commitment, it demonstrated numbers and strength – no other party could put something like that on. It also was unusual enough to allow us coverage in the local media, but more on that later.

There are rituals in elections – doorstep canvassing is one, standing outside a polling booth with a clipboard is another. These can make sense if you’re in a tight marginal and have the numbers of activists to not only find out where your vote is, but to get bodies round to encourage it out on the day. Few constituencies have that capacity, yet many which don’t probably still perform the rituals. It’s a good idea to review those actions to see whether more bangs for the activist buck can be had elsewhere.

You’ve no idea how heavy that banner is. But a lot of people saw it.

Go to the people, don’t make them come to you

The local Green Party hired a shop in Newport for the campaign. It must have cost them a packet. We took our candidate to the pub. Lots of pubs.

We knew we couldn’t wait for people to come to us, we had to go and find them. So we organised multiple meet-the-candidate events, which we promoted, in pubs. The pubs liked it, because of the cash behind the bar. The local members liked it, because they could chat to the candidate (and drink). And we got noticed by, and spoke to, people who would never have dreamed of walking into a political party’s shop.

We weren’t packing them out like a Corbyn rally, but it was another way of being visible, or providing a safe space, and of accessing real-life networks of people who used the pubs. Even if they didn’t talk to us, they saw us, and they talked about it to their mates. Word got around. Labour were out and about, and down the pub.

The candidate also visited care homes and cafes, specifically to meet and listen to (note listen to, not talk at) important local subsets like care workers and small businesspeople. Even where there might only be half a dozen attendees, we would then see one or more of them in a neutral online space saying “I met that Labour guy, and he was really nice…”. There’s a multiplier effect from each event. We kept the candidate busy.

The Labour Campaign at another, cough, “rally”.

Fight for local media

Slightly bizarrely, our local media was less willing to cover press releases from us during the campaign than it was before the election was called. We were told by one editor of a local online news source that press releases during the election were “just campaigning, not news”.

It rapidly became clear that the local media didn’t see it as their job to communicate policies to the voters. Our original plan to issue a press notice from the candidate every day linked to the daily campaign briefing from HQ was quickly abandoned after the first 7 or 8 were universally ignored.

As a result, our attempt to communicate our policies shifted to our own online resources, which I’ll deal with in the next section.

But the local media still had a role to play. It reached parts of the electorate which we couldn’t reach directly online, particularly the more elderly section of the population who read the print versions. And not just the two county newspapers, but the monthly periodical which is delivered to every house on the island. We quickly bought and arranged advert space in all of them. Adverts are no substitute for coverage, so we had to manufacture some.

I’d love to tell you we were cunning enough to plan it all, but mostly it was about being fleet-footed and seizing opportunities. The Tories did us a favour by writing a public letter to us asking us about Brexit which the media covered, along with our reply.

Clearly it was designed to promote their central campaign message, but sauce for the goose etc, so we returned the favour with a letter about the NHS. These letter exchanges, though ritual, not only allowed us to promote our key message, but also reinforced the message that this was a red-blue election, causing real harm to the tactical voting campaign of the Greens.

Various other opportunities presented themselves. Tory loon Suella Braverman announced on TV that there was going to be a new hospital on the Isle of Wight (there isn’t). Our own Tory, Bob Seely, announced Labour planned to shut down the local Free School (we didn’t).

We got a tip-off about a night of chaos in the local A&E. The key was being able to respond very rapidly. In all cases we had press notices out in a couple of hours maximum, and we followed that up with phone calls to the journalists to exert a little persuasion to run the story. We adapted quickly to the stance the local media chose to take, and continued to get coverage.

Win the Online War

It’s hardly a revelation to say that the online world has become the crucial battleground of 21st Century campaigning. Even on the Isle of Wight, where we only recently stopped believing electricity was witchcraft. We knew that this was where we had the best chance of getting our message across to a largely disengaged electorate, untainted by media bias. It became even more vital when the local media chose to abdicate the role of communicating policies.

Targeted local material

Fortunately, we were ready. I mentioned earlier that we had been preparing since 2017. We had focused on Facebook. It has greater reach into the non politically-committed electorate than other social media, and it’s the most important platform for the age profile of the Island.

From the end of 2017, we maintained our public Facebook page as a shopfront for the local party. It was not a free-for-all forum filled with interminable trollish arguments, or a CLP noticeboard of no interest to anyone but the CLP. It was a sales pitch. It needed to be relatively professional and relentlessly positive. It also needed to be updated frequently so that it regularly pushed our news into other accounts, as well as becoming a place which our hundreds of Facebook-using members checked regularly and shared from.

 We had observed what “sold” from the Facebook page over the previous two years. Which stories always did well (ferries and the local NHS, since you ask), and which did little trade (national-only issues, and issues which affected relatively small sub-groups of the local population). Video clips and catchy picture memes were shared many times, walls of text weren’t. There’s nothing radical about these observations, which is why the upcoming comparison might shock a few readers.

So we set out at the start of the election to ensure that there was a distinctive local flavour to as much as possible. Memes badged with the Island Labour logo were produced for national policy announcements, with text on how they’d affect us. Eyecatching shareable digs at the local Tory MP or council were created. And we produced a series of short, snappy videos of our candidate which looked and sounded authentic (because they were – I filmed them on my phone while his dog tried to get in the shot).

The results can be seen here:
The full page
The pictures and memes
The videos 

The point was that much of the material was seen as locally relevant, because we’d produced it, twisted it to local issues, and branded it locally. This was a very specific conversation which Island Labour was having with Island voters, in the midst of a national election.

Of course, only WE have red squirrels. Find your own animals.

Use your people’s networks

Of course, no amount of excellent material is of any use if people don’t see it. So we encouraged our online membership daily to share material from the main page. If each individual member has 200 facebook friends, you only need 20 of them to share your meme, and you’ve just reached a potential 4000 voters. Then some of them share it further, and so on.

Some statistics give you an idea of the impact. Over the four weeks of the election, we reached more than 118,000 people. More than 72,000 “engaged” with one or more of our posts, meaning they reacted to it, clicked on the link, shared or commented. 9 of our posts reached more than 20,000 people each. 32 posts reached more than 4,000 people. Even allowing for duplication, these are big numbers, reaching places in our electorate which nothing else could get to.

One way we knew we were reaching the parts of the electorate we didn’t normally reach was the huge spike in abusive messages from Brexit Party and Tory supporters. They were seeing our material repeatedly, because it was being shared into their facebook feeds either directly or indirectly. Although I won’t claim it was pleasant wiping the virtual right-wing spittle from our comments page twice daily, I was conscious that every illiterate troll whose comment was hidden meant we were reaching more local voters.

This was just the direct social media. We produced a section called “helpful memes”, which allowed our members and other sympathetic users to copy the pictures and paste them on elsewhere. During the campaign, I saw numerous memes which originated with us being shared in the “neutral” social media community pages around the island. These wouldn’t count on our direct statistics, but were still part of our online marketing, and a very effective part. Posts on neutral ground from people who weren’t well-known local Labour figures had greater value because of their perceived authenticity in peer-to-peer networks.

So, back to the stats, which I watched like a trainspotter with OCD for the duration. The first two weeks of the campaign, we pushed from our usual weekly c5,000 engagement numbers up to 20,000 per week, and then carried on going. For the last two weeks of the campaign, we averaged over 20,000, and the final week was 28,400 engagements (likes, comments and shares).

Our Green opponents, competing with us to reach the Remain voters in the constituency, were always far below us, spending much of the last two weeks at 25-33% of our engagements, while the Tories only learned how to play with Facebook in the final week, and managed to creep up to 9,000 by the end. Our main rival was actually Stephen Morgan’s excellent online campaign just over the water in Portsmouth South. We had clearly surpassed him by the last week, right up until the final day, when through some dastardly magic he suddenly rocketed past us, the swine.

A local Tory reacts to one of our online memes….

The National Comparison – this is the bit for those looking for controversy

 Why am I telling you this? Well here’s some tables which will make grim reading for Labour supporters.

On election day, before the result, I visited the facebook sites of our main English defensive and offensive marginal seats, and used facebook’s comparison ‘Insight’ tool to look at their levels of engagement. Sometimes there’s both a candidate and a CLP page for a constituency, and I’ve chosen the biggest one of the two, where that’s the case. Here’s the table for marginal seats held by the Tories which we had to win.

Screenshot (715)

Here’s the data for our most marginal defensive seats (except two)

Screenshot (717)

Those graphs tell a story. For all that I am proud of our efforts here, I’m astonished that our small band of amateurs in a historically safe Tory seat, with no paid staff, and no assistance from the regional or national party, should have been running a bigger facebook campaign than all but two of our top target seats, and all but two of our most vulnerable defensive seats. In some instances, our online engagement was literally more than twenty times the size of that in seats which had tiny majorities.

I didn’t understand how this could be the case, and so I went and looked at these pages to get a qualitative feel for what the quantitative data was telling me. In too many cases, the picture was grim. No memes, no positivity, no clips. Nothing that would entice people to share and spread the message. In several cases there weren’t even any policies.

What I saw far too much of, was a simple picture of the candidate standing with the same half dozen people on a different dark, cold street, holding leaflets and trying to look as if they wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. Occasionally, there’d be a picture of the candidate next to a celebrity politician (David Miliband seemed to get around a few of these places), or even just a celebrity (and so did Ross Kemp). But the statistics were terrible. Nobody was sharing it. Nobody cared. Nobody knew.

I was also struck by how many times I was seeing the same handful of people in those endless pictures of leafleting. Meanwhile, I was aware that we had involved dozens and dozens of enthusiastic activists in our various activities. The contrast was stark.

 I scrolled as far back as 21st November on one candidate’s facebook page, covering the last 3 weeks of the campaign, and found not one single post about any Labour policy in this election. Not one. Just pictures of the candidate and the same handful of leafleters, plus a couple of the candidate and a couple of grandees. Their engagement rate was less than 10% of ours. In a heartland seat with an immense Labour tradition. This pattern repeated itself in others.

It may well be that the seats in question (which I have anonymised to save blushes), had absolutely superb offline campaigns. But that’s not an excuse for missing this battleground. Online campaigning in 2019 is absolutely vital, particularly on facebook. In some of our most marginal seats, we were essentially doing very little of it.

Local campaigns matter

This is conjecture, but I’ll put it out there anyway as a contribution to the debate raging about this election. We in the Island were able to run the campaign we did because we have, by and large, embraced and encouraged the new and enthusiastic post-2015 members. Our Corbyn-sceptics stayed on board, and while they may not have been the most active local members, they did their bit, to their enormous credit.

That energy and genuine enthusiasm meant people gave up their time and skills freely to help. It also meant that our candidate, and the core campaign team, were all unashamed and enthusiastic about sharing the policies and promoting the party.

The picture I saw online in several “heartland” marginals gave a very different impression: of candidates who couldn’t bring themselves to promote their own party’s policies; of hollowed out CLPs with only a handful of members left who are enthusiastic or daft enough to repeatedly go and stuff letterboxes for the candidate; of a sales team who had no faith in what they were selling.

I don’t think one has to be a marketing executive to know that it’s hard to sell a product when your shop window is empty, you’ve got no salespeople, and your pitch is telling your intended customer that they shouldn’t buy what you’ve got.

 Any visiting alien looking online would have assumed that the Isle of Wight was the Labour heartland, not the “red wall”. There are questions to be answered by some CLPs, as well as regional and national office in terms of the support they offered the marginals.

Those seats may not have been won anyway, but I can certainly say that it seems more could have been done to try, at least online. In some cases, I would suggest that those seats’ fate was sealed even before the campaign: too few bodies, too little groundwork since 2017, not enough energy.

As a final note, I added Sedgefield in my graphs, despite not being one of the top marginals, because an awful lot of press coverage has been given to the fall of Tony Blair’s old seat. Maybe its loss was inevitable.

However, the online campaign there managed to engage less than 20% the number of people we reached on the Isle of Wight. There are now more Labour voters on the Isle of Wight than there are in Sedgefield – now that’s a quote which should have a few Labour legends spinning in their graves. We worked very hard to win every single one, and we increased our vote.

Just because we could, doesn’t of course mean that everyone could, of course. We had a decent-sized LibDem/Green vote to squeeze from 2017. We were the insurgent, not the target, which allows for an aggressive, rather than defensive campaign. There was little pressure on us beyond the pressure we placed on ourselves. And the Isle of Wight is lovely, even in the winter, so it’s always a pleasure to be out and about (this advert was brought to you by Visit Isle of Wight). On the flip side, we had no paid staff, no external assistance, little history, and fewer of the demographic groups which are providing the new bedrock of Labour support.

I don’t think we did anything startlingly original. Other places also did some or all of the same things. However I’m struck by the way both sides of the Solent, in Portsmouth South and on the Island, bucked the national trend by running similarly energetic online and offline campaigns.

There are many lessons Labour needs to learn before the next election. One of them may well be that we have to fight every constituency as hard as Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan did, or as we did, or ‘safe’ seats can quickly become rather less safe than we might have thought.

And also in the way we campaign?

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33 Responses to “How Labour increased its vote share in the Isle of Wight against the odds”

  1. Plain Citizen

    Brilliant performance and superb article. Shame it’s unlikely to be read by anyone in Labour HQ.

  2. richard malim

    Nothing compared to the swing of 6.47% in (the miracle of) Bradford West

  3. Thorntonite

    You got 24% and were thrashed… this is delusional Bollocks of the highest quality PMSL!!

  4. Julian Critchley

    I think you’ve missed the point, Thorntonite.

    If the Labour vote went down by an average of 8% across hundreds of constituencies, then there may well be something to look at in one of the tiny handful where the vote went up.

    Nobody’s claiming that simply repeating this exact campaign elsewhere would have had the same result everywhere. However, we have seats which were lost by a few hundred votes after majorities of 8-10,000 were removed, yet where the online campaign was less than 10% of the size of the online campaign in the IoW, where Labour’s vote went up.

    Could *some* of those seats have been saved with similar attention/energy in campaigning? It’s not impossible. It’s even likely. In any review of how we do things next time, we don’t have the luxury of retreating to a factional interpretation which seeks to use the available data only to confirm pre-election beliefs. No stone should be left unturned.

  5. Barry Edwards

    No-one should be canvassing during an election campaign. The time to canvass is between elections, when people are not expecting a knock on the door from a political party. (We knew we were making progress when the response changed from “We never see you around here” to “Not you again!”)

    Try to get round the area over a four-year cycle, probably with a petition about some local issue and always have a ‘sorry we missed you’ card for the doors with no answer. Then your effort during the campaign is targeted at getting out the votes of the known Labour supporters and the doubtful. You know which doors are a waste of time.

  6. Rosie Rechter

    Your article is very useful. It backs up my instincts which I would have pushed harder if I had not just moved and was now in a ward where I felt a stranger and wasn’t 80 and not feeling at the centre! I have always felt more comfortable with stalls and informal meetings, and totally congratulate you on the online work. Here everyone so wrecking themselves canvassing difficult to discuss anything else! And we had a wonderful candidate who so deserved to win .Heartbreaking.

  7. Robert Jones

    To Thorntonite – JC wasn’t claiming that we’d nearly crushed the Tories: their vote was massive, and outweighed all the opposition votes combined (though not by a huge amount, which provokes other questions, or should). But we – I was Richard Quigley’s Agent, by the way, while Julian did much of the hard work – still bucked a national trend. In theory, we should have lost votes: but we didn’t; we gained them. Given this constituency once delivered a Labour vote of ca. 1,800 (I was the Agent then, too…), and this time gave us 18,000 plus, it’s entirely reasonable to take a closer look at it: you would think the Labour Party would be keen to learn from seats which increased their votes, as well as from those which lost them.
    One small correction, though – Labour HAS controlled councils on the island, in the quite distant past; but never the principal council for the whole island. This was before Julian – but sadly not I – was born.

  8. Chester Draws

    1) Richard Quigley, a local small businessman. If the rest of the Labour Party was composed of people who had worked in the real world, and even better in business, it would do a lot, lot better. But then it would be focused on the real world and not the magical dream world of the average activist.

    2) It’s lovely that your banner says “Unity is our Strength” because of course it is. But the Party bigwigs insists that *diversity* is its strength. If the party had run on a unity platform they’d have done a lot better. Yes, I know they say that they run on a unity platform but they don’t act like they do. To be a united country you have to *respect* the other side, not label them as fascists, racists, craven lick-spittles etc.

  9. Angie Ray

    Thanks for this. There is some useful information, we considered the pub idea and going forward should use this. Can I ask if you had many pubs who refused to allow you to hold a labour event ?

  10. felicity

    What an excellent account! Camborne Redruth Hayle (Cornwall) had a very tight + enthusiastic campaign, similarly ongoing from the time our candidate Paul Farmer stepped up (I’m not sure about before). Our campaign echoed yours but there are certainly pointers we can use at our meeting in 2 weeks time. Thank you so much. felicity

  11. felicity

    What an eloquent description of your campaign.
    In Camborne Redruth + Hayle (marginal, Cornwall) much of our campaign mirrored yours. We have an excellent candidate Paul Farmer who is really good at engaging people of all political persuasions. He stood out at the half dozen or so local hustings, is enthusiastic about the policies + has the support of many young people.
    You have given us a few important pointers to discuss at the upcoming branch meeting. Thanks so much.

  12. Judy Dickinson

    A really excellent survey of a campaign that fully deserved the increase in votes which you got. In the East Riding we have three constituencies very similar to yours “historically safe Tory seat, with no paid staff, and no assistance from the regional or national party” very rural with just a few largish towns with many miles between each one. In the dim distant past of 1995 our new county elections did produce a majority of Labour councillors – we now have none.
    The results of all three were exactly similar – Tories 1st with between 62 and 64% of vote, Labour 2nd with between 21 and 24% each losing between 9.2- 9.5%
    Was your Facebook campaign done through political ads or through the LP Promote system?

  13. Julian Critchley

    Angie – I’m not aware of any pubs turning us down.

    Felicity – thanks for your kind comments. I think sharing ideas of what may or may not have worked is important for future campaigns.

    Judy – We promoted our own adverts via facebook. Overall we spent about £400 on facebook adverts. Generally, our experience of central office IT systems was not great. The system for creating campaign materials (and crucially, the freepost leaflet) was not as user-friendly as it should have been.

  14. Helen Overton-Hore

    Some constructive ideas, I hope this message filters through to the “Review”. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  15. Alasdair

    Interesting article. I think it’s a bit much to claim credit for ‘squeezing the Lib Dem vote’ though, in an election where the Lib Dems didn’t stand this time round! That put Labour at an advantage from the start compared with 2017.

    Clearly there was a vibrant campaign there, and there’s lessons to be learned here for elsewhere; but given that the result was that the gap between the Tories and Labour *increased*, it’s hard to argue that it was a successful campaign in any meaningful sense.

  16. nick W

    before we get carried away, there are a number of key facts here firstly there was no Lib Dem candidate, and the is the issue that the tory vote increased by 4.9% against the labour increase of 1.3 % that’s the facts the real issue is is should we be fighting the Greens with as much effort as we need to fight the tories ? what we are really seeing is a good local candidate who has stood for more than one election and building up a support base, thats the real lesson here, local candidates who remain and take the long hard slog of supporting the consitiuency over years.

  17. Stone Elworthy

    Thanks for the great article. Lots of excellent campaign insights and ideas. I’m guessing though that you didn’t get the full onslaught of the Tory campaign that was targeted at marginals. In High Peak we had a massive amount of anti-Corbyn Facebook adds, leaflets and posters on lamp posts etc from fake grass-roots “astroturf” outfits such as Working4UK .
    I’d also love to know how many Labour Party members are in each constituency. My impression is that many of the “Red Wall” constituencies don’t have many members whilst many safe Tory seats and city centres and university towns have huge Labour Party memberships. I think there is a real problem where people join because their friends have joined; the members shape the Party in their own image and that feeds back on how the Party is perceived and who then wants to join and so on and so forth. So whole swathes of the country start to view the Labour Party as not being built from or for people like them. I think we need to be really pro-active in making sure that the membership density in the former “Red Wall” seats gets to be as high as in Sheffield Hallam and Islington and the like.

  18. Julian Critchley

    Alasdair – I think it’s fair to say we squeezed the LibDem vote. The LibDems didn’t stand and told their voters to vote Green. That meant a combined LibDem/Green vote (based on 2017) of c15,500. This year, that vote was down to 11,300, while the Labour vote rose. In most of the country, Labour were *losing* votes to the LibDems and Greens. So I’ll stand by that statement, I think.

    Nick – You’ll notice that nowhere do I claim we actually won, or that we made net inroads into the Tory vote. I partially agree that we should be fighting the Tories. However, in our electoral system, the fact is that we ARE fighting the Greens and LibDems for non-Tory votes, and our success in doing so dictates whether we hang on to seats, particularly now that the Tories appear to have solidified a Trumpian nationalist/right support base. A quick glance at the seats we lost shows that the LibDem/Green vote was very often greater than the difference between the Tory winner and the Labour loser. So any lessons we can learn about how to target and win over more of those wasted votes can only be helpful.

    Stone, I think you’re right about that. Certainly the Tories didn’t really try locally until the last week, when they started spending on local online adverts. We did, of course, get our share of their national hate-and-lies campaign, and local voters were certainly seeing those because we were receiving the feedback locally from national Tory propaganda. However, we certainly didn’t have posters going up for the Tories. On the flip side, this was a seat which was a key target for the Greens, and they once again outspent us considerably, shipping in their activists from the mainland to canvass on the island. So in one sense, while we didn’t face the sort of aggressive local Tory campaign which took place in some seats, we did face an aggressive LibDem/Green campaign which was absent from most seats.

    Your point about membership is one I can’t answer, because I have no figures for other CLPs. Ours hit a high of 1,200 in 2017, and then gently declined as subscriptions lapsed, until we fought this election with about 850 members. However, as I wrote in the blog, it was really noticeable how, when looking through the online sites of marginal CLPs, I saw a real lack of evidence of numbers of local activists. There’s another question there about how it is that a “safe” Tory seat like the Isle of Wight can engage and motivate more Labour members than a theoretically “safe” historic Labour seat.

  19. John Sloss

    Really shows how campaigning is really appropriate on which seat you are involved in. In the 1970,s I was one of the few Labour activists in the constituency of Cambridgeshire (not Cambridge) but a large rural and Tory constituency like the Isle of Wight. We rarely canvassed and only covered polling stations in the 1 or 2 areas of strength. We had an amazing candidate full of energy and like in the Isle of Wight concentrated on visual presence posters, car processions etc. We did reasonably well but lost. I now live in Darlington a marginal seat with an activist base of about 50 or so. Here canvassing is much more extensive and I believe important. There was a significant election day effort and I believe we had a good and energetic candidate. We lost by 3,000 on a swing typical for the Tees Valley. Not sure we did anything especially wrong and do strongly believe that door to door canvassing is vital in Northern working class towns. It must be backed up with a telling and knocking out plan that needs far more than 50 activists though. Those of us involved on election day were quite frankly knackereed both physically and emotionally.

  20. ruth timperley

    Excellent and really informative article. I hope Central Office take note. One point confused me though, what is this publication delivered monthly to every household on the Island? We have been here for 3 years and never had anything through our letterbox.

  21. Julian Critchley

    Ruth – the publication is “The Beacon” which is largely a collection of adverts delivered to most houses on the island at least quarterly, I think.

    John – If you’ve the numbers to be able to canvass large numbers of houses, plus the numbers/organisation to run a get-out-the-vote operation on the day, then I’m sure there’s value in it. We don’t. I’m more concerned, to be honest, with what didn’t happen in some of our seats. We all know that social media is a vital battleground, if not *the* most vital battleground now. We focused heavily on it, and the stats in the blog show that. I was genuinely astonished to find that in only two of our marginals did the facebook campaign exceed the size of ours on the Island. I expected that we’d be shoving a lot of resource and attention into those local online campaigns.

    Yet taking just two of the north-eastern seats which were lost – Bishop Auckland and Sedgefield – their numbers of engagements in the last week of the campaign were 19,900 and 4,600 respectively. There is no way that the Isle of Wight should be obtaining more than 500% MORE online engagements than an at-risk seat in those circumstances. I do feel that was a big missed opportunity.


  22. nick w

    although pre social media there are some similarities with the way the liberal party were organised in liverpool in the 1970s and 80s, just to remind some that the liberals actually swapped leading the council with labour back then, there ethos was constant electioneering year on year off, irrespective of whether there was an election in the offing, the drip drip drip effect of getting a name out there is of great value.
    Unfortunately this time around I found that it was the hard core of older long standing members out doing the donkey work, the mass of new members we had four years back seem to have disappeared?

  23. Isabel Cooke

    Fantastic article! Thank you very much.
    I’m from Bradford West, which increased its Labour vote. In Bradford as a whole, we kept all our Labour seats. I could tell you how active we and how effective our Momentum group is, both of which are true, but the main reason we not only kept our seat but increased Naz’s majority is the influence of a group of men, mostly, who think they should run stuff, and the heat generated by opposition to this.

  24. John Wardman

    Great Work Wight guys! we targeted local primary schools for the 15 minutes drop off and pick up time slots. Saw several hundred people in the space of 15 minutes. How else can you meet the 20-44 age group so quickly. They took loads of posters. Wished we had posters on the back of our election literature that went through peoples doors like yours

  25. Julian Critchley

    Isabel – yes, I noticed the Bradford result. One of the handful which increased their vote. We should get T-shirts printed and wear them proudly at Conference!

    John – that’s a good idea. We’ve done some of that in local elections, but didn’t do any in the general.

  26. Sonny Leong

    I used to live on the IOW, I might move back to support the local CLP

  27. Helen Field

    This is inspirational! I’m in New Forest East clp and will be sharing these excellent campaigning ideas. Many thanks and Solidarity everyone.

  28. Erica

    An interesting read – thank you!
    I can’t help wondering who were in the number 1 position for social media reach in the Tory held and Labour held marginal seats? Would it be wrong to share that information?
    I’m in Hastings & Rye (was a Tory held marginal, sadly now their hold is not so marginal). We felt we had worked really hard in our campaign and had the support of hundreds of Labour members from less marginal seats so canvassing was a necessity not an option. The result was a surprise to us – though it was still the second highest Labour result ever (beaten only by the 2017 result with a mere 346 votes short of the Tories). It left me feeling that the Tories were going to get in whoever their candidate was… Sally Ann Hart is a virtual unknown hard Brexiteer with a dubious Facebook history of what she has liked over the years (allegations of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and lack of support for people with disabilities within the workplace).
    We did take our Parliamentary Candidate to the pub with Steve Coogan one Sunday. Perhaps we should have done more of that!

  29. Elisabeth

    I suggested this tactic to my local MP after labour’s loss in 2015 and all I got was a mealy-mouth reply that said they’d send it off to HQ..
    The old guard (and most clps and MPs are in the older range of the age spectrum in a lot of these so called ‘heartland’ seats) are of the opinion that they don’t need to adapt to the modern world. I know of a chair of a local group who doesn’t use social media at all, doesn’t use WhatsApp and only checks their emails once a day for half an hour.
    Since labour can’t rely on national or local media to report objectively, going out to the people via local meetings and social media is the only way around that – yet while we have central office fighting ridiculous internal turf wars like 5 year olds, support from the national office isn’t going to happen.

    It really is up to each clp to take this on board and run with it, as the party bureaucracy is too self absorbed to help (and sometimes actively hinders when it parachutes in people to stand) and that unfortunately is the bitter, bitter truth.

  30. Giles Bridge

    Thanks for an excellent article, with really good ideas and insights. I wish I’d known about what you were doing a couple of years ago, I’d have definitely had a a chat with yourselves. I was the Labour candidate in Ribble Valley, similar safe Tory seat, but in Lancashire. Your article will be really helpful as a discussion point and also to kick start ideas for our own members meeting campaign debrief.

  31. Ben Bradshaw: The Labour Party should learn from Exeter's succesful ground campaigns | Left Foot Forward

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  32. Ben Bradshaw: The Labour Party should learn from Exeter’s succesful ground campaigns – LeftInsider

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  33. How each constituency's Labour vote share changed under Corbyn | Left Foot Forward

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