Ahead of tomorrow's South West Regional conference, Glenis Willmott MEP and Cllr David Sparks consider the future challenges and opportunities facing Labour in the south west
At Labour Party South West Regional Conference the EPLP, the LGA Labour Group and the Labour Movement for Europe will bring together campaigners from the Labour movement across the region to discuss how Labour campaigns to win back council, parliamentary and a European seat for Labour in the South West. The meeting will also discuss how engaging at European level can bring economic benefits to the region.
The South West has traditionally been Labour's most difficult area. With 197 parliamentary constituencies across the South Labour returned only 10 MPs in 2010, just four of them in the South West. Labour's difficulties however, have been most noticeably in local government and in European Elections. In the 2009 European elections, we finished 5th behind the Tories, UKIP, Lib Dems and even the Greens, bringing home a 7.7% share of the vote, our lowest regional share. Looking back in other European Elections in 1999 we finished in second place and were fourth in 2004, proving we don't always need to lose in the South West.
At local council level there are 70 councils across the South where there are no Labour councillors at all. But we are winning back local election seats. Jude Robinson in Camborne and recent wins in Exeter prove people are coming back to Labour in the South West.
Key issues relevant to our voters such as jobs, economic stability and equality require Labour to stand up for Britain in Europe through active engagement, not isolation and with values routed in the communities we serve. The South West has specific needs at European level, benefiting from of £230 million of European Union structural and regional funding across the region between 2009 and 2011.
From the recent case of the Cornish Pasty being awarded Protected Geographical Status, to coastal erosion, fisheries policy and the need for development of transport and communications infrastructure, joined up thinking from local councillors and representation in the European Parliament is essential. Labour is the best placed party to achieve this, placing the values of fairness and equality at the heart of local government and our work in Brussels.
We know that working together the Labour movement can continue our renewal in the South West, winning back council seats and returning a Labour MEP to the European Parliament in 2014.
Glenis Willmott is Labour MEP for the East Midlands and Labour's Leader in the European Parliament.
Cllr David Sparks is a Labour Councillor in Dudley and Leader of the Labour Group on the LGA.