Labour is now the only party capable of winning across the whole of the country
Just like with Barack Obama’s ‘50-state strategy’ in 2008 – where he took his campaign into states where the Democrats had not campaigned in decades – there must be no ‘no-go areas’ for Labour.
What Labour offers is right for people across the country – not just for some people in some regions. To be the party of government we have to represent all parts of the country. With the Tories’ collapse in Scotland, Wales and much of the north, and Labour making progress again in the south, we are now the only ‘one-nation party’.
Voters need a proper democratic choice. A choice between the Tories and Liberal Democrats is none at all when they are now in coalition together. Labour must have candidates in every ward in every region. And we are making progress, with candidates in 87 per cent of wards up for election in the local elections this year. The Tories, who usually field more candidates than us, only managed 77 per cent, while the Liberal Democrats stood in just 55 per cent of wards.
We need to recognise Labour candidates in Tory or Liberal Democrat strongholds as ‘pioneer candidates’, not label them ‘paper candidates’. People like Jude Robinson, a Labour councillor in Cornwall, show we can even leap from fifth to first place.
Even one Labour councillor in a sea of blue and yellow makes a difference for their local community in tough times. Every extra Labour councillor strengthens us, improving the prospects for future council and parliamentary candidates. And it strips away the Tory and Liberal Democrat local government base, so, as we strengthen our own organisation for 2015, we weaken that of other parties.
We must work back from 2015 to establish targets and focus our resources. The 2014 European elections, 2013 county council elections, and the police commissioner elections this November, are each important in their own right. They are also crucial milestones on the road to the general election.
Between 1997 and 2010, however, our strategy was on retaining seats to stay in government. However, we must now shift from retaining to gaining seats. And we must focus all our resources – MPs, MEPs, councillors, as well as finances and party staff – on this task.
When Labour was in government we attempted to deploy our staff into areas with more MPs to support them in retaining their seats. However, now, when we need to gain seats in regions where we are under-represented as well as where we are strong, we need to rethink our use of resources.
In the west Midlands and the north-west we need to win another 26 target seats. But in those two regions we have 68 Labour MPs and a strong network of councillors. They will be vital to winning in those areas.
By contrast, in the three southern regions, where we have 24 target seats, we have only 10 Labour MPs and far fewer councillors. We need to ensure that these regions do not second away their precious staff at elections to ‘stronger’ areas, as has been done in the past.
We also have to challenge the false dichotomy that we must fight either the Tories or the Liberal Democrats. The idea that ‘we do well when the Liberal Democrats do well’ is not a strategy for victory, either politically or organisationally. We need to expose the failings of an out-of-touch government which is damaging our economy and our society, a government of Tories which includes the Liberal Democrats. Assumptions we made about Liberal Democrat voters have to be revisited in the new political situation of a coalition. We cannot just look at the 2010 results and project on that basis.
The Liberal Democrats are undeniably in a weakened state. In 2011 they lost 41 per cent of their councillors who were up for election; in 2012 they lost a further 44 per cent. Eighty-three English councils now have no Liberal Democrat members.
Liberal Democrat voters are important, not just in seats which are held by the party but also in those held by the Tories. In 70 of our top 100 target parliamentary seats the Liberal Democrat vote is bigger than the Tory majority. But we cannot just take it for granted that disaffected Liberal Democrats will come to us and stay with us. While the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote in 2011 in Wales saw Labour win councillors, in Scotland disaffected Liberal Democrats largely went to the Scottish National party. We need to be prepared to expose the Liberal Democrats and make Labour their voters’ new choice.
We must not undermine our focus on getting a majority with tactical triangulations or have a secret ‘Plan B’ of cosying up to the Liberal Democrats to smooth the way to a coalition with them after the next election. We have the confidence we will win a majority. The Liberal Democrats have broken their promises on tuition fees, VAT and police numbers and have colluded with the Tories on NHS reorganisation, the top rate of tax and tax credits. They have betrayed the people who voted for them on the basis of their manifesto commitments. It is not ‘negative campaigning’ to use leaflets to attack the Liberal Democrats for what they are doing in government. It is simply holding them to account for the decisions they have made as part of the current government. If they support what we are doing, all well and good. But no nudges and winks about the future. That is not fair on the voters.
The coalition’s honeymoon is over. Two years on from the election, people are disillusioned and do not see the Tories delivering on what they promised.
Ed Miliband has led Labour’s team in speaking up for the concerns of the country. The next step is for us to inspire with our vision and to rebuild confidence in Labour as the party to bring about real change, with policies for rebuilding our economy, our society and our politics.
Harriet Harman MP is deputy leader of the Labour party. She addressed Progress’ Third Place First conference last month
Liberal Democrats, local elections 2012, one nation Labour, Southern Discomfort, Southern England, Third Place First