This Saturday the three seat challenge team has ditched its plans and is heading down to Medway to help Naushabah Khan fight Mark Reckless, who ditched the Tories for the United Kingdom Independence party. We have always kept Lab3seats – think the three peaks, but a Labour doorstep version for three candidates – to the 106 target seats, but we thought it was important to go and help get Labour into the race.
There are three reasons for this. First, there is a personal dimension: Alex Baker and I met Khan at university. She answered the call of the Labour Students society, which had published an open letter to students following the accidental election of a British National party councillor in Birmingham. On the streets of Kingstanding she found that her values and the values of our party aligned and she joined and has never looked back. What better candidate could the good members of Rochester and Strood have picked to fight the bar room bigotry of Ukip than someone who found our party in a fight against racists over the kind of country we live in?
Second, this is a seat Labour must be in the game of winning. Like Clacton, Labour last held the seat under different boundaries. Unlike Clacton, boundary changes shuffled the pack locally among seats that were all Labour until 2010. Critically, the Medway towns hunt like a pack and change hands together: we won and lost all three in neighbouring Sittingbourne and Sheppey in 1997 and 2010 respectively. Each of the candidates from these surrounding three seats – Tristan Osborne, Paul Clark and Guy Nicholson – have dropped everything and pitched in. Comradeship aside, a Ukip win here, especially without Labour visually putting up a fight, could call time on each of their campaigns.
The historic hard work of local councillors and the regional and national party means the local party’s records are rich with data. Labour must make a broad pitch to everyone who has told us they intend to vote Labour over the last two decades. Equally, we should make a big ask to those who have voted for the Liberal Democrats and Greens in the recent past. The great thing is that we know where many of these voter groups are. Not an advantage we had in Newark, Heywood and Middleton or Clacton. Luke Akehurst has hit back at the naysayers in Ed Miliband’s team. He is right to. This by-election could be the making of Miliband’s ‘one nation’ vision.
Finally, we should never underestimate how much the whole party wants to feel on the front foot again. Tessa Jowell, in a recent interview with Matt Forde, spoke for many of us when she said ‘politics is a team sport, we always want our side to win’. The people around Miliband need to understand how much party members will want a win for him at this time. I remember spending a three-day-long weekend in Oldham East and Saddleworth back in January 2011. It was the first by-election after Miliband’s election as leader and there was a palpable sense that we all collectively wanted a win for him, as much as the party generally. Following the speech at conference most members do not want to ditch him, but rally around. This seat, so close to London and so recently Labour, could be key to this.
Labour can stand up to be counted in the south of England. With Khan, Labour can stand tall.
If you want to come too – everyone is very welcome and training can be provided for new canvassers – we are meeting tomorrow (Saturday 11 October) at 9.40am for the 9.55am train from London St Pancras on platform 11. Those driving should make their way to Strood train station for 10.30am.
Richard Angell is the deputy director of Progress
The Rochester and Strood Campaign Centre at 73 Maidstone Road, Rochester, ME1 1RL will be open from 10.30am every day until polling day. To let Naushabah’s campaign team know when you can come and help you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 01634 814566 or visit her website.
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