(Let's lend Colin, Ian and Trevor a hand.) Labour drafts in US election architect for 'our midterms' Howard Dean to advise party on campaigning strategy ahead of key May vote Tania Branigan and Julian Borger Saturday November 11, 2006 Guardian Labour has enlisted one of the engineers of this week's Democratic victory in the US midterm elections in an attempt to boost its flagging fortunes before the local elections in May. Howard Dean, the former presidential candidate and one of the men credited with masterminding the trouncing of the Republicans, will visit the UK next month to brief party officials about his pioneering campaigning techniques. "The Welsh, Scottish and local elections next year are our midterms," said Hazel Blears, Labour's chair. "It has to be done differently for us to carry on being successful ... We're looking at how [the Democrats] have upped their game." Labour is particularly interested in the Democrats' style of targeting grassroots voters through low-key meetings in homes. "We want to look at their experience in campaigning, getting out the vote, holding house meetings where people can come together ... You don't want to transplant American politics, but there's a lot we can share," said Ms Blears. Many political observers will regard the drafting in of Mr Dean as bizarre, given that the Democratic victory was largely founded on voters' anger about the war in Iraq - the very subject which has alienated many Labour supporters and on which Mr Dean has been so outspoken. But Ms Blears believes Labour can benefit from the tactics used so effectively by the chairman of the Democratic national committee. "Part of [their new success] is politics, but it's also about organisation," she said. She also said Labour could benefit from the so-called "viral" tactics Mr Dean helped pioneer. "Politics is increasingly local and decentralised ... People go to people they trust for word-of-mouth recommendations. It's about like-minded people talking, with concentric circles of campaigning, rather than about a political message from the centre." In the US a fierce debate is under way within the Democratic party involving Mr Dean, whose own presidential hopes foundered after a disastrous speech in 2004. He espouses a 50-state strategy, in which the party tries to rebuild itself as a truly national organisation, channelling resources in particular to the hard-to-win conservative "red" states. But this doctrine brought him into direct conflict with the congressional campaign chiefs, Rahm Emanuel and Senator Charles Schumer, who wanted to focus Democratic activists and campaign money on swing states to ensure that the party won enough seats to guarantee a majority. Here, Labour's mimicry of Democratic tactics helped clinch its 1997 landslide, thanks to key officials - including chief pollster Philip Gould and Margaret McDonagh, the general election coordinator - who had worked for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992. Now it hopes to copy Mr Dean's innovations, which revolutionised his party's campaigning. His bid for the Democratic presidential nomination two years ago broke new ground by reviving and modernising grassroots activism, largely through the internet. Supporters fed back their opinions via online polls and emails, on several occasions persuading Mr Dean to alter his speeches and tailor his message. Renewing Labour's campaigning techniques has become crucial, not just because of the Conservative lead in opinion polls, but also because the Tories are using their war chest in increasingly sophisticated ways, with highly targeted mail shots and telephone calls. The Tories and Lib Dems have also sent envoys to the US to learn new techniques from campaigners over there. The internet was widely used in the US midterm elections, in many cases for negative campaigning. Activists "Google-bombed" rival candidates, flooding the net with unflattering articles and references so that voters searching for their names would discover negative material. The video site YouTube contributed to critical Democratic victories in Montana and Virginia, as activists videoed Republican speeches and posted the gaffes they captured.