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Monday, November 17, 2008

British Fabians Want to Emulate Obama

From the British Fabian Society website

The US presidential election throws down a major challenge to Labour to “change dramatically” and become a 21st century campaigning force, according to a new Fabian paper. Crucial lessons — covering organisation, message and technique — can be drawn by British parties from the Obama vs McCain race for the White House, argue co-authors Will Straw and Nick Anstead.

In particular, they detail how the campaign of Barack Obama has managed an unprecedented fusion of technology and trust to create a new movement of knowledge-empowered grass-roots activism and “an explosion of small-dollar democracy”.

The paper argues that Labour must follow Barack Obama's lead in working with the YouTube generation, mobilising young people and having less reliance on big donations.

The Democratic challenger’s potent narrative of “hope” and “change”has created widespread expectations that 2008 will see the highest voter turnout in a presidential race since the 1960s, says the two-part paper Yes We Can: How Lessons from America Should Change British Politics...

“Barack Obama’s main insight has been that he can raise money from a huge number of people and get them to volunteer if he first asks and then lets them take control of their own role in the campaign.

“The technologies – whether direct emails, microtargeting models, telephone systems, or social networking tools – have been secondary to this principle.”

Straw, an associate director at the Center for American Progress in Washinton DC, describes the approach of the Obama campaign as attuned to the expectations of a generation accustomed to interactive websites such as Facebook and YouTube.

In the paper’s second part, ‘Lessons for the UK’, Nick Anstead considers the implications for British politics of factors such as Barack Obama’s unprecedented fundraising success...

Labour also needs to realise that technology does not “de-personalise” politics and that “good databases make local campaigning more, not less, important,” argues Anstead, a lecturer in American politics at the University of East Anglia.

He concludes: “The US election challenges Labour to change dramatically – altering the way the party is organised, how it interacts with its supporters and communicates with the electorate.

“The reward of learning the lesson, however, is potentially huge; reawakening Labour as a movement and making the party fit for purpose as a campaigning force in the twenty-first century.”

Yes We Can: How Lessons from America Should Change British Politics is published by the Fabian Society on October 30, 2008. Read the full document here.

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