The Labour Party has produced a guide entitled Campaigning Against UKIP. The document was circulated to Labour MPs felt to be under threat from UKIP – and was duly leaked to the Daily Telegraph.

The guide included the following, especially cynical paragraph:

“Volunteers and activists must understand and acknowledge electors’ concerns about immigration on the doorstep, which will mean hearing opinions that may not gel with their own. In these cases, it’s important to remember that first phase of re-establishing
trust is to listen and understand. Keep in mind too that there may well be some voters who, with the best will in the world, we are unlikely to bring back from UKIP. It’s nonetheless essential that we leave them with a positive impression of the Labour Party, to avoid cementing them in their views and thus their voting patterns. Our focus must instead be moving the conversation on to issues where we have clear policy which tackles the problems people are worried about, whether they express those concerns through the prism of immigration or not. In summary, campaigners should acknowledge concerns and contextualise the problem as something that Labour has a clear plan to improve.”

There is an honourable case for the Labour Party challenging UKIP’s policy of much tighter immigration control – to be achieved really by our withdrawal from the EU and thus ceasing to allow freedom on movement to citizens of EU member states.  There would also be an honourable case for concluding that they largely agree with UKIP’s policy and then Labour coming up with their own proposal – whether of EU renegotiaton or withdrawal of EU membership to achieve the much more restrictive policy that UKIP favour.

This Guide offers a third way to Labour canvassers. That is to stand on the doorstep and nod but not say anything about immigration. Perhaps scribble a few notes on a clipboard to give an impression of respect for the concerns being expressed. Then, rather than responding to he points made “instead be moving the conversation on to issues where we have clear policy”.

Perhaps the idea might be to drop off a leaflet to the UKIP element to set them straight about immigration?

Er, no.

You see this would be “undermining the broad coalition of support we need to return to government, for the following reasons:

  • as a general rule, a higher salience for the issue does not translate into electoral advantage for us; and
  • we do not have much data collected in many UKIP target areas. Even with the best models we can develop, this means we will inevitably be hitting some people for whom it is unhelpful to raise the salience of immigration as an issue.”

Elsewhere there is a declaration that “Worn out Workers” are especially prone to be former Labour voters switching to UKIP. They are men who live in Yorkshire are aged 47-66 and are in low skilled work.

Modestly the guide does not give an author’s name. Isabel Hardman at Coffee House suggests a team effort including the Labour MP John Healey. But today it was another Labour MP Lucy Powell – the Party’s campaign strategist – who was getting most of the recognition.

There is nothing wrong with targeting voters in terms of the messages with leaflets, direct mail and emails. This seems to me to be something the Labour Party does more effectively than the Conservatives. In a way it is good manners – taking the trouble to discuss matters of concern to people.

Pensioners will sometimes have different questions to school leavers looking for a job. Those in rural areas differences from those in cities. Council tenants may well be asking about different policies to the ones entrepreneurs are concerned about. Those of us who have children find our focus shifts.

That is all common sense. What is altogether more dubious is a Party trying to conceal its policies or dodge questions from voters. To go canvassing is to engage in a magical mystery tour. The degree of unpredictability happily exceeds the “Mosaic Types and Groups” in Appendix A of Labour’s document. When I find a voter who says something I disagree with – for instance if they make a racist comment – I tell them so. That strikes me as a better course than vaguely pretending to agree and seeking to “move the conversation on”.

Traditionally it has been the Lib Dems most associated with putting out highly leaflets that do not merely target particular section of the electorate but provide messages that are directly contradictory to the ones offered a few streets away.

One of the glories of social media is that political parties to try to get away with this tend to get found out. That is the new politics and Miss Powell had better catch up with it.