Cornwall is no ‘no-go’ area
There are myths about no-go areas for Labour and misconceptions about Cornwall.
Take Falmouth and Camborne, for instance: established in 1950 (probably to be recreated in the boundary review). Until its abolition in 2010, it was held by the Liberal Democrats for five years, the Conservatives for 27 years and Labour for 28 years.
Unfortunately, when we lose the seat, we always have a mountain to climb back. If I could ask one thing of the general secretary, it would be to put support in place so we only tumble half way down the mountain.
There are three things we need to change inside our party to win back seats like Falmouth and Camborne, seats we need to win to form a government in 2015. We have to make our strategy more flexible, support our councillors – at all levels – and value our activists more.
We should not assume that working behind enemy lines is a drain on resources. In 2010 in the south-west, there was a line drawn at the Tamar and the party discouraged (to put it mildly) active electioneering from national politicians outside Plymouth or Exeter. They may as well have put a billboard on the edge of Plymouth saying ‘We don’t care about people beyond here.’
People don’t think in terms of constituencies but of communities. In Plymouth Sutton, we lost a really good MP in Linda Gilroy by 1149 votes, despite a heroic, hard fought campaign. The Lib Dems got 11,000 votes in the seat and the Tory won. That should not have happened. Labour gave credibility to the opposition line that we don’t care about the south west – what did that contribute?
There was a time in the 1990s when the majority of councillors in Falmouth and Camborne were Labour. It was right to let county council elections run on the back of the General in 1997 but we let it become a habit. By 2009 we had few councillors left. When the expenses scandal hit, there were not enough hard-working, local Labour councillors in Cornwall to counter the image of sleazy MPs. Labour was swept away and won not one single seat on the new unitary council.
We should treasure our activists: we ask a lot of them. Sometimes it feels like the party organisation forgets the most important part of campaigning is inspiring people to work with us. We do not go out to knock on doors because we have targets set.
Labour is not just a political machine, we are a political party. We should talk about our passion more and our contact rates less. We should stop just collecting data from voters and concentrate on having conversations with people.
I am glad to say, though, that the party is changing. Refounding Labour is a profound and wonderful transformation for members. A couple of years ago in North Cornwall, debts to the national party were growing faster than income. Members were demoralised. The CLP had difficulty finding a candidate for the general election. We lost our deposit.
Thanks to Refounding Labour, North Cornwall has a clean slate and access to campaigning tools. Enthusiastic activists are targeting seats to win in 2013. Members helped in Plymouth, where Labour regained control of the council this May, showing that supporting our weaker parties can help stronger colleagues.
In my area, we don’t have massive resources. If we focus on voter id targets, we don’t have the money anyway to follow up with mailings. We decided it is not our priority. Our members put more effort into working for their communities on village hall committees, protecting local beaches and marching against the pasty tax. We want to build our party from the roots up.
We know the concerns of people we want to represent are the same as the concerns of people across the UK, whether in safe seats or marginals or areas where we rarely venture.
To form the next government, Labour has to do more than fight to win elections. We have to demonstrate that there are no ‘no-go’ areas for Labour and we are on the side of people in all our communities.
Jude Robinson is the only Labour and Cooperative councillor on Cornwall council. She tweets @JudeRobinson
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