Thursday, 22 April 2010

David and Goliath

Do campaigns make a difference? The academic consensus is ‘not much’ – although in a close election, ‘not much’ matters. Money is obviously a crucial part of any impact: how much you have and what you do with it. The funding gap between Labour and the Conservatives is large and well-know, thanks to the significant influence of Not-Lord Ashcroft. The Tories might wish they had spent some of their cash mountain a little differently: their ostentatious poster campaign was a much mocked own goal which has seemingly brought about the death of the billboard ad as a useful political tool.

But money is still the aphoristic mother’s milk, and where it comes from matters more than ever at a time when voters are craving 'a new politics'. The Tories’ reliance on rich individuals and Labour’s union dependence have made consensus on reform impossible thus far. Senior Labour figures have called for state funding, and this looks like the only way out of the political deadlock.

Barack Obama’s campaign showed another way forward, although one that is admittedly difficult to replicate. What was remarkable about his campaign was not just how much money he raised, but how many people donated: as the Fabian book The Change We Need highlighted, of the 6.5 million donations made to his campaign, more than 90 per cent were less than $100. And this did more than accrue a phenomenal amount of cash. Nick Anstead wrote in his accompanying online paper Yes We Can that:

"As in the UK, the American public has deep misgivings about political campaign funding. Obama’s team skillfully mobilised his base by pushing the idea that small dollar donations were the … antithesis of his opponents’ funds which was associated with the ‘old way’ of doing politics. For Labour an equivalent strategy would be to encourage grassroots donations by contrasting them with the Tories’ large donors, especially Lord Ashcroft’s attempt to parachute resources into key marginals.”

Labour has tried to adopt this approach, with David Blunkett heading up a drive for small grassrotts donations. We won’t know how successful this has been until after the election, although a party that has been in power for 13 years will struggle to create the groundswell of an insurgency that small donations need to thrive in.

But margins matter, and with Ashcroft’s money flowing into key marginal seats where it can do most damage, Labour campaign groups are fighting back. Progress, along with Compass and Labour List have relaunched their David vs Goliath website in a final push to May 6, which aims to redress the imbalance and provide some much needed frontline funding to Labour candidates. As part of the campaign, Progress is offering a £1000 award to the candidate who gets the highest number of donations by April 30.

Please do visit their website for more details and info on how to get involved.

Their campaign cartoon below comes courtesy of Teal, who is also the regular cartoonist in the Fabian Review.

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