First published by LabourUncut
So now we know: the Labour party fightback is winning arguments and elections, and we have the hardest-working and most committed activists. A total of 824 councillors gained in last month’s local elections is the best of starts.
But there is still room for improvement. Ed Miliband’s speech to the Progress conference outlined a desire to change and a plan to get out and speak to voters. He should carry that through with other measures while the party is doing well – sitting back is not an option.
Next year we do it all over again for the county council elections, and Ed has the perfect opportunity to really strengthen his hand. Here are five ideas for aiding that step-change in those results and putting us on track for 2015.
1. Start campaigning early
First, we need to be clear about the battleground. The leader’s office has a clear role to play in setting this focus. It should distribute a list of PPCS who have already been selected to all MPs (policy advisers, party affiliates and friendly groups might also be included). Our parliamentarians and shadow cabinet should then focus should on organising campaigning and policy visits, helping with fundraising and organise phonebanking and other acts of solidarity from their own area.
In the seat where we already have Labour candidates fighting in a sea of blue, they need all hands on deck. Second, a list of swing marginals should be drawn up so MPs can get deep into Tory territory and start winning these constituencies before we even have a candidate in place. Each seat should have a detailed plan for funding, campaign days and staff. Labour groups such as Progress, Movement for Change and the Fabians could be helpful additions to capacity on the ground.
2. Twin boroughs and sitting MPs with key southern and eastern seats
Second, considering all the support that was focused on London for the 2012 mayoralty, in 2013 – a fallow election year in London – those 32 London borough parties should be twinned with each of the 35 south-eastern, south-western and eastern seats we lost in 2010. All of this with the sole focus of winning back much-needed county council seats in marginals that will decide who is in government after 2015.
In the same vein, the party should twin sitting MPs with PPCs in the 35 seats we lost in the south in 2010, which roughly equates to seven MPs per candidate. Each MP should commit to helping ‘their’ PPC: that means one campaign event, one fundraiser and one policy event per year.
Imagine a seat still without a candidate (and even those with) getting seven policy events with MPs, shadow ministers and select committee specialists on their patch, seven donations toward local party funds and seven campaign days. This would transform each of these seats, putting us back on track and the Tories on the back foot. This will not happen by accident – only if the party, the leader or the chief whip make it happen.
As MPs hold fundraisers, a percentage should go PPCs who have been selected early or to our top marginals in the south.
That could mean £2 per ticket, money from the raffle ticket or auction prize. They mean less to the individual MP than to the future of the party as a whole. Crucially, it could be the difference between them being in government and opposition with bigger majority. For each event the fightback fundraiser kitemark will be awarded.
3.Early selection of our prospective MEPs
Next, we should make sure we select our MEP candidates early would significantly benefit the party. Exposure to the electorate as early as possible puts our candidates in a position to set the debate early in face of populism from the right but, more crucially, list candidates can help in the vital county election of 2013 to build more councillors and activist for their own 2014 election race.
Across the south, we have one MEP out of a possible 16; a disappointing number for a party so closely tied with our European partners. Early MEP list selection and more councillors are two sides of the same coin if want more representatives in Europe, a higher share of the vote and the best results possible on the eve of the 2015 general election.
4. A rapid reaction team
And finally, it seems that the 2010-2015 parliament will be defined as much for the sheer number of by-elections as it will by this chaotic coalition. We cannot let another Bradford West happen again.
In addition to the latest by contest, party members have travelled the country to help in Oldham, Barnsley, Leicester South, Inverclyde and Feltham and Heston. In the old days, under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, by-election campaigns would receive a letter – often from the party leader – thanking them for travelling the breath of the country and winning (not always) for Labour.
But in 2010, members were asked to pitch up in Barnsley before the thank you letter for Oldham had ever arrived (and it still hasn’t by the way). The biggest culture change the party needs is to one that values and rewards volunteers and volunteering. We have seen in Birmingham Edgbaston that this approach can deliver great results for Labour – simple ‘thank yous’ for travelling across the country and great personal expense is not a lot to ask.
More importantly, the party should create an open and inclusive rapid reaction team – those who have been to by-elections before and are up to going to any constituency to return Labour MPs in tough by-elections. Organised through Membersnet, Facebook and the Train2win programme the party is running it would be an effective way of building bonds among party members and building a force that could even beat Respect in Bradford.
Ed has shown he has plenty of appetite for change. He should keep pushing. The party only wins when it is fresh, modernised and ready to face the public and take on the mantle of government. There has been no greater opportunity for change than the one which faces him now. More importantly we all want to help – if not in these ways – please do tell us how.
Richard Angell is deputy director of Progress and Alex White is a Labour activist