Ailing UK Labor Party Looks to Howard Dean

Kevin McCandless | Correspondent | Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ailing UK Labor Party Looks to Howard Dean

London ( - Trailing in the polls, the Labor Party is looking to American Democrat Howard Dean for help in restoring its popularity with Britain's voters.

The head of the Democratic National Committee met in London last week with Hazel Blears, chairwoman of the Labor Party, a spokesman for Blears confirmed here.

Spokesman Alec Taylor said the two had talked about the Internet strategy he used during his 2004 presidential bid and about campaigning tactics in general. Dean was considered an early front-runner but his campaign imploded in early 2004 and the nomination eventually went to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

"They discussed a variety of topics," said Taylor. "It was an hour-long meeting and it was very productive for both sides."

Taylor said Dean also met with advisors from several government departments.

Since 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party has won three straight general elections.

However, recent months have seen it fall behind the opposition Conservative Party in opinion polls and most experts predict it will do badly in local elections next spring. Blair is due to retire by next August, and is widely expected to be succeeded by Treasury chief Gordon Brown.

Blears has said in past media interviews that her party must emulate the tactics that Dean used if it wanted to maintain its track record of success.

The party's membership has dwindled dramatically within the last decade and Blears said that it had to get back to targeting grass-roots voters -- both through the Internet and face-to-face meetings.

In Blair's first victory, he used several campaign operatives who had worked for former President Bill Clinton, including pollster Philip Gould and general election coordinator Margaret McDonagh.

David Tinline, a Labor activist and a former volunteer with the Dean campaign, told Cybercast News Service that the relationship between the two parties remained good, despite the controversy over the war in Iraq.

Though many rank-and-file members of the Democratic Party may dislike Blair for backing President Bush on the war, Tinline said that there had never been any break between the leadership of the two parties.

"I think maybe grassroots [Democratic] party members in the States might not feel as warmly towards ... the prime minister but I don't think there's been any great falling out," he said.

Andrew Chadwick, a political expert at the University of London, said Tuesday the Internet offered enormous opportunities for the Labor Party.

Not only was it losing members at a furious pace - down from a peak of more than a million in the 1950s to less than a quarter of that - but its membership was also growing increasingly older.

By using social networking sites, blogs and other online tools, Labor could tap into the 18-to-25 age group, a generation that has grown largely apathetic towards politics in general, Chadwick said.

But he added that the Internet would be unlikely to offer Labor much help in reduce its current level of debt, around $46 million.

While Dean's 2004 campaign was famous for relying on small donations sent though the Internet, Chadwick said that Labor's debt was too large for the party to see similar benefits.

After meeting with Blears, Dean spoke to left-wing leaders from across Europe on Friday at the annual conference of the Party of European Socialists, in Portugal.

In his speech, Dean praised the European Union for leading the fight against global warming and said that the globalization of the world economy shouldn't be "a race to the bottom."

By working together, he also said that "progressive parties" in the United States and Europe can "usher in a new age and a new direction."

"It is time for the United States to renew our relationships around the world," he said. "It is time we treat our allies with respect and honesty."

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