Today I want to pay tribute to the work and sacrifice of our prospective parliamentary candidates and to consider their pivotal role in achieving a Labour majority. There have been some great selections over the weekend and in recent weeks and those very able candidates have got a lot of work ahead in the coming 13 months, but I particularly want us to remember those PPCs who have been selected for months or even years.
Many of them are in the seats identified as part of Progress’ Campaign for a Labour Majority – the 106 target seats and, in particular, the Frontline 40. Using the party’s 106 target seat list, these are the 40 people who, if Labour wins all its target seats after number 66 on the party’s 106 target seat list, will be the faces of Labour’s majority. Win all 40, and Labour will have a working majority of 80.
I was a member of the equivalent group between 1990-1997 so I know something of the pressure they are under and the lives they live. Many have been selected for several years – Rebecca Blake, in my old seat of Redditch, was selected in November 2011. For over two years she has led the campaigning effort of the local party – out every weekend on the doorstep; being the public face of Labour for local people, the party and media; organising and fronting the local events which bring together Redditch people and Labour campaigns; listening and feeding local views into national policy. To do this you have to effectively put your personal life and career on hold. You make considerable financial sacrifices – and you need to maintain a constantly optimistic and positive demeanour for all those campaigning with you while secretly fearing that it might all end in defeat.
It is physically tiring and emotionally draining and I am not sure they always get the recognition or the support they deserve. None of them will say this, of course, as they are rightly proud to have been selected, energised by the battle and concerned to maintain the enthusiasm of all the activists who campaign with them. That gives the rest of us more of a responsibility to support them with all the money, time and words of encouragement we can muster!
Lewis Baston, in his analysis of the target seats, points out that simply depending on disillusioned Liberal Democrats will not be enough to win these seats. Our candidates in these seats need to be the real coalition-builders – finding and persuading those who hae tended to vote Tory or Liberal Democrat or not to vote at all. And convincing local voters that a vote for them and for Labour will make a difference.
At a Policy Network event last week to discuss the threat from the United Kingdom Independence party to Labour, the authors of the fascinating Revolt on the Right, Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin, outlined the ‘left behind’ voters who are turning to Ukip. Economic development and modern political campaigning have alienated them. In his effective anti-politics diatribes, Nigel Farage condemns the ‘cardboard cut-out careerists at Westminster’. Our candidates have a key role to play in winning back these voters at a local level by occupying the political vacuum that Ukip exploits and by engaging face to face with the people who believe they are ignored by national politics. Jessica Asato, number one on the Frontline 40 list, was eloquent in describing the time and effort which candidates like her put into not just making contact with voters, but in listening and having a real conversation.
These candidates are adept at translating national messages into local pledges and campaigns. Their doorstep work gives them a large and diverse focus group every weekend. I hope their insights are being properly listened to by the national party. I am all for a bit of national message discipline, but that needs to be a message informed and tested by the people who will be decisive in determining whether we ae in government next year – and who have put everything at stake to make that happen!
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.