My December Memo for Jeremy Corbyn’s office

Paul Hilder
Mar 12, 2018 · 10 min read

The Skwawkbox blog got hold of a copy of a confidential strategy memo I had sent to Karie Murphy and Seumas Milne in early December, and via intermediaries to Andrew Murray, chief of staff to Len McCluskey and a key LOTO (Leader of the Opposition) office adviser.

I was glad that Skwawkbox broke his ten-day silence on my candidacy yesterday, publishing my responses on the vexed issues of anti-semitism and internal discipline; and that he recognised my expertise as a campaigner, even going so far as to suggest I might get a job as campaign director under Jennie Formby. For transparency, I am now publishing my December memo in full here on this blog. The text follows. Keen for feedback, questions, ideas and discussion as always!

The #DecemberMemo
How Labour Can Build A World-Class Campaigning Movement

Recommendations for LOTO
Strictly Confidential

In the coming years, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has a unique opportunity to build a transformative political movement which carries you to decisive victory at the next general election. But considerable obstacles persist; and as a party, institutional readiness to seize this opportunity still falls well short of what is needed.

The moment to build is now. You cannot lose the initiative. In the next six months, you need to develop and start executing on a bold and comprehensive plan to grow our mass movement, better align energies and resources, and equip the party with the cutting-edge organizational capabilities required to win the electoral contest and the battle of ideas.

A proper project of movement-building and campaigning renewal cannot be achieved through incremental or piecemeal tweaks. Finally, the conditions for bolder moves are coming together. The leader’s authority has been conclusively cemented by the general election result, and control is being extended over key elements of the party bureaucracy and decision-making processes.

But just getting hold of more levers is not enough. Now you must fundamentally shift goals, doctrine, culture, incentives and resource allocation throughout the party’s campaigning machinery, and start transforming Labour into a fully-fledged 21st century political movement.

While many of the pieces of the puzzle are there already, they are scattered and constrained by bureaucratic inertia. Digital campaigns, data modelling and opinion research, field and election campaigning, grid and messaging, fundraising, member recruitment and engagement, and community organizing must be rebooted and knitted back together without delay if you are to win big at the next election.

You cannot wait for the results of the democracy review or an opening in the position of General Secretary — nor do you need to. With a clear political mandate and the right knowhow and leadership, you can begin right now. Below are 9 recommendations for accelerating this transformation of Labour’s campaigning model:

1. Bring in seasoned leadership ASAP to anchor Labour’s movement-building and campaigning renewal.

This would be best done via a new executive director role in LOTO, or by creating an assistant or deputy general secretary post in the party. There is currently a gap in your team; and recently advertised LOTO roles are important but not at the level required. You need a world-class campaign leader with experience of movement-building, complex organisations and change management, who understands all elements of the campaigns model. They must be deeply politically aligned with LOTO, but ideally will also be liked and respected across the party. They should be given a clear and bounded mandate, and should work in close partnership with others in LOTO and Southside.

2. Conduct a rapid review of opportunities for innovation and improvement in Labour’s campaigns strategy and model.

This change process should begin with a swift review which is focussed on a handful of inter-related areas where quick wins could deliver a step-change in effectiveness, including digital campaigns; scaling mass membership and small donor fundraising; opinion research and data modelling; and local experimentation to renew the field campaigning and community organising repertoire. Other decision-makers and practitioners in each of these areas should be fully consulted and involved.

The outputs of this review will include, firstly, one or more reports with short-term proposals to be implemented within the next year (possible priorities are sketched out below); and secondly, a medium-term strategy document with circulation tightly restricted to leadership, which lays out options and recommendations for even more ambitious institutional change.

3. Start a mass membership drive in 2018, and apply crowdfunding innovation and small donations best practice.

The party’s finances and activist base have been dramatically strengthened by the surge in membership in the last two years; but there has been no serious effort by the machine itself to accelerate this growth. In financial terms alone, recruiting another 200,000 members could deliver a game-changing £20–30 million between now and the next election; and a programme of targeted member recruitment in priority marginals could dramatically improve field campaigning and social influence.

Digital fundraising overall could also be revolutionised (by telling better stories, taking a programmatic approach to central small donor fundraising, and adopting the lessons of the Unseat campaign and other initiatives for local fundraising in marginals). A plan should be drawn up immediately to trial a proper membership recruitment and small donations drive, learning from the best practices of the Bernie Sanders movement among others. It should be possible to construct a convincing business case for a £1M+ investment in this during 2018, with much of the spend going on social media promotion by the digital campaigns team.

4. Reboot Labour’s data, modelling, opinion research and strategy operation.

Labour’s data and research approach is obsolete, politically misaligned and not fit for purpose (as the struggle to maximise the effective allocation of resources during the general election made all too clear). This work is subtle and requires technical knowledge to pick the right approaches; but restructured correctly, it could make an invaluable contribution to our effectiveness across the board. To build a winning electoral coalition and prioritise investment geographically and demographically, it is vital to explore which Corbynite messages and positions could cut through with different segments of the electorate, who is convertible, and how to reach them.

Sophisticated data models have played a big role in most recent elections. You urgently need to review the design, inputs and assumptions of your own data modelling as well as polling; to collect more first-hand data on a wider sample of the electorate; to plan from the start how you can use this data efficiently for digital targeting; and crucially, to get useful data into the hands of local leaders in the movement. The insights from a rebooted Labour data operation will be crucial in informing and refining your digital, field, policy, communications and recruitment efforts. But all this needs to be done systematically, and it will take time to get right. You should take a fresh look at our data and research ASAP — perhaps starting with a project focused on the May 2018 local elections. This work could be project managed by a new Director of Strategy, but will benefit from senior campaigns sponsorship and integration with other functions.

5. Building a world-class integrated campaign strategy and model.

Labour’s campaigning operation remains too fragmented across organisational silos. The growing strength of the communications operation and more direct control of policy and digital campaigns create big new opportunities for agility, creativity and integration. But the right combination of proactive big picture strategy and guerrilla warfare is tough to get right, especially when large parts of the party are still operating according to obsolete doctrine, and there will continue to be many conflicting voices in the machine and on the ground.

Beyond strategy or tactics, the medium-term institutional challenges of the next period include how to drive the right kind of integration between LOTO and Southside campaigning functions — including field and election campaigns, print, member engagement, and the new community organising team; how to best work with the shadow cabinet; how to ensure that resources are effectively allocated and that you are working toward the right goals; how to unleash the right kind of bottom-up campaigning in communities around the country; and how to take your digital campaigning and communications to the next level so that you are truly becoming the media and starting to durably shift public norms, attitudes and behaviour.

If you want to build a twenty-first century model of integrated campaigning for Labour, tactical control of the daily and weekly grid and coordinated execution around great campaigns and messages are necessary but not sufficient. At a higher level, there are three tasks: building the overarching campaigns strategy, designing a twenty-first century campaigning model which includes new tools, doctrines and systems, and leading the organisational change process to deliver this model. This must be a team effort; but if you do not assign senior leadership with management accountability for delivering this campaigning transformation, the “fog of war” will descend; and the opportunity for a decisive electoral victory could be lost.

6. Systematically organise with networks of outriders, sympathetic movements and skilled supporters to increase your strength and coordinate their efforts.

In this age of networks, the campaign which can best coordinate the voluntary efforts of others has a huge advantage. LOTO has begun to coordinate effectively with media and social media outriders, has some strong allies in the union movement, and a loose network of sympathetic Labour left movement organisations like Momentum; but there is much more which could be done.

There are thousands of people across the Labour movement who could be using their specialist skills or insights more to help us win: from technologists to video-makers, from project managers to social media natives. They are not yet being asked to help or nurtured in the right way. Civil society, the big NGOs and social movements could all be better aligned through smart thematic campaigns, without compromising their independence or legal status; a chaotic swarm of tactical voting campaigns played a big role in 2017, and need to be engaged with constructively; and bigger para-political networked movements with millions of members like Avaaz or 38 Degrees could perhaps engage, formally or informally, around the next general election. There is also significant scope for stronger collaboration with the union movement, from specific campaigns to ensuring best practice around maintaining the strength of political funds under new regulations.

7. Experiment locally to push the boundaries of the current field campaigns model.

Labour’s field organising and electoral campaigning playbook has become tired, top-down and transactional. The existing approach is deeply embedded in targets, policies, technology, resource allocation, personnel, and regional and CLP structures. Renewing it will take the best part of two years, so it is important to start sooner rather than later.

Initially, the best approach will probably be to experiment locally and test out new approaches, thereby starting to build up hard evidence that they work better in practice. Priorities should be set based on strategic opportunism: you need to identify the battleground CLPs where there is local appetite to do things differently, and partner with them, giving them more freedom and mobilising resources.

The new organising team should be a key vehicle for some of this work, both through “deep” community organising in more challenging seats and by bringing a more scalable Sanders-inspired “big organising” toolkit to every constituency that wants to try it. There is scope to work closely with union political teams who have often filled the strategic or financial gaps here; and with a little more investment, the Organise platform and Promote can provide some of the technical underpinning. In some cases the local elections could offer a good testbed for this work. You should also prepare plans for what to do when a by-election is called, and use that to showcase the potential of new approaches.

Meanwhile in the background, between now and the 2018 Labour conference, you should build up a systematic analysis of how the field campaigns and local organisation could be retooled. The party democracy review’s outcomes should provide a window of opportunity to make more significant changes in party management and regional and local campaign structures; these changes should be informed by what will best equip you to win decisive electoral victory, as well as by the important considerations of political management.

8. Prioritise innovation and investment in key geographies — from Scotland to English and Welsh towns and metropolitan marginals.

A rigorous and collective campaign strategy process will need to be conducted, informed by a more imaginative approach to data, before you can be confident of exactly where to invest the greatest effort. But three geographic priorities are already clear. First, you have an unprecedented opportunity to reset the political landscape in Scotland and reboot the decayed Scottish Labour party, which should position you much more strongly to pick up most of the 22 target marginals there. The outcome of the Scottish leadership election could provide better conditions to accelerate best practice in the Scottish party than in any of the English regional structures in the coming six months; so you should strike while the iron is hot. A Scottish membership drive should be a key foundation stone for this work.

The second priority grouping is a set of 40–50 key marginals in non-metropolitan England and Wales, mostly “town” seats, where local demographics and attitudes look more challenging and you need to expand your electoral coalition. You should take an experimental approach here to reboot Labour’s local campaigning and profile, weaving together member recruitment and engagement, deep community organising, data and insight work, targeted digital communications, renewal of the field model, and tailoring of message and offer. Participatory engagement and greater clarity about the concrete benefits of a Labour government (including regional economy investments, social care, infrastructure and housing) could help shift the conversation in these places; your approach to Brexit will also be crucial.

Finally, there are around 30–40 key metropolitan or suburban seats: some are target marginals, others were won in 2017 but must be retained. These are on balance younger, higher-income and more Remain-voting, and are more concentrated in London and the greater south-east. The momentum is mostly with you in these areas, but you will still need to strengthen your position and persuade resistant voter groups. The right campaign strategy and offer to achieve this will likely differ in important respects from that which can best appeal in the town seats.

9. Initiate serious contingency planning for an early general election.

The Conservatives are still doing their best to avoid it; but another early general election remains a real possibility. Taken together, the priorities outlined above should position the Labour movement much better to capitalise on such a scenario. But it will also be important to start putting in place concrete plans, capabilities and resources so that Labour is not taken unawares and can make the most of another snap contest.

Conclusion and next steps

The opportunity to renew Labour and build a world-class campaigning movement must be seized with vision, creativity and ruthlessness if you are to win the battle of ideas and the next election. This note lays out some ideas and recommendations for action over the next year as a starting point for discussion. If this agenda or any part of it is of interest to LOTO, we should meet up ASAP to discuss how it can best be put into practice.

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