Turning the green belt red

With the right combination of training and resources, Labour could be well on its way to winning once true blue seats in the home counties, writes Mark Walker

Ian Warren’s continued excellent work in highlighting election results and trends recently highlighted the swing to Labour across the home counties. In an article in the Guardian he raised the fact that in June ‘the largest swing from the Conservatives to Labour came in this region.’ For two reasons, I have felt this migration of people from London to the home counties has been coming for a long time. First, personal experience, for a brief while I moved outside of the M25 when as the research found I should, hitting my thirties, having children. And second, the work being done by 270 Strategies for the Democrats in the United States.

What 270 have rightly identified is that Texas will soon be a strong candidate to be a Democratic state and have shifted time and money into the state to start training volunteers and community leaders on how to engage and campaign effectively so when the state reaches the point that it is possible to win gubernatorial as well as presidential elections (as well as everything in-between) they will have the campaign team on the ground ready to capture that vote. We should now be sending the resource’s needed to the Aldershots and Brentwoods to replicate the work being done in the lone star state.

If we are going to be ready the capture this vote most effectively we need to empower constituency Labour parties to get out there and campaign effectively. Lots of these seats will be starting from low contact rates, if they have ever indeed ventured onto Contact Creator. Helping them understand and analyse the data that is available as well as that they collect is vital to move people away from the home for home comfort of a street stall to the more feared doorsteps. We are behind the curve on this already but there is still time as people continue to move from the capital to beyond the M25.

Of course, the best campaign in the world will not save you if the politics are wrong. Lots of the seats that would now full within these areas are areas what we have held before. Stevenage and Harlow are two important examples as both will be selecting shortly and are both further ahead in terms of on the ground campaigns. But as Warren rightly point out in his Guardian article, the fact that a lot of people were put off by the drift away from David Cameron’s liberal conservativism which felt to the outsider a lot nearer to Tony Blair in 1997.

We would therefore be foolish therefore to think that they will naturally become Labour voters – especially as our position on Brexit remains unclear. That is not say they will not, but in context, people will often swap Hackney for Hertford because of economic necessity and therefore when people have that need to balance the books their passion for who runs the water company will often lose out to making sure there is enough money for childcare, the travelcard from beyond zone six or simply the weekly shop. The period will also see a switch from people worrying about their tuition fees to making sure that there is the opportunity for their children to enjoy the same opportunities. Once people start to encounter the more complex problems of balancing a family the often-new-found pragmatism transfers straight to their politics, worrying much less about who runs the train but just making sure it is able to get them home in time to read the Gruffalo.

We should therefore be careful not to assume too much about what will work in the new marginal that will be created over the next decade and instead empower CLPs to engage and understand the needs of people who have made the decision to move out of London, because without the ability to explain our offer in a common-sense locally based narrative I think we risk leaving a Conservative recovery the space to own solutions to those problems. But with the right combination of training and resources for constituency parties combined with a practical policy offer there is no need to believe we cannot turn the green belt, red.

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Mark Walker is a Labour party member. He tweets at @MarkTW2

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