Deus Exley Machina – Labour Party gets mercenary with Net strategy

The Sunday Times reports that the Irish Labour Party has hired Zack Exley to help them with their Net strategy. Exley worked on the Howard Dean Campaign, the John Kerry Campaign and recently worked for the UK Labour party’s re-election campaign.

It’s a very forward-thinking move from a party that so far has failed to cop on to how good the net can be for a political campaign. The majority of the other Irish political parties have the same blinkered view. There are individuals in each party who “get” the Internet and the advantages of it but there’s no overall policy from the parties. In the US and the UK they have high Internet and broadband usage so it makes sense to use the net to reach out to large chunks of informed people and have them increase the momentum of your campaign. This was probably why a 3 day conference put together by the folks from Daily Kos was so successful and why the New York Times gave front page coverage to it describing how over 1000 bloggers came together to discuss politics. It also attracted many Presidential wannabes who showed up to suck up to the bloggers.

I asked Mick Fealty, Richard Waghorne and Cian O’Flaherty from what they thought of this move by Labour to get with the net. Mick had this to say:

It’s good news for the net. What political parties need to do to attract some readership on line is to create a buzz and have fun with it. Exley will no doubt provide that.

Richard also thought that Exley would be good for Labour’s online campaign:

“He’ll bring some net savvy anyway. Like the other parties, Labour’s website is clunky and its candidates blogs little more than press release collections. If Exley does for Labour what he did for the Kerry campaign two years ago we can expect carefully tailored email lists and aggressive Internet campaigns.”

Cian O’Flaherty also welcomed this move by Labour:

It’s certainly positive. It would be interesting to have a bigger net presence from Irish parties and improve access to power for people.

Mick went on:

It may well be able to help Labour galvanise its support base, and begin to attract the younger demographic that predominate amongst those of us ‘who live on the net’. I’m particular keen to see what extent the party will embrace the Irish blogosphere, particularly whether it is prepared to draw them in to the reporting of their conference for instance.

Labour Youth seem a little bit more hip to the Internet, even having their own bebo page with the preqreuisite Che Guevara background image and galleries of photos of supporters dressing like Lenin and wearing “remixed” Coca-Cola t-shirts. There seems to be acres of facial hair in the photos too. Pity they can’t accept sponsorship from Gillette or even Flymo. Now hopefully Exley can push Labour HQ to experiment online a bit more like Labour Youth has. At least their Lenin photos seemed like they were having fun.

Here in Ireland, Internet usage varies from 38-42% depending on who you ask. The figure hasn’t changed much in years. It’s much lower than the UK and US. Whatever difference was made in those countries with Exley’s input, it will surely be diluted down in Ireland. I asked Richard how much influence did he think blogs/websites/discussion forums had in elections, both in Ireland and elsewhere, Richard stated he was unconvinced that online media made significant difference and added:

“At the moment, there’s little quality control when it comes to blogs and boards, either formal or informal. Most of what goes up is, frankly, junk. Ninety-nine percent of commentary on blogs or boards wouldn’t get past an editor. “

Blogging and Irish blogging right now is still a very new thing, which has yet to reach it’s adulthood which may be why some political dicussions online are so childish and messy. Mick Fealty echoed some of Richard’s feelings but thought bloggers had the ability to promote intelligent discussions:

Some of the public discourse around the recent supreme court ruling was woefully unengaged. The tone was more measured and precise in certain areas of the blogosphere. Those amongst us with knowledge of specialist areas such as government, health, education, and law can go a long way to making the complexity of government more accessible to the public reader, and put the parties on the metal.

Richard too stated that there are areas whese blogs and online media can help political activity:

“That said, online media have a real role to play in two specific regards. First, as fact-checkers and individuals with specialist areas of expertise, online commentators collectively comprise a powerful watchdog on the accuracy and fairness of established media outlets. Second, the ease with which groups can coalesce online means that niche political movements and interests can collaborate and organise very effectively online. The internet does less for mainstream parties than it does for single issue groups and campaigning organizations, who are potentially the really big winners.”

I chatted to Britt Blaser for a few hours this week and he believes that passionate people are needed to shake up politics and that an online medium can bring more of these passionate people together and get them to work with each other to bring about change. Britt worked on the Dean campaign too and built the systems used to run big and even tiny short-term campaigns.

This is the bright future that Cian sees:

I would like to think that blogs by then will have become more accessible and popular. A party looking to mobilise via the web and the possible dawn of netroots sites could really kick stuff off.

It’d be great if Exley turned the boring “blogs” of the current frontbenchers into something far more genuine like the Ciaran Cuffe blog or blogs like Damien Blake’s or to get into podcasting like Diarmuid Scully. If Labour helps to increase intelligent discussion of politics and starts reaching out to all those passionate people online they may very well make a change that the other parties have no option but to go with too. It would be great to see the day where every party and every politician had frank and genuine conversations with people online and offline and used the press office filters less and less. Just like some use blogs as a training ground to get into print media, maybe future politicians can use the Irish Internet to grow themselves.

Meanwhile, can we start a fund to buy Joan Burton some new clothes? That pink suit features 5 times on the front page of her site. I’m almost embarrassed that €80k of taxpayers money can’t keep our elected representatives in a wardrobe.

23 Responses to “Deus Exley Machina – Labour Party gets mercenary with Net strategy”

  1. […] Open Can Labour pull off innovation? Damien tells us that Howard Dean campaign advisor Zack Exley has been hired by the Labour Party to advise them on Internet strategy. Something like this is badly needed in Ireland, and if anyone can do it, Exley can. […]

  2. […] Via Damien Mulley comes the Sunday Times story that Labour are looking to web guru Zack Exley to get a web strategy in place for next May. Exley has worked for Howard Dean (for the last US Presidential Election), John Kerry (ditto) and UK Labour. Go to Mulley and the Times article for some comment. My own quick response is to hope this heralds a long engagement with the net in Irish politics. […]

  3. adam says:

    Sorry about the spam, forgot to change the title. Duh.

  4. Damien says:

    Tis grand, deleted the first one. It seems “spam” gets a comment moderated now. Sheesh. Must fix that.

  5. If it’s anything like the UK Labour effort last year — blink and you’ll miss it, since it’s just one-way spam mailings. But hey – at least they held their vote.

    Oh, wait…

    [Cults of Authority can’t do what Dean did. In Britain Labour’s been a personality cult for ten years. Here, the Labour Party shows every sign of being unable to devolve anything off its own front bench. That’s not something you can fix by trying to buy some cool.]

  6. Mick says:

    I’m with John on this. If Exley is successful in pulling together an online offering that works on a pull, rather than a push principle more suited to a broadcast it will no doubt act as a pathfinder for others too. But that requires a profound change in mindset [cults of authority… etc].

    Whatever their investment in one man’s talent ability, Labour can not win an election on the basis of a funky 2.0 website. The content has to measure up too. The best political website in the whole history of the internet will be no good if the campaign itself is crap.

    If the party wants to know how to work this thing, they should keep EM Foster’s words in mind:

    Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the gray, sober against the fire.

    – From chapter 22, Howards End (1910)

    This requires them to take an sympathetic interest in the individual lives of future voters and be prepared to thrash things out in a public way those things it can change. Simply railing against the materialism of the Celtic Tiger will not help them achieve that.

    If Labour can stir itself from the parliamentary village around Leinster House then seek to connect with the wider citizenry, and help them make sense of the dynamic world they live in, then they will be able to exploit the offer of the net.

    Good luck to them.

  7. Damien says:

    They should be hiring you Mick. Perhaps some of the other parties will. Any approaches yet? 🙂

  8. Mick says:

    I will let you know!! I prize my political indenpendence, but I guess we may all have our price!! 😉

  9. Piaras Kelly says:

    Meh…This sentence from John Naughton’s site sums up how I think it will turn out “Steve Soto, who writes The Left Coaster blog, said that the Democratic leaders running the campaigns to win the House and Senate “are still treating the blogs and some of the advice from them about message and focus as unwanted solicitations from crazy relatives.â€?”

    PS If you think joan Burton’s pics are bad, what about this UK politician who photoshopped his image so it would look like he was wearing an England shirt ahead of the World Cup:

  10. adam says:

    I was only saying that to someone last night: If anyone screws this up, and I think there’s a fairly big chance of that, it’ll be the DL farts that do it. Rabbitte will greet him with open arms, the DL muppets will whine and moan like bitches, Rabbitte will compromise, and that’ll be an end to it.

    If Rabbitte is reading this, and if he isn’t he’s already losing points, he should know that if Exley is given his leash: he’ll bring young people on board on both fronts (campaigning and voting); he’ll bring in a ton of money from those people; and he really could push Labour into a very strong position in a coalition with FG.

    That’s what you want, right?

  11. […] That’s from this Sunday Times article. Zack Exley’s official site. Damien Mulley has loads of coverage on this with a lot of comments already.     Send this post to a friend […]

  12. Kevin says:

    Great post Damien. An example, I might suggest, of blogging going beyond punditry?

    I don’t think the internet can work as a major political tool in Ireland. I look at my parents as average people, and as such, average voters. They wouldn’t, I don’t think, be influenced by something poltical they stumbled upon online. I think, in contrast to an American presidential election, our general elections are, obviously, far more local. Local issues, be it a airplane routes or pot-holes, hold are more potent than big issues like, say, wealth redistribution, perhaps with the exception of recent scandals like the Statutory Rape incident. The internet as a political medium, I think, is by its very nature nationally generic. Perhaps I’m wrong though.


    What or who or where is DL? When I first scanned your comment, I thought “DL muppets” was a personal

  13. Kevin says:


    …a personal remark aimed at myself, of Disillusioned Lefty – or DL.

  14. adam says:

    Democratic Left Kevin, a political party that merged with Labour in the late nineties. Rabitte is actually DL, but I’m talking more about the handlers than the representatives themselves — sorry, I should have been clearer about this. The word “handlers” alone drives me nuts, it’s these guys that have kept Irish politics in the dark ages for decades.

  15. […] Damien says sensible things, giving the impression that he may be thinking more about this than he’s letting on. Presumably, after Mr. Exley (whose name is marvellously evocative of a character from Melrose Place) starts his job, we can expect such annoucements to appear first on the Labour Party website, rather than in Mr. Murdoch’s localised press. […]

  16. Well, yeah, my hinting at Stalinist structure was done with De Woorkas in mind.

    Kevin a-t-il dit:

    “I don’t think the internet can work as a major political tool in Ireland. I look at my parents as average people, and as such, average voters. They wouldn’t, I don’t think, be influenced by something poltical they stumbled upon online.”

    …which I think rather misses the entire point of the process. It’s about enthusing and organising people, not converting them. A party can have as many people as it wants posting Mary Harney jokes on a bulletin board – it doesn’t get any of the posters outside canvassing, registering voters, or doing GOTVs on election day and driving pensioners to the polling stations. (In fact it can serve to drain effort away from those things.)

    Zack knows this but still found himself in London last year reduced to sending spam on what’s billed as a successful re-election campaign, but is in fact better described as the campaign where Labour lost 47 seats, all attributable to people starting to get seriously irked by the Dear Leader’s smirking gob.

    Of course there are other ex-Dean-era companies available to put things together for a party which can actually bear listening to (rather than barking at) the voters. One of them even has a full-time employee in Cork. </plug>

  17. […] The Sunday Times has a piece on the hiring of Zach Exley by Labour; Mulley gives a good breakdown of the news along with some reaction by the bigger players in the political wing of the Irish blogosphere. […]

  18. Kevin says:


    You’re right, I did rather miss the point, entirely.

  19. EWI says:

    What or who or where is DL? When I first scanned your comment, I thought “DL muppets� was a personal

    Look up “Official Sinn Féin”, “Official IRA” and “The Worker’s Party” for the history. I could suggest some other words too, but I don’t want to give Damien a heart-attack over threats of libel.

    If you have access to the online Phoenix archives, you can easily find plenty about these intrepid Stalinists…

  20. Zack didn’t exactly do a sterling job for Labour in the UK. In fact Labour’s online strategy is probably the worst of the three major parties by a long way. I speak as someone who has been a Labour Party staffer, had them as a client and been an elected local councillor. I’ve blogged quite extensively about this.

  21. Andrew Ryan says:

    Let’s hope Zach has more success with the Labour party there han he had with the Kerry campaign. All Zach’s web advice didn’t rescue Kerry from being one of the worst – and least principled – Democratic candidates for President for the past 100 years. And, of course, Kerry LOST. The influence of the net – and especially of blogs – is totally overstated. Mostly by bloggers….

  22. […] Dominic Hannigan has started a blog. No doubt as part of Labour’s online strategy (read more here). It’s good. In a strange way. Sprinklings of how great Hannigan is in striving to clean up housing estates and get grants are interspersed with tales of war with County Council Officials. There are lots of photos which are slow to load since they still haven’t got broadband in my part of East Meath. Only criticism. Updates are only about weekly, but maybe that will change in the run up to the election. […]

  23. […] Political wire reports that Hilary hired Peter Daou to be her “Chief blogger”. Has she a Chief floorsweeper and Chief toiletcleaner too? Titles are great aren’t they? Daou is another blogger that worked on the Kerry campaign. We already know what Zack Exley is doing these days. Who’ll be Bertie’s Chief Blogger? Who’ll be rewriting press releases for Fine Gael? Labour already seem to have someone doing that. Sinn Fein, will they go with blogs, maybe not since they think their voters don’t have computers. Great quote from David Cochrane’s blog: Adams: And what of all these policies, where can we find them? Quinn: All of our policies can be found on our website Adams: The people we want to represent don’t have a computer Technorati Tags: bertie blogs fiannafail hilary ireland irishblogs labour politics […]