First published in Progress magazine
Straight after the local elections Labour will embark on selecting its first 26 candidates for general election 2015, all in seats we lost at the last election which have been designated ‘island’ seats, unlikely to be adjacent to other Labour seats after the forthcoming boundary review. In every constituency the Labour candidate will be up against incumbent Tories, apart from one Liberal Democrat, in Norwich South. Spread across the south, Midlands and eastern England, they are key targets for Labour and tests for the leadership. We must win all of these to gain a Labour majority in the next parliament.
Being selected so early in a parliament has obvious downsides – it is going to be a long old slog till the next election. But those willing to grasp the nettle have a unique opportunity to prove themselves and trial a new style of organising.
Selection for these seats will provide a vital voice for Labour in areas where we currently go unheard. With Cambridgeshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex and Wiltshire all without a single Labour MP, those willing to start campaigning now will deliver real change locally. Important seats like Crawley, Dover, Harlow, Hove, Ipswich and Waveney are miles away from any Labour MP’s route home to their constituencies, so visits there from shadow cabinet members and MPs are going to take extra effort, time and resources. Just having candidates in place making these demands of the upper echelons of the party will push their seats up the agenda. We desperately need to reacquaint ourselves with voters in these regions and motivate new and existing party members to fight back for Labour.
What is this new politics that candidates can put into practice? Many of these seats would make ideal testing grounds for Movement for Change-style organising: where Labour’s brand is low, relational politics based on shared interests and networked power could create a groundswell unstoppable by Ashcroft money at the next election.
Last month it was reported that the 40 most marginal Tory MPs had created a network to pass policy ideas and voter feedback to Cameron and Conservative Central Office. These 26 Labour PPCs need to do the same. Ed Miliband should be meeting them regularly, visiting their seats personally, inviting them to see the party’s latest polling and engaging them in the Fresh Ideas process, because it is in these seats that our future ideas must resonate.
Finally, these candidates will be the guinea pigs in the party’s new shorter, cost-saving and apparently pro-diversity selection system, which I wrote about in the March edition of Progress. All eyes will be on who this system produces and how well they navigate it.
Progress will do its bit for those selected early. But, to start, we are organising selections training for those who want to stand for Labour in these vital seats.
Richard Angell is deputy director of Progress