Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Opportunity knocks

Four candidates fighting Labour’s corner in some very different constituencies share their doorstep experiences

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Tory marginal

Luke Akehurst

Castle Point in South Essex is one of the handful of seats lost by Labour to the Tories in 2001. Our objective is to be the Dorset South of 2005 – a narrow Labour gain. The key ‘middle England’ voters who make up the 10 per cent of swing voters in many marginal seats are a far larger segment of the population in Castle Point – the seat consists overwhelmingly of hard-working middle-income families and has one of the highest rates of home ownership in the UK.

This means that most of the issues highlighted in the national media have particular resonance here – public services, antisocial behaviour, Europe (an intervention by Ukip, who polled very well in 2004, may be a wild card factor) and immigration. Anyone who doesn’t understand the recent focus nationally on controlling illegal immigration is welcome to come and canvass here to see why we have to convince people that Labour is addressing this issue in a firm but fair way.

Because of the homogenous make up of the seat, control of the council can swing wildly – Labour gained over 30 seats in 1995 and lost over 20 in 2003. The Tories now dominate Castle Point council and they are making a huge mess of running it. The council has tried to close every public toilet and every community hall, has agreed a number of contentious planning applications on the green belt and has been given a ‘poor’ rating in its comprehensive performance assessment. We are using this in our campaigning to ensure voters understand that these cuts are just a foretaste of what Michael Howard wants to do nationally.

Tory MP Bob Spink heads a divided local party that has tried to deselect him three times. In contrast, Castle Point CLP is united and very determined to win back the seat. Despite a small and aging activist base, we have worked hard and succeeded in achieving a 60 per cent voter ID contact rate and 13,500 Labour promises, so we expect another close result.

To help Luke’s campaign, call 07949 152 562 or email luke4castlepoint@email.labour.org.uk

Lib Dem marginal

Yasmin Qureshi

The campaign to win Brent East back to Labour has been in full swing for several months. The constituency has been Labour for generations but was lost to the Lib Dems in a by-election in 2003 after the untimely death of the Labour MP, Paul Daisley, and during the height of the Hutton Inquiry.

Despite this, when you knock on doors as much as I have been doing you find that Labour’s core values are still those of the vast majority of Brent East residents. Ken Livingstone won a huge 47 per cent of the vote in Brent East in the mayoral ballot last June. Simon Hughes polled just 19 per cent.

It wasn’t just the ‘Ken effect’. Labour also topped the poll for the local London assembly seat and in the European elections. For the most part, Brent East residents still back the basic values of equality and fairness that are at the root of what the Labour party is all about. What we are facing here is the usual practice of the Lib Dems facing both ways. They campaign for things locally that they have opposed nationally – such as the pension credit.

During the by-election they promised all residents £100 off their council tax, and then dumped this policy after the election was over. They have called for more police but won’t vote for the Mayoral budgets that provide this. Exposing this type of hypocrisy is key. Of course, we have also seen the obligatory Lib Dem blue-branded leaflet going out to confuse any Tory supporters.

This is a reminder to us all in Brent East that what people actually face is the choice between a Labour government and a Tory one.

To help Yasmin’s campaign, call Gaby Kagan on
020 8969 4550 or email kaganovic@hotmail.com

Labor marginal

Oona King

My constituency is the most deprived in the UK. Nearly half of my constituents are Muslim. I regularly see families of 10 living in two-bedroom flats in urgent need of repair. The children have health problems caused by overcrowding, and their chances of succeeding at school are obviously impaired. Against this backdrop, the war in Iraq has made a safe Labour seat a marginal. And my constituency is now threatened by political extremism – George Galloway’s Respect party.

They grabbed a council seat at a summer 2004 by-election and helped the Tories win a seat nearby by exclusively targeting Labour votes in their campaign. They bussed in supporters from around the country to target Bengali Muslims, and enjoyed some success with a single-issue campaign. Respect’s leader, George Galloway, has massive funding from his successful libel action against the Telegraph, and loves a fight. The most likely effect of him standing is to give the Tories an outside chance. Respect’s campaigns have been almost exclusively anti-Labour. They have nothing to say about the Tories.

The East End is improving. Old, crumbling blocks of flats are gradually being replaced by new housing. There are more jobs, the fastest improving schools in the UK, and Safer Neighbourhood Teams to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. And, because of high levels of poverty, my constituents have benefited hugely from the minimum wage, tax credits, and new money for pensioners. I have campaigned hard to change the law regarding overcrowded housing and Labour ministers have brought in new legislation. More money has just been announced to build new houses that will get families of 10 out of two-bed flats.

Respect wants to jeopardise all this. They will bus in misguided activists from as far away as Leeds and Sheffield to increase the prospects of the extreme right-wing Tories. The Tories have come second in Bethnal Green and Bow in every general election since 1987. So our fight is against extremism from the left and right, and it is a fight we must win for the sake of the future of the East End.

To help Oona’s campaign, call 020 7729 6682
or email nuthallt@parliament.uk

Unwinnable

Jo Tanner

For most of us with political ambition, standing in an unwinnable seat – whether it’s for parliament or for local government – is part of the rites of passage. I wasn’t any different when I first decided to throw my hat in the ring for East Surrey in 2001, but my attitude did change somewhat as the weeks and months went on.

East Surrey isn’t exactly an area renowned for its socialist tendencies. Just south of London in prime commuter belt and populated predominantly by middle-class professionals, it doesn’t rank alongside the Sheffields and Newcastles as a Labour heartland.

Despite this, though, there is a hardcore group of Labour members and supporters who are prepared to pull out all the stops to remind people that the party is still very much alive and kicking in East Surrey. If anything, this is the group of people who kept me going. Knocking on doors or going to strategy meetings is not top of most people’s agenda after a hard day at the office, especially when you know you haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance of winning. But I did it week after week with the encouragement – and sometimes duress – of East Surrey CLP. It was interesting to find that, despite not being prime Labour territory, the themes on the doorstep were just the same as the ones I’d heard in Liverpool and elsewhere: education and opportunity; a decent NHS; safe communities; and economic stability.

By the time 7 June rolled round, I’d visited old people’s homes, stood outside school gates and even stood in Sainsbury’s car park with the equivalent of a sandwich board. But even that couldn’t sway the good people of East Surrey into giving Labour a shot and, once again, we came in third. It’s strange to have almost a year of your life come to such an anti-climax, but I’m still glad I did it – and not just for the rites of passage.

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Luke Akehurst, Yasmin Qureshi, Oona King

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