London (CNSNews.com) - With a general election expected in less than two months, Britain's Labor Party confirmed it has hired Internet consultant and Kerry campaigner Zack Exley to help muster support from its base.
Once referred to by then-Texas Governor George W. Bush as "a garbage man," Exley is a former director with the left-leaning MoveOn.org, which spent millions of dollars on ads attacking Bush during last year's election campaign.
Early on, Exley helped former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean create his web-based organization; and last April he became head of Internet communications for Senator John Kerry's campaign.
Labor Party spokeswoman Claire McCarthy said Exley has been a full-time consultant with the party since January, helping target and organize activists via the Internet.
McCarthy stressed that Exley was not involved in overall campaign strategy.
"He's just helping us out with the Internet aspect of the campaign. He's not involved in campaign rebuttal at all. We're just using him in this one specific area."
Apart from the official Labor website, the party is reported to set up a special call center in Newcastle, equipped with databases culled from the Internet and enough phones for more than 100 workers to use at one time.
Conservative Party chairman Liam Fox said that he thought Exley would prove to be a disaster for the Labor Party.
"We're looking forward to Mr. Exley leading Tony Blair to the same electoral outcome as he did John Kerry," Fox said.
For its part, the official opposition has adopted Voter Vault, a web-based software package already used by the Republican Party. By mining the information contained on thousands of consumer databases, the Conservatives say they hope to win over swing voters in marginal Labor seats.
Extrapolating voters' political leanings from their buying habits, the party hopes it can tailor messages delivered to them via mail shots and phone calls.
"We're very impressed by the way that the Republicans were able to get their voters out and we have done some work together to discover ways to bring their electoral success to the UK," Fox said.
During the last British election, in 2001, all three major parties had a noticeable web presence. During the final week of campaigning, Labor sent out thousands of email and mobile phone text messages to supporters, urging them to vote.
Many information technology (IT) experts decried the parties' efforts, however, saying their websites looked amateurish and were erratically updated.
Derek Parkinson, British-based editor of the Future Democracy Bulletin, said yesterday that he didn't expect any of the parties' Internet efforts to match up with those seen in America last year.
However, he said all three parties were keen to draw on techniques used in the U.S. to supplement their main efforts this year.
"The main parties aren't convinced that the Internet can be used to win over supporters, or damage opponents on it's own," he said.
"So we're unlikely to see much effort put into online games, humor, etcetera, from Labor, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats."
Blair has yet to officially call the election, but government leaks point to an early May date.
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