Tuesday, 18 January 2011
Ten things Labour can do to win back the West Country
Luke Pollard sets out a ten point plan to win in the west country
The south west might not naturally seem core Labour territory, but if we are to win the next general election Labour will not only need to hold onto seats in the South West but also take seats off both the Lib Dems and the Tories to make up our majority. Along with comrades from Plymouth Labour (www.plymouthlabour.org.uk) here are ten things Labour can to do win seats in the West Country:
1. Take notice of issues peculiar to our region. As well as national issues we need to think local and ensure our policies pick up on widely held regional concerns not just a London-centric approach. Ask anyone in Devon and Cornwall what issues concern them most and it is likely that the price of water will be in their top gripes. Why? Because water bills in Devon and Cornwall are double that of the nearest water bill anywhere else in the country. Labour needs to address this issue and more.
2. Visit us. It sounds simple but the more visits from prominent Labour shadow ministers we can get the more media coverage we can generate, the more people the party can listen to and the closer we come to showing we really care about the region. We need more than we’ve had to date. The Leadership election shows that the Shadow Cabinet will draw big crowds of active members and motivate them to fight harder.
3. Rebuild from local government upwards. We cannot win back Parliamentary seats if we do not rebuild ward level representation. This means we need to use the May elections to win seats and build for victory in the next set of elections. In unitary authorities and all-out councils we need to show that the party will invest in success at a local level to win big at the national level.
4. Select early and select local. The earlier the party selects for local, national and European elections the longer we have to introduce our candidates to the local community and win their backing. Labour has a strange aversion to early selections. We need to shake this off, wherever possible, boundary changes permitting, to get our candidates selected and fighting the incumbent Tory or Lib Dem.
5. Fight compound cuts that will blight our communities. The south west is heavily dependent on the public sector for employment. The coalition cuts will hurt the south west disproportionately more than other regions less dependent on the public purse for jobs. The effects of these cuts are compounded by squeezing other public sector employers. Compound cuts will hurt all the cities in the region from Bristol to Exeter and Plymouth. Labour needs to recognise this and have a plan for tackling it.
6. The south west isn’t just about farming. It is tempting for those living in Westminster village to believe the West Country is like an episode of Countryfile writ large. Certainly, agriculture is important (and we need a good set of policies here too) but we have heavy industry, higher education, cutting edge industries, financial services and a brilliantly creative third and social enterprise economy too. A one-size fits all solution will not wash for the West Country and Labour should not prescribe one. Challenge your perceptions about our’s and every region.
7. Fight where we can win. In saying we’re not all farmers, it is fair to say that we’re not all Labour targets either. There are a couple of dozen seats in the West Country where Labour could and should challenge. We lost many good MPs in such seats in 2010. Parmjit Dhanda in Gloucester, Linda Gilroy in Plymouth and David Drew in Stroud illustrate there are seats we need to win back. But to do this we need to focus resources on where we can win.
8. Develop the twinned seat strategy. I fought what I referred to as a ‘surprise Labour gain’ at the last election. SW Devon was very unlikely to swing to Labour and indeed our vote was squeezed, but our activists weren’t only campaigning in this one seat – we had deployed into our nearest key seat to bolster activists there too. Indeed, Plymouth drew in activists from across Devon and Cornwall to support the campaign. Candidates in unwinnable seats understood what was at risk and answered the party’s call. We need a strategy that encourages key seat working, not just at election time, but recognises that this relationship between a target seat and an unwinnable is not a one-way transfer of money and volunteers. It needs to be a two-way supportive, nurturing relationship otherwise volunteers and money will simply refuse to move across boundaries and that won’t help any of us.
9. Incentivise and reward activity. One lesson we should all learn from the way Lord Ashcroft ran Tory key seats was that the carrot and stick approach can work. Labour used it too with the promise of large mailings and extra resources for those target seats who met contact targets. This worked and gave volunteers something to work towards. Incentives and rewards across the year, not just in the run up to elections, will inspire parties to put in place activities that drive contact with voters and campaigning activity. But let’s look beyond simple identification of L5Ys (to use some Labour activist language) and also look at incentivising media coverage, community engagement, volunteer recruitment and retention, skills and training activities too.
10. Lead from the front. Labour in the south west is a solid team with strong hearts, focus and energy. We campaign all year round without direction from the centre and are not asking for instructions. We’re a loyal bunch to the Party – and are eager to win for the party and for those who are suffering under coalition. London is a long way from the West Country, but it is a lot nearer if those leading our party remember us and support our efforts. Give us the tools, the policies and the dividing lines and we will deliver leaflets, make calls, knock on doors until we win. That’s what we do in the south west – we work, and we’re not planning on stopping.
Luke Pollard was Labour’s candidate in South West Devon at the last general election. He lives in Plymouth and works in the travel industry. Visit his website at www.lukepollard.org
Posted by Stuart King at 09:44