Part three of our post-election series. Today, Don Paskini explains why there is still plenty of hope for Labour.
[This is a guest post]
If you want a glimpse of the future of politics, it’s worth looking at Oxford. Oxford had been the only seat in the south east to reject Thatcherism in 1987, and by 2004, people had had enough of New Labour.
In both cases, this was three years before growing unpopularity forced these leaders out of office. Labour was hammered by the Liberal Democrats in the 2004 local elections, and in the 2005 General Election, a majority of more than 10,000 was slashed to just 963.
What Labour did in Oxford after 2005 provides a template for what could happen over the next five years across the country.
Firstly, they learned the campaigning lessons from those councillors who had managed to get re-elected in 2004, and made sure that in every part of the city there were hard-working Labour activists keeping in touch all year round and helping people, and that locally Labour was in touch with the views of local people on every issue from opposition to the war in Iraq to the need for action to solve the city’s appalling housing crisis. As part of this, they managed to persuade some of the most effective and hard-working Lib Dem councillors to join Labour.
Secondly, they used this experience and connection to the grassroots to develop popular policies which helped improve people’s lives.
Labour in Oxford were one of the first authorities to introduce free swimming for young people in 2006, and to pay the Living Wage to low paid workers in 2009. They massively expanded holiday activities for young people in deprived areas, which gave young people something fun to do and which cut crime and anti-social behaviour by half, and expanded recycling services.
When the Lib Dems tried to close playgrounds in order to keep council tax down in 2008, Labour fought the council elections on slightly higher council tax rises to refurbish every play area in the city – and won. The local MP worked with local residents to campaign for new regulations on bad landlords, and managed to get the law changed. And Labour councillors managed to do all of this while making efficiency savings equivalent to 25% of the council’s entire net budget.
There was a virtuous circle here. The more time that Labour activists and councillors spent calling round to listen to people and help them, the better they got at developing popular and effective new policies. And the more people that they helped, and the better they got at developing new policies, the more people got involved in their community campaigning.
In contrast, after 2005 the Lib Dems moved steadily to the Right. Their main local campaign message in the 2010 election was that Tories needed to vote tactically to beat “Gordon Brown’s man”, a strategy which led to them securing the coveted endorsement of the Oxford University Conservative Association.
In the wealthiest areas of Oxford and amongst people who don’t rely on public services, the LibDems did extremely well. But across the rest of the city, Nick Clegg’s plans for savage cuts and replacing the NHS with competing insurance providers went down very badly, and people rallied to support Labour. Labour got 36% of the vote in Oxford East in 2005, the same share as it received nationally. In 2010, Labour got 29% across the country and 42% in Oxford East.
What was heart-breaking about the 2010 election was seeing how many decent people across the country were conned by Lib Dem spin and Labour's many failings into supporting a party which talked a good game, but which relished the chance to abandon any kind of principle in the rush to form a Right-wing alliance with the Tories. But what was exhilarating was seeing that grassroots community campaigning, based on the principles of unity, hard work and Labour values, really does work.
Don Paskini blogs here.