Local government officers are people to be hugely admired. Not only do a large proportion of them go above and beyond the duties of their job description, they do one thing that people in many other walks do not have to consider. They do not let on their own opinions.
As well as remaining straight-faced and neutral when having to answer the inanest questions, they cannot ever publicly let on their true feelings about the place in which they work.
In the late 1990s I worked as a council officer in Swadlincote, South Derbyshire. During my time working as an officer I always had to bite my tongue but now I do not have to.
To get to work every morning I had to drive past derelict factories and slag heaps. While the local residents were lovely, salt of the earth people, I was still faced with the fact that at lunch if I popped out of the office I had to walk through a decrepit town centre that really should have been knocked down in an earlier age. I hated it.
Now I have got that out of my system, and I feel so much better for it, I want to tell a story of rebirth.
Fifteen years later Swadlincote is a fantastic little town. So much has been done to make it a desirable place to live. It has got new shops, both on the high street and on edge of town retail. It has got a great little cinema and places to eat. For heaven’s sake it even has that staple of modern day suburbia, a Prezzo.
These days Swadlincote is absolutely the sort of town you would not mind living in.
A huge part of Swadlincote’s regeneration has been brought about through new jobs. It is lucky to have benefitted from the nearby Toyota car factory, and it has welcomed a great deal of warehousing and distribution. In many ways it is the epitome of a thriving and renewed Midlands town.
Of course, going hand in hand with new jobs and regeneration has been the desire of families for better housing and to meet that need new homes have sprouted up all around the place.
In what was once a solid working class Labour area, it is noticeable that the people living in Swadlincote are changing too.
The same families who, generation upon generation, were once wedded indelibly to the mines, the local pottery industry and often social housing, are now homeowners striving to pay for extensions, nicer cars and holidays for themselves and their children.
There is nothing wrong with such aspirations. It is a great indicator of how for a great many of us over the years how our lives have been improved.
But is a challenge for Labour and one we did not address at the last election. In truth it is a challenge we probably have not effectively addressed for more than 10 years.
Labour is in great danger of becoming an irrelevance in many towns across the Midlands because we are not seeking to address the issues that matter to the people that live there, we simply have given up trying to understand them.
The facts are stark. In 2005, South Derbyshire returned a Labour member of parliament, Mark Todd, with a majority of 4,495. The Tories took the constituency from us five years later claiming a majority of 7,128.
Where one might have expected something of a turnaround on 7 May this year, incumbent MP Heather Wheeler increased her majority to 11,471. Wheeler’s vote share went up by 4.4 per cent, Labour’s down by 4.6 per cent.
On that awful night of results four months ago it was a story told again and again across the region.
Lewis Baston’s excellent pamphlet ‘Is ‘southern discomfort’ spreading’ paints a worrying but largely accurate picture of the challenge facing Labour in the type of seats we once held in the Midlands and undoubtedly must do again if we want to form a government any time soon.
The only way for Labour to deliver such seats will be to ask residents what really matters to them and then actually listen.
Was the bedroom tax the issue to deliver seats across the Midlands? Or was it price-fixing energy? Did moving forward will the nationalisation of rail have any impact in constituencies which have not had stations since the days of Dr Beeching?
I do not know the answers but we must find out.
While the key issues may have some commonality throughout the country (or they may not) we cannot for one second imagine that the solutions that we offer will be the same in once marginal market towns as in great cities of the north.
Let us sincerely hope that our new leadership realises that there is life outside of the capital and our heartlands or we will be doomed to many more nights like 7 May.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.