The challenge ahead

Now is the time for policies that will capture the imagination of the electorate within battleground constituencies, argues Kevin Craig

The Battleground Briefing is another excellent resource from Progress which, nationally and locally, has a pivotal role to play in helping the Labour party return to power in 2015.

It is a real honour to be able to contribute to and support this publication. As a child of Irish immigrants, who came over at the same time as the Windrush generation, growing up on a council estate in Lambeth and attending a local state school, Labour has always been the natural party for me and my family, the one that seemed to care for every class and creed in this amazing country. In the 1970s and 1980s, Labour stopped listening to the electorate, who promptly returned the favour. The chance to actually win power and deliver change was secured only because of the radical transformation of the 1990s and beyond: embracing both aspiration and fairness, sound economics and progressive social justice. That willingness to take risks will be needed again in the coming months. Progress has a big role to play.

Progress was established in 1996 with the clear aim of ensuring there was no repeat of the 1992 general election, the last occasion on which a Conservative government was elected with an overall majority.  David Cameron and George Osborne were involved in that campaign first hand and they are using a similar strategy to the one deployed back then: Don’t trust Labour on tax or the economy. Vote Farage? You’ll get Miliband – don’t let Labour in by the back door. These are the fears which they want to dominate the months leading up to May 2015.

As Labour seeks to win the target seats profiled in this briefing, the debate must be framed to address these issues and to tackle the wider concerns of the electorate. In approaching the general election, Labour must not be afraid to be as radical now as it was in the 1990s, while recognising that  the context is, of course, different. Exciting, brave, optimistic and distinct policies tackling perennial issues are essential in a world where the Conservatives now champion the minimum wage and holding the Liberal Democrats to account is like nailing jelly to the wall. Is Labour aggressively tapping into the business community? Is Labour going to make education so good that it might put most private schools out of business? Will Labour replicate what Stevenage council is doing by building many more houses? Will Labour make the UK the best place in the world to start a business? Will Labour address immigration positively? These are all big issues in the battleground seats.

Polling shows that the key issues in this election continue to be the economy, immigration, unemployment and the NHS. The only real change we have seen in the past year, according to Ipsos MORI, is immigration supplanting unemployment as the second most important issue for most Britons – this is driven, no doubt, by the rise of the United Kingdom Independence party in the media. Policies that are bold, and that resonate with people for whom politics is a fleeting consideration in full and often tough lives, are critical to Labour’s success in 2015.

Ed Miliband and his team have made a strategic assumption that the British electorate in 2015 will be slightly more prepared to elect a government that, in simple terms, is more leftwing than New Labour was in 1997. I now think that this strategic assumption may not prove a barrier to winning. New Labour in 1997 was suitable for a Britain tired of 18 years of Conservative government, but the same offer will not win in 2015.

Now is the time for policies that will capture the imagination of the electorate within these battleground constituencies. It is time to be radical and robust in developing these policies and in communicating them. Labour has stolen a march with the cost of living crisis agenda, and needs to build on this. With the right policies in place, with some hugely impressive candidates fighting for these seats and under the strategically savvy leadership of Miliband, these battleground seats can fall to Labour and return, against all the expectations following  the general election of 2010, a Labour or Labour-led government in 2015.

Labour party organisers across the country have been electrified by the effect of the cost of living agenda and energy price freeze campaign on the doorstep. The Labour party needs to deliver more such policies. Labour needs Miliband to continue to hold his nerve, avoid gaffes, build a broad church and confound many of his early doubters. Labour has never been better organised on the ground. Labour has people. The Conservatives have money. The Liberal Democrats have many embedded, agile and locally astute MPs. But the candidates in this booklet are all so impressive – Chris Matheson, Suzy Stride, Polly Billington, Jessica Asato, Neil Coyle, Sophy Gardner, to name but a few. They deserve the right policies. They deserve the continued surefootedness shown by Miliband to date that builds on the lead of the last six months and which will finish the job.

The outward-looking radical tradition of Progress can be delivered – even if it is not the Miliband brother that many thought, or expected, to be doing it.

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Kevin Craig is a former Labour parliamentary candidate and councillor, and founder of PLMR, Political Lobbying and Media Relations Ltd. Founded in 2006, PLMR now has a 30-strong team of consultants and was named Consultancy of the Year 2013-14 at the Public Affairs News Awards. It is a former Employer of the Year in the London borough of Lambeth and donates five per cent of net profits to charitable causes.

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Read also: Progress editorial on the Battleground briefing and the Campaign for a Labour Majority and Lewis Baston‘s introduction to the briefing

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