Labour Party enlists mastermind of US Democrats' victory


Sun, Nov 12, 2006 - Page 6

Labour is drafting in one of the architects of last week's Democratic victory in the US midterm elections in an attempt to boost its flagging fortunes before the local elections in May.

Howard Dean, the former presidential candidate and one of the men credited with masterminding the trouncing of the Republicans, will visit the UK next month to brief party officials about his pioneering campaigning techniques.

"The Welsh, Scottish and local elections next year are our midterms," said Hazel Blears, Labour's chair.

"It has to be done differently for us to carry on being successful ... We're looking at how [the Democrats] have upped their game," Blears added.


Labour is particularly interested in the Democrats' style of targeting grassroots voters through low-key meetings in homes.

"We want to look at their experience in campaigning, getting out the vote, holding house meetings where people can come together ... You don't want to transplant American politics, but there's a lot we can share," Blears said.

Many political observers will regard the enlisting of Dean as bizarre, given that the Democratic victory was largely founded on voters' anger about the war in Iraq -- the very subject which has alienated many Labour supporters and on which Dean has been so outspoken.

But Blears believes that Labour can benefit from the tactics used so effectively by the chairman of the Democratic national committee.

"Part of [their new success] is politics, but it's also about organization,' she said, adding that Labour could benefit from the so-called "viral' tactics Dean helped pioneer.

"Politics is increasingly local and decentralized ... People go to people they trust for word-of-mouth recommendations. It's about like-minded people talking, with concentric circles of campaigning, rather than about a political message from the center."

Dean at war

In the US a fierce debate is under way within the Democratic party involving Dean, whose own presidential hopes foundered after a disastrous speech in 2004. He espouses a 50-state strategy, in which the party tries to rebuild itself as a truly national organization, channelling resources in particular to the hard-to-win conservative "red' states.

But his doctrine has brought him into direct conflict with the congressional campaign chiefs, Rahm Emanuel and Senator Charles Schumer, who wanted to focus Democratic activists and campaign money on swing states to ensure that the party won enough seats to guarantee a majority.

Labour's mimicry of the Democrats' tactics helped clinch its 1997 landslide. Now it hopes to copy Dean's innovations, which revolutionized his party's campaigning.

His bid for the Democratic presidential nomination two years ago broke new ground by reviving and modernizing grassroots activism, largely through the use of the Internet.