Since September we have undergone a change in the Labour party that has not been seen since 1997. We have had a huge spike in membership, with both returning and new members, inspired by the leadership election and the debate that has gone on from it. But the Honeymoon cannot, and will not, last five years.
I think this is a very interesting time to be in the party, but it is a horrible time to be in politics, particularly as an opposition councillor. The cuts that are being made are putting even Thatcher in the shade. It is up to Labour to be challenging, and doing what it can to protect those who we strive to represent.
As a county councillor who is, like every other councillor and member of parliament, fighting the Tories on a regular basis, it is very clear to me that we need to get our strategy sorted out. We need to have solid policies that we can get behind, and we need clear direction and support, all of which had been promised throughout the leader and deputy leader elections. I have certainly seen no evidence of yet. It may only be a couple of months, but we are on the front line, having to go into council meetings on a regular basis and defend Labours position. It has seemed a very long couple of months with a strategy void.
Here is my problem. Many of the debates and discussions we are having internally within the party, seem to think that we have plenty of time to get our message of socialism and solidarity to the voters, and that they will all come over in time for the important election. The issue, I think, is that we are focusing on the wrong election.
We have not got until 2020 to convince voters, we have 7 months, to May 2016. This is when there are many local and police and crime commissioner elections. In essence, this is an all-out vote that will be heavily influenced by our performance as a party, especially as we will be taking the police and crime commissioner elections seriously this time. Given the coordination with the local elections then turnout will be higher too. The result of this will be crucial, not only to the new leadership, but to us as a party.
If we do badly in May it will be seen as a huge indicator, and we will not be able to talk it away. It sounds obvious, but we need to be growing our share of the vote, not only for the polls, but for those people we want to protect. We need to have Labour councillors elected because they are the ones who can shout loudly about the cuts to local services, and the more councillors elected then the more chance of running councils. We all know that to make effective change, we need to be in power to do it. Five years is a long time to have the Tories in government, but it is even longer when you have Tory led local government too.
But the amount of work that we need to do is vast, including developing national policy that we can hang local manifesto pledges from, developing local campaigns, training candidates, campaigners and volunteers, not to mention leafletting, doorstep canvassing and street stalls. Combining all that with the nationally led but locally driven police and crime commissioner elections is going to provide an extra twist in the complexity, especially because of the need to develop Labour policy within this role and access the impacts of cuts on the front line.
All of this, and we are still squabbling amongst ourselves. With only seven months to go, we need to get our skates on!
Barry Kirby is deputy leader of the Labour group on Gloucestershire county council
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