Labour set to mimic Obama style

Historic election - UK strategists and consultants visit US to pick up comms tactics and campaign tips.

Labour MPs, party strategists and UK public affairs professionals have been picking up comms tactics and campaigning tips from the electoral juggernaut that carried Barack Obama to victory in the US election on Tuesday.

A 20-strong delegation led by Insight Public Affairs MD John Lehal spent the week embedded in the Obama campaign, working out of the Democratic Party's Florida HQ. The delegation comprised Labour MPs Kerry McCarthy and Sharon Hodgson, Labour Party staff including campaign development manager Greg Burton and senior comms officer Phil Dilks, and 11 consultants from London-based Insight.

Lehal stressed the clarity of Obama's narrative (see box) and said the Democrats had placed a significant emphasis on using new technology to mobilise the vote.

'It's about using mobiles, text messaging and internet campaigning to build up your support,' concluded Lehal. 'People were registering on the website, giving their ZIP codes, being invited to events and being texted. They then went out to voters in their community and articulated the Obama message.'

He added that much of the focus in the final few days had been on educating potential supporters about the voting process: 'There are people who don't understand the difference between registering your vote and casting your vote.'

McCarthy suggested the Labour Party should learn from Obama's focused message (see box) and apply the tactics used by the Democrats to educate potential voters.

'The key thing that fascinated me was the mobilisation of people who had been completely disenfranchised,' she said. 'In my constituency, we have a lot of minority communities that have arrived fairly recently - for example, up to 20,000 Somalis in Bristol. They've never really been involved in politics and there's a real issue about getting such people on the register.'

Although primarily aligned to the Democrats, Lehal's group was designated as a non-partisan delegation and members also attended key Republican events.

HOW I SEE IT - John Lehal, MD, Insight Public Affairs

'The narrative was crucial. In every sentence Barack Obama talked about change. The posters said change, the bumper stickers said change, the website said change. You find something that resonates with people, keep it simple and keep reinforcing the message over and over again.'

KERRY MCCARTHY, Labour MP for Bristol East

'Everyone knew exactly what Obama's narrative was. Labour needs a narrative that says what the party and Gordon Brown are about, compared with what David Cameron and the Conservatives are about. We have to be very clear about what the party stands for.'

44 - Years since Indiana and Virginia voted for a Democratic president

600m - Donations in USdollars for Obama (McCain had $84.1m to spend)

190m - Obama campaign media spend in USdollars up to end of October

700 - Democratic election offices across US (Republican: 370)

77% - Of UK PROs supported Obama (source: CIPR).

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