The receding UKIP threat, ‘soft’ green vote and the importance of tea towels - Labour election gurus on the forthcoming campaign

Election guru and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Election guru and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander Dave Thompson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Labour's election gurus play down the UKIP and Green threat and explain why tea towels have been key to their campaign. Political editor Annabelle Dickson reports

Labour tea towel designs to raise funds for the election campaign. Picture: Supplied

Labour tea towel designs to raise funds for the election campaign. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

'There's something very British about a political party raising money by selling tea towels,' Labour's campaign boss Douglas Alexander reflected, as the final furlong of what feels like the longest General Election campaign in history starts on Monday when parliament is dissolved.

A quarter of a million pounds worth of textiles have been shifted to boost his war chest, it transpires.

The online digital drive – which has raised 'significant' sums through small donations – and the kitchen goods are just part of the strategy which he, and recently drafted in Lucy Powell, believe will be a winning formula in getting Ed Miliband into Number 10.

The party has 300 paid staff working in the field – up from 50 in January 2010 – and student activators mobilising the young vote,

Labour tea towel designs to raise funds for the election campaign. Picture: Supplied

Labour tea towel designs to raise funds for the election campaign. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

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'Early organisation is like yeast, we had staff in the field earlier than the Conservatives and have built on that operation. In every part of the country we have more than we had last time,' said Mr Alexander.

The party, he claims, is on course to exceed its target of four million 'conversations' – although it is not quite clear exactly what this constitutes.

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His deputy, Ms Powell, said: 'We ask people in key seats have you heard from any political party recently, and despite the huge amount of money the Tories are throwing into key seats some 34pc have heard from Labour against 25pc from the Tories.

'If you get the local Labour party knocking on the door you are much more likely to remember that than if you get four or five leaflets, so we are confident about that.'

Mr Alexander said that he believed it would 'without question' be the biggest field campaign that any UK political has ever mobilised ever.

'We get a morning update on how many conversations we have had in the last 24 hours,' said Mr Alexander.

It's about 20,000 a day but that peaks at weekends in particular. It is having a real impact on the ground.

But while he is totting up the field work, it has not all been plain sailing for Labour's campaign guru.

There were suggestions from some candidates that the shadow foreign secretary had taken his eye off the ball when it came to the threat of the UK Independence Party.

Certainly in the key target seat of Great Yarmouth, Labour has lost local council seats to UKIP.

But Mr Alexander downplays the threat.

'I'm not sure that (Labour voters switching to Ukip) is happening anything like as strongly now as it was a few months ago, let's be absolutely honest. But what was fuelling Ukip was as much an anti politics sentiment as an anti-European sentiment.

'We accept people made judgements about us as a party that was in office, but we are winning people back.'

On their other flank, the Greens are building support - particularly in University of East Anglia constituency of Norwich South.

Ms Powell, who was installed as the vice chairman of Labour's election campaign, was also dismissive of the left-wing threat.

'The Greens are attracting some support amongst younger voters, but we are confident that through the course of this campaign we can persuade them. I think it is a very soft vote either way, people are voting for the first time, making up their minds and thinking about those issues.'

She said events on university campuses, 'conversations' and work with student activators, were getting a positive response.

So what about their leader? Like David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband has been busy getting out to the regions, holding two 'People's Question Time' sessions around the country.

'They have been very well received by the people who come along. This is a very local general election, so the conversations that we are having in local areas, street by street, in Town Halls as Ed's doing, or the conversations we are having on the doorstop, that is where this election is going to be won and lost,' said Ms Powell.

But there have been accusations that it was being somewhat stage managed with local activists.

Certainly, when Mr Miliband came to Great Yarmouth to deliver his speech on immigration, prospective parliamentary candidates were taking to the floor with friendly questions.

'We have been inviting people on the doorstop and through direct mail- specifically targeting undecided voters to come to them. It's absolutely about that direct contact, because most people... what they see of Ed Miliband is often mediated through a very unfriendly press. For sure, when they see him in person, when they are able to ask him questions directly, the feedback we are getting from those events (which we have been running since before Christmas), has been just fantastic.'

Mr Alexander added: 'Since we devised them, it was consciously to try and replicate any sustained, structured conversations, it wasn't to have, Labour Party members saying, 'which of your Labour policies is the most brilliant?' Now actually, we worked with the format, in the sense that we would invite UKIP supporters ,for example, but if you had Labour members in the audience, quite often UKIP supporters would ask less questions than you would expect. That does lead to a wider range of questions, but we went into it with eyes wide open and have consciously been doing it for months. 'That is the format that will continue.'

'We are massively over subscribed and we often have to turn people away. The average attendance is 300, so in a world where we all worry about voter apathy, and rightly so, if you give people the chance to ask questions directly, there is a real appetite for that,' Ms Powell added.

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