When I first took my seat in parliament, I noticed that some new MPs were referred to as ‘retreads’ – those who had previously lost, but who had just been elected again at the following election. Having recently been selected for Waveney, where I lost by just 769 votes last year, I guess I’m seeking to be a ‘retread’ – and I’ve heard that a few other former colleagues are too!
When you miss out by a narrow margin, it makes a lot of sense to contest the same seat again. I decided to do so as I believe I have more chance than anyone else of winning back Waveney for Labour next time, when such a key seat will be vital to form that majority we need to become the next government. I’m conscious I was only the second Labour MP ever to represent the area.
I’m very well known locally and I built up a personal vote over my 13 years as a locally focused MP. Lots of people want me to stand again. They still say, “When are you coming back? You did a great job as our MP.” Unfortunately when I received that praise last year on the doorstep, it was often followed by, “...but I’m fed up with Labour.” Or, “...but I don’t like Gordon Brown.” Hopefully now they’ve got those feelings out of their system, people will reconsider, especially as the full horror of the government they did elect becomes ever more apparent.
But it would be a mistake to just stand on a past record, even though I’m proud of what I achieved. One has to look forwards and set new priorities for the future. The main issues in Waveney are not very different to elsewhere – jobs; falling living standards; the need to regenerate derelict land; pensions; and the need to save the NHS from privatisation, cuts and loss of local control. However, it will be vital to concentrate on how these issues impact locally. It was the local focus that built up a favourable reputation over the years. Such a reputation is a priceless asset.
People like an MP who stands up for the area and has its interests at heart; who is visible and independent minded; who is hard working, responds quickly and listens to concerns. Campaigning is better when lots of people know you personally and even more feel that they do.
So, since losing my seat, I’ve continued to serve the local community as a governor of the local FE college and a board member of a new charitable trust set up to run the council’s leisure facilities. And I still watch Lowestoft Town every week, home and away! (I was asked at the selection interview whether I’d ever put anything embarrassing on twitter or facebook. I think they forgave me for regularly posting ‘Come on you Blues’!)
Trying to make a comeback is also an opportunity to learn from the past. In being locally focused, it’s important not to be insular. As that little card in our pocket says, “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.” So I want to play more of a regional role than I did for many of the years of my previous term, even though I was eastern region whip for the last three years of office. That’s one reason that last year I co-wrote a booklet looking at why Labour did so badly in the East of England. We cannot form a future Labour government unless we can win back a substantial number of seats in the east and the south of England. I welcome the appointment of Shadow Cabinet ‘champions’ for these regions and I’m keen to work with Ed Balls in the East.
But the most important task to enable us to win back Waveney and other similar seats is to build a much stronger and larger campaign team. After 13 years in government, we were depleted in numbers as we faced the 2010 election. Those who did come out door knocking and delivering leaflets worked harder than in all the other elections I fought, but there weren’t enough of us to match the money the Tories poured in.
Now there is new enthusiasm and new interest. The selection process provided a great opportunity for me to spend time talking to all our members. New members and old are keen to take on the Tories. We made 8 gains in May’s council elections. With our new ‘Refounding Labour’ welcome to supporters and the new focus on community involvement and, as the ConDem policies bite even harder, more people will want to join the campaign. There is a real belief that we can win in Waveney again.
It will be a long hard three years until the next election, but it would be a pleasure to be welcomed back as a ‘retread’!
Bob Blizzard is Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Waveney and was MP for the constituency between 1997-2010.