I’ve just finished reading Mehdi Hasan and James MacIntyre’s book about Ed Miliband and his rise to Labour leader. It’s a fascinating book about how powerful people relate to each other. It’s insights are interesting and remarkable to read. But because of its focus on the movers and the shakers it isn’t the whole story of that ramshackle, rambunctious and brilliant campaign. I was extremely proud to be a very small cog in that contraption. I remain so to this day. I’m proud of Ed’s leadership and the work that is being done to change the party and the debate. He’s not perfect and there will be times when I disagree with and criticise him. But overall, it’s one of the best things I have ever done in my life.
The phone bank in Elder street was possibly the hottest place in London. Situated in an insalubrious back street near Liverpool Street it had a bank of about 14 phones and computers. Having graduated within the campaign from caller to runner of phone banks in early July, I can’t remember a single time that all the computers were working. Logging them in was my first job on arrival and then greeting and briefing the callers.
My briefings were simple. While there was a script on the computer screen to use as a guide, there was clearly a recognition from the campaign that the volunteers were a selling point in themselves. I would encourage volunteers to listen to the people they were calling. If they were receptive to a conversation (far more were so than in my old telesales days!) they should explain what had brought them to volunteer their hot summer nights to the campaign. I believed then as now that those stories are the most compelling. They are true, they articulate the passion of those volunteers and they connected with the electorate on a shared level of understanding. MY other key point was that however tempted, however the other side of the conversation was going, we should never, ever be negative about any of the other candidates. “After all” as I would say to the volunteers “Who do you think will serve in Ed’s shadow cabinet?”.
I ran phone banks for the campaign 2 or 3 nights a week throughout July, August and September having been on the phones from their beginning. I brought in the innovation – again a motivating tool from my telesales days – of having a bell for people to get up and ring whenever we got a first preference Ed vote. It’s a lovely way of acknowledging the work done by that volunteer, and bringing the room together and building momentum. Some nights that bell went like the clappers!
Between encouragement, taking over the more challenging calls and ensuring no volunteer died of dehydration in the sweltering heat, I was kept pretty busy. But I was a part-timer. Someone who came along after work to help out. I had no anticipation of seeing my name in the Index of Ed but there are several people missing. Perhaps because of the closeness of the final vote, there has sprung up a narrative that Ed swung the election in the tearooms of Parliament. It’s true that due to the tripartite electoral college, the votes Ed generated there were utterly crucial. But Ed won with 175,519 votes to David’s 147,220. There are some people I want to tell you about who made that happen.
First and most glaringly missing is Kat Fletcher, the employed head of volunteers for the Ed campaign. It says in the book that Ed’s team recognised the importance of their network of grassroots style campaigner – with over 5000 volunteers, credit must be given to Kat. She’s a hard nut to crack at times – and I speak as someone who now considers her a great friend. Equal parts inspiration and irascibility, Kat built herself a core army of extremely loyal and excellent volunteers. They set up a separate volunteers office – again in East London – and were working at least 12 hour days. The extraordinary dedication of volunteers like lovely Lisa Mitchell – whose working class insecurity never quite managed to mask her real brilliance, kooky Rosanna Donovan, who could get a room of corpses up and canvassing, irrepressible Rana Begum who has enough energy to light up Greater Manchester, thoughtful Aiden Hocking who worked so hard on dull data entry while having long and amazingly well informed discussions about political strategy impressive Cllr Jason Eller who combined volunteering for Ed with his duties as one of the youngest councillors in the country and finally the wonderful Hollie Tu who works like the devil and can sing like an angel. You can see some of these and more Ed M vols here straight after Ed’s victory here.
These people gave everything to the Ed Miliband campaign. Some of the people on the campaign recognised that. Ed’s brilliant field director Marcus Roberts understood probably better than anyone other than Kat Fletcher the value of what they had built. Sometimes there was some resistance to the role of the volunteers from the “boys in suits” as the Greycoat Place crowd were occasionally referred to among the vols. But the way the campaign highlighted their energy and commitment in the campaign messaging shows the importance of the work they did and why they did it.
Ed is a fascinating and at times worrying book. I lost count of how many jobs were awarded after a phone call with a friend. The circles of power seem further away than ever after reading it. It’s clearly a true and faithful account of the campaign as seen from the Westminster bubble. But there was a little something missing, and that’s the role of the rest. The not so powerful. Ed’s campaign theme was about changing that relationship in all areas of life and I believe in his ability to dedicate his leadership to changing it. So I thought the story of some of the less powerful cogs deserved to be told in its own small, unassuming way too.