Saturday, 15 January 2011
From the frontline: Aldershot
Jonathan Slater reflects on his experience as the PPC for Aldershot
As Parliamentary Candidate standing for Labour at the last General Election in the South East, it became clear that many of our supporters felt that the previous Labour Government weren’t listening to us anymore.
The most notable example was the abolition of the 10p which meant a lot of Labour supporters in Aldershot were paying double the amount in taxation and taking a double cut in their earnings. Also the increasing income gap between our supporters in Aldershot and those earning obscene amounts - notably in the banking sector whose frivolous excesses and irresponsibility that led to the economic crisis in 2008 which now the Coalition are blaming on the previous Labour Government.
Other issues though also played its part in which the previous Labour Government seemed to be on the wrong side of the political argument. One was those Gurkhas who had served in the British Army prior to 1997 not having the right to settle in this country. This issue had a big impact in Aldershot where most of the Nepalese live in the UK. When I did a petition on this issue in the constituency I was amazed by the unanimous support for giving all Gurkhas the right to settle, where literally residents were queuing round the block to sign when I had a street stall in the Town Centre.
Also the expenses scandal in 2009 meant for a time it was very difficult for any candidate from the 3 political parties to canvass at that time. I think though among Labour supporters that was a real anger against the behaviour of now former Labour MPs where they had expected better.
Finally immigration was an issue that kept coming back to me which wasn’t so much the issue around non EU immigration, but the number of EU migrants arriving where as a local community they felt unsupported in adjusting to increased immigration that had led to the perception of their own wages being driven drown.
In terms of positives, I was very fortunate to be supported by a hard working Labour Group of 6 councillors led by Cllr Keith Dibble. This proved invaluable to me as a PPC where together with the Labour councillors we able to campaign effectively on local issues concerning the regeneration of Aldershot Town Centre and turning former MOD property into more social housing. Also it gave me a campaigning base to build on where I didn’t need to start from scratch.
During the short general election campaign I did find recognition of what the previous Labour Government had done in establishing Sure Start and the increased investment of the NHS where Aldershot had seen the opening of Maple Vue and Owl’s Children Centres and the opening of the Aldershot Centre for Health. Also the leaflets which USDAW had produced for all Labour PPCs on what Labour had done for families and parents was very effective when handing them outside of primary schools and on the door step during the short campaign.
Finally standing as a Labour PPC in a garrison town meant that there was a lot of anger against the perceived lack of support for the armed services by the former Labour Government. This was completely not the case and when I came to be a strong backer of British Royal Legion’s general election manifesto I highlighted to residents in Aldershot including those serving in the armed services that some of the provisions had actually been implemented. This included making the NHS priority treatment system work for veterans with injuries caused by Service in the Armed Forces, and also the opening and substantial investment in facilities at the Headley Court rehabilitation centre.
In terms of lessons for the Labour Party to win back support we lost in the South East, I think first the Party needs to support our local councillors who provide the basic campaigning infrastructure that will lead to the Party’s recovery. Without any local government base, it will be impossible to win back the 13 constituencies we lost in May 2010 as well as establishing a base of support to win in constituencies where we have traditionally been in third place.
Secondly the Party needs to clearly define the role of individual PPCs who are fighting in unwinnable seats to be given clear instructions on what is expected of them in terms of leading campaigns in the constituencies where they are standing as well as supporting neighbouring marginal constituencies. I felt it was important not only as a PPC to be leading on campaigns in Aldershot but also supporting my colleagues in the twinned marginal constituencies in Reading West and Reading East.
Thirdly I feel community organising needs to be fully integrated within the Labour Party and be a precondition for the selection of Labour Local Government and Parliamentary Candidates.
Fourthly CLPs need to receive more training from the centre where models of good practice which achieve a high turnout of activists is replicated and effective campaigns are carried out on a shoe string budget which myself and the local Labour councillors were able to do in Aldershot.
Finally the Labour Party need to be the focus of opposition to the Coalition cuts, speaking up for those in the South East and country as a whole who earn less than £40,000. We need to articulate an alternative vision of a new economy in the South East, created through an active industrial policy that encourages more high-paid, high-skilled, and more sustainable jobs.
I think our new leader Ed Miliband understands this which is why I supported him to be the Leader of the Labour Party. I am hopeful that whatever comes out of the Party review led by Peter Hain and the Policy review led by Liam Byrne will help Labour back on the road to recovery, winning again in those crucial areas of the South East and making us a Party of Government once more.
Jonathan Slater was Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Aldershot in 2010
Posted by Stuart King at 13:43