Deciding which seats offered the best prospect of returning a Labour councillor was the first task, and carries lessons as part of the Third Place First campaign.
Because of limited resources we knew we had to focus on only a few seats to give us the best opportunity of winning. There was very little historic voter ID in the areas we were looking at so we used Mosaic to analyse which seats had the most favourable demographic make-up. We also spoke to local activists asking for their input and spoke to the candidates that were in place to determine their level of commitment to the task. We decided upon two seats to target – Abingdon Caldecott being one of these.
Abingdon was in the Vale of White Horse District Council, a council that had no Labour councillors. In the 2007 election Labour stood only one candidate even though both of the seats in the two member ward were up for grabs. Labour received just over 100 votes, coming fifth with the Lib Dems taking both the seats with over 500 votes for each of their candidates and the Tories came third and fourth. Obviously we were taking on quite a challenge.
We chose Caldecott for a number of reasons:
• Caldecott had many similarities in its demographic make-up to some of the wards in
• Over 44 per cent of the ward fell within the Mosaic categories of I, J and L. These are the groups of voters who are historically some of the most supportive of Labour.
• We had two fantastic candidates who were willing to run a high-tempo campaign that would take over their lives for the forthcoming months. We also had a very able and committed agent and branch chair and a relatively active membership.
The campaign centred around an ambitious door-knocking schedule that allowed us to: build up our pool of Labour voters; identify swing voters; gain the knowledge that allowed us to build up a strong narrative bringing together local and national issues (ie Caldecott deserved better services but the Tory and Lib Dem cuts were only going to make things worse). Leaflets and targeted direct mailings were used to reach these swing voters to reinforce this message and to emphasise that Labour were a viable alternative and with their support we could win.
To deliver our campaign we needed to energise local activists and to divert resources from
On polling day, we amassed a sizeable team that were prepared to go from 5am to 10pm to turn our Labour promise into actual votes. The on-the-day operation was essential as many of our promises had not voted Labour for many years, and indeed many had never voted at all.
At the count the next day, after two recounts it emerged that Labour had won its first seat on the council for over a decade. The Tories came first and we came second, beating the other Tory by four votes.
This narrow margin of victory showed just how important our targeting strategy was. If we had allowed ourselves to be sidetracked and divert resources elsewhere then we would never had gained this all-important foothold.
Labour can win in areas which might be seen as ‘no-go’. However, it takes good organisation and the ruthless targeting of particular seats to ensure that our resources are directed in, and only in, the seats where they will yield success – the other areas will just have to wait their turn.
This article was first published on Progress Online.