Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Winning for Labour in London

They say all politics are local. In East Finchley that is almost certainly true. While we may sometimes struggle nationally to get airtime, and the mayoral campaign is being overshadowed by side issues of no real importance, voters in a small corner of north London backed the Labour party stronger than they ever have before. We were on the side of the people on every issue they cared about, be it school places, playing fields, safer walking routes for schoolchildren or antisocial behaviour. We were also gifted an open goal by the arrogant Tory council introducing a highly unpopular pay-by-phone parking scheme and hiking up parking charges by up to 300 per cent in one year.

The local Labour party and ward councillors have always been a hardworking and dedicated bunch, and people saw us fighting their corner against the council. They appreciated our campaigns and our messages resonated with voters horrified at what they were seeing and hearing from the Tories on the biggest issue – parking. The parking supremo, Brian Coleman, branded members of the public ‘hysterical’ for protesting against the eye-watering charge hikes and another time said they needed to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’. This is not what people want to hear when the council puts up parking permit charges from £42 to £100 in one go.

But we were not complacent. In the month that the campaign was fought, we worked hard to try and talk to as many of the 11,000 voters as possible. We knocked on every door at least once, most places twice. We listened to voters and campaigned on the issues they found important.

They rewarded us with a 16.6 per cent swing. We got almost 68 per cent of the vote – the highest we have ever received. We held on to most of our vote from the last elections, where turnout was boosted by the general election held on the same day. The Tory vote collapsed and at one point we thought they might come third. Our majority was over half the votes cast.

What the result shows is that people appreciate hard-working local teams who listen to them, rather than tell them what’s important. They want to hear that we care, that we work hard for them, and that we are there for them all year round, not just at election time. To win the next election, we need to be local champions who fight their corner.

‘With you through tough times’ is a good start to earning back trust and eventually support. We need to be on the side of ordinary people – they want to see the changes our policies bring to their front doors, and when you can demonstrate that, they thank you.

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Arjun Mittra is Labour councillor for East Finchley

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Photo: Louisa Thomson

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Arjun Mittra

2 comments

  • Well, congratulations! But, do bear in mind, that many Labour councils have put up parking charges (permits and one-off charges) by similar amounts and some by more. What is important is that there is transparency about how the money is spent – it must be on highways or transport – but as a policy measure to discourage people from owning cars, to share cars or even better to use London’s abundant public transport, it is effective. It would be a big mistake to become the party of the car and the motorist, especially in our cities. It did Frank Dobson no good whatsover when he stood for Mayor in 2000 and Ken’s counter-intuitive adoption of some rather questionable are stiol to be etsted (tomorrow) but in general, we have to win the argument that people should walk wherever possible, then cycle, then use the bus, tram, train or tube and only drive when absolutely necessary essential, and then if only infrequent why not join a car club. Otherwise, we will be concerting over even more of London, having more EU fines for poor air quality; choking off our buses and cycles with rising traffic and letting obesity rip. As a party, we need to make this case and work hard obviously to take people with us. Ken is very right in his main campaign focus – not parking charges for the few but keeping bus, tube and train fares affordable for the many.

  • Well-done Cllr Arjun Mitra. This is an insightful account on an empiric victory.

    It is true that the message on the doorsteps of East Finchley is ‘vote local, vote Labour’. It is both a maxim that the residents believe and one that Labour has put into action. By being seen and heard as effective representatives locally, we open the door for Labour nationally. Barnet’s success is an inspiration for outer London boroughs. I look forward to putting into practice the lessons of a local Labour campaign in Havering for 2014.

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