Planting the seeds for grassroots opposition to the British National Party
In 2009, the far-right British National Party was poised to take advantage of the perfect political storm: a public disillusioned with the major parties as scandal engulfed parliament, an economy in turmoil and the traditionally low-turnout European elections looming. The BNP could win a seat with just 8 percent of the vote—and everything was set for an unprecedented BNP breakthrough.
The anti-BNP Hope Not Hate campaign attempted to build something never successfully completed in the UK before—a grassroots community based campaign almost entirely built online. Within six months, Hope Not Hate built an e-mail list that is likely the largest and most powerful in the UK, spurred thousands of people who had never been involved in a political campaign before into action and increased donations in a way that has been a game changer for the organization.
Starting with a small e-mail list of just 6,000, Blue State Digital helped Hope Not Hate run a program to attract new supporters and then to put them to work in meaningful ways—not just online, but offline as well.
Throughout the engagement, Hope Not Hate ran a range of local and national campaigns—with the longterm goal of building up their strength in electorally significant regions. For example, one national campaign targeted companies that provided campaign and other services to the BNP; another highly localized campaign urged thousands of supporters to co-sign letters to local papers in communities targeted by the BNP.
The e-mail program was designed to engage the list with interesting and action-oriented content and gradually encouraged supporters to take part in higher-bar actions like donating money or attending Hope Not Hate events.
Hope Not Hate brought thousands of new people into the campaign by treating supporters as genuine stakeholders in the organization. Through e-mail and on the website, Hope Not Hate shared campaign briefings and poll results—and even made videos starring, and about, supporters of their rapidly growing movement.
Hope Not Hate used Blue State Digital technology to build local networks throughout the country and to empower Hope not Hate supporters to organize their own offline events—entirely autonomously from the official campaign structure.
By organizing and directing public pressure online, Hope Not Hate successfully prevented planned BNP rallies, fundraisers and campaign events from taking place. In one week alone, Hope Not Hate activists sent over 7,000 complaints to Clear Channel—a billboard company actively profiting from spreading the BNP’s message of hate.
Additionally, the online program helped generate earned media for Hope Not Hate. The Clear Channel campaign, for example, was written about in numerous blogs and media sources. A Blue State Digital-produced video about Nick Griffin was featured in a wide range of American and British media and became an instant YouTube hit. Blue State Digital also ran a robust e-mail fundraising campaign, implementing rigorous testing and segmentation to significantly improve results. A mix of all-list and localized fundraising campaigns increased donations by around 1,400 percent on the corresponding period in the previous year, providing much-needed funds for campaign materials in priority areas.
The ultimate goal of the online program was to boost the presence of Hope Not Hate on the ground in time for the election campaign. After a program of personalized and localized e-mails promoting the events, the campaign hoped we could increase this turnout dramatically.
Sixty-seven people attended the first event. Most had no history of political activism. All had heard about the event through Hope Not Hate’s e-mail campaign. This story was repeated across the country, with thousands of people turning up to campaign at hundreds of events. One event alone drew in well over 200 people. And 15 percent of these events were organized entirely by grassroots supporters themselves, allowing Hope Not Hate to organize in areas where they had never been active before.
At the start of the election campaign, it was widely predicted that the BNP could win several seats in the European Parliament. When the MP expenses scandal exploded, the BNP leadership privately suggested that they could win seven or more.
Ultimately the BNP won two seats—a terrible result for Britain and a disappointment to those involved in the campaign. But in both of these districts the BNP’s vote actually dropped on previous elections. The BNP won seats because the major political parties failed to turn out their vote.
On election night, Hope Not Hate had a range of campaigns prepared and ready to deploy as soon as the results were announced—no matter what they were.
Fifteen minutes after the first BNP win was declared, the campaign launched a “Not In My Name” petition, giving people an outlet for their outrage at the election of two fascist representatives to the European Parliament.
Within 72 hours, over 50,000 people had signed. By the time the BNP took their seats in the European Parliament, over 90,000 people had said “not in my name” and signed the petition. From these new and existing supporters over 7,000 people held up signs saying “not in my name,” photographed themselves and uploaded their photo to the campaign site. The campaign took these user-generated submissions and, with the help of music generously donated by Snow Patrol, created a video which gave a voice to the vast majority of Britain’s response to the BNP’s election: Not in my name.
A survey of Hope Not Hate activists after the campaign found that 70 percent of people had never been involved in political campaigning before; 50 percent of event attendees had found about it via our email; 22 percent found events organically through the BSD events tool; and 10 percent came because a friend asked them to, using Blue State Digital’s tell-a-friend tool. Only a small minority came into the campaign through traditional media publicity.
Because the campaign built a positive relationship with these supporters, they have proven willing to help Hope Not Hate time and again—with 97 percent of the sample saying that they will volunteer for Hope Not Hate in the future and 50 percent interested in becoming Hope Not Hate local organizers. These numbers are clearly very strong—and provide the perfect canvas for Hope Not Hate to “bed in” and grow local groups across the country.
Hope Not Hate’s ability to attract supporters through low bar activities online and transform them into political activists has borne an entirely new generation of people willing to donate their time and money to a political cause.
Throughout the country Hope Not Hate “Organiser Academies” give supporters the skills and training they need to run Hope Not Hate campaign in their own communities. By using e-mail to build relationships, by treating supporters with respect and running an open and accountable movement Hope Not Hate have redefined political organizing in the UK.
And due to the depth of the relationship between the campaign and supporters Hope Not Hate’s momentum has continued—in the 48 hours following the launch of 2010 campaign 4,600 people signed up to take part in local campaign events. 1245 people signed up to the “Local Organiser” program and over 1500 offered to make calls to voters in the areas that the BNP threaten.
While it was disappointing that two BNP candidates were elected to the European Parliament, Hope Not Hate stopped a BNP breakthrough and build a powerful grassroots movement that continues to stay active today.
This campaign proved that new media campaigning is as effective in the UK as it is in the U.S. Hope Not Hate didn’t rely on gimmicks. The campaign didn’t revolve around Facebook or Twitter. It used e-mail and online tools as the primary method of mobilisation and created a meaningful conversation with supporters that mobilised tens of thousands of people to take part in political action for the first time. The fight against fascism and the BNP continues. And now Hope Not Hate has over 140,000 friends to back them up.Dan Thain is a senior strategist in Blue State Digital’s London office, leading the majority of the company’s political, community-based organizing and advocacy campaigns in Europe. He previously worked as the British Labour Party’s e-campaigns manager and played a central role in numerous local and national campaigns. Matthew McGregor is director of Blue State Digital’s London office. He has more than 10 years of experience working on political campaigns, both in party politics and on specific advocacy campaigns.
Planting the seeds for grassroots opposition to the British National Party