A very successful book launch took place in the trendy Rochester Coffee Shop just off Rochester high street with over 50 Labour supporters from across Kent in attendance. From Wye to Whitstable, Margate to Maidstone we had a very good turnout – so good, in fact, it was standing room only.
The turnout was reflective of not only the panel – Rachel Reeves MP and Cllr Wes Streeting – but also of the hard work of the Medway Labour council team to advertise and promote the event in direct mailings, Twitter, and via Rory Weal and his Kent Young Labour team. Kent Labour Students also travelled 40 miles by train to be there. A truly admirable effort.
Medway currently has three Conservative MPs and it is in areas like north Kent, and its voters, that Labour must win back if we are to regain power once again. There is a long way to go and many members were very keen to hear the arguments put forward by The Purple Book, and the star of the event Rachel Reeves MP, on how Labour needs to regain economic credibility by putting the country back on a sustainable fiscal footing. Rachel explored with the audience how Labour would put fairness at the heart of its economic agenda by ensuring that the broadest shoulders carried the largest burden, a theme that would return in the questions from audience as the night progressed. The key debate was how Labour was to appeal to that basic instinct of fairness and how once again does Labour regain credibility on the economy. The bedrock of support for voters in the south comes from trust on the economy and it was clear that Labour must again form a grand bargain as the party which gives people value for money. The Purple Book calls for economic credibility as the basis for all its concepts and in that it appealed to those in the audience.
Cllr Wes Streeting, always an impressive speaker, was clear and concise about the need to refashion localism. Localism, not just as a token dictated by central government, but by giving influence to activists, councillors and communities to mould their areas and refashion local services. One size does not fit all and, while the frameworks for achievement should be universal, the means to achieving the best outcomes must be left to individual communities. Wes explored the concept of cooperative councils which are currently being implemented from London to Newcastle. Early days as yet but promising concepts. He answered a number of questions on academies and Private Public Partnerships and how Labour should not be afraid of using the spirit of private enterprise from within the public sector, to mould public services which the public demand and require.
The audience actively participated in the debate; locally Medway has two extremely rightwing MPs who are rebellious and key members of the 1922 Committee. They do not represent the mainstream majority and the large number of people present wanted to explore how Labour could once again return a centre-left alternative to an extreme rightwing agenda locally. Questions were asked about local employment and jobs, building communities and on the risks of opposing democratically elected mayors and police commissioners. It was a fair and open debate.
Thanks must go to Aaron and Lorraine Taylor at the Rochester Coffee Shop for managing the event and for the Medway council Labour group, Progress staff, Rochester and Strood CLP Executive Committee, Kent Young Labour and Kent Labour Students for making this such a successful event.
Tristan Osborne is a Labour councillor on Medway council
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