Come and help Leicester South deliver Britain’s verdict on Cameron and Clegg

By Jon Ashworth

With the working-class council estates of Eyres Monsell and Saffron Lane, diverse communities closer to the city centre, traditionally Tory wards on the outskirts and liberal-leaning voters in the areas around the university, Leicester South really is a microcosm of Britain.

Its politics have mirrored the country’s, too. The seat has changed hands no fewer than five times since the seventies. It’s been represented by MPs from all three major parties over the last twenty years with the Lib Dems winning the 2004 by-election.

And when it goes to the polls in the by-election on 5 May it will have the opportunity to speak for Britain again.

The decision by Sir Peter Soulsby, the area’s respected and hard-working MP for the last six years, to stand down to contest the election for the city’s first directly elected Mayor has given local voters the chance to cast the nation’s verdict on a raft of the Conservative-led government’s unpopular policies.

Over the last two weeks, both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have traveled to Leicester and stood on the very spot outside De Montfort University at which Nick Clegg chose to pledge his opposition to tuition fees.

“It was here a year ago that he made his promise he would be the voice of young people,” the Labour leader told a crowd of young people inside. “The full gravity of the betrayal has today become clearer. Today we learn that 70% of universities are going to charge £9,000 tuition fees”.

Earlier in the day, Ed and I had visited the council-estate home of 82 year-old Joan Natzel, where she and six of her neighbours told us of the fury at cuts to the winter fuel allowance.

Joan spoke for pensioners the length and breadth of the land when she told the Leicester Mercury:

“Losing the £100 will make a vast difference – especially with the cost of fuel bills rising so high. You’ve still got to heat your home but it’s going to be very difficult if we get another winter like the last one”.

It being Ed’s second trip to the city shows how seriously Labour is taking this campaign.

We have also had visits from Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander, Tessa Jowell, John Healey, Andy Burnham, Ivan Lewis and over a dozen other front-benchers in the last few weeks. Others, such as Yvette Cooper, are due to visit over the next few days.

We’ve got the Mayoral and local elections on the same day, and Labour’s candidate for Deputy Mayor, Rory Palmer, has done a brilliant job of bringing the city’s activists and their local election campaign together with the by-election operation.

The fantastic team of organisers and staff – some of whom have hardly been home after campaigns in Oldham and Barnsley over the last few months – are leading teams of local members and activists on three canvassing sessions a day.

I’ve been setting out my plans to bring more investment, new industries and new jobs to the city. Unemployment – particularly for young people – is way too high, so we’re working on plans for a Leicester youth jobs and skills programme to replace the future jobs fund that the Tories scrapped. We’re launching a major initiative to tackle child poverty in the city and I’m working with Peter Soulsby and Rory Palmer to make their vision of a low carbon, working city a reality.

But just as we are taking nothing for granted, our opponents are fighting for every vote too.

Nick Clegg has been to Leicester on two occasions, closely followed by Danny Alexander, Simon Hughes, Norman Lamb and Andrew Stunell.

They know just how high the stakes are and the impact a by-election result can have.

When they took the seat from us in 2004, the Lib Dems heralded the result as a breakthrough moment and their leader claimed that “more and more people are looking to the Lib Dems to provide a real alternative.”

So next week’s election is a really important test for all three major parties. People here have the opportunity to cast the nation’s verdict on the cuts to vital local services, the chaotic plans to reorganise the NHS, increases in tuition fees and vat and reductions to family and pensioner benefits.

But make no mistake: anything less than a resounding victory for Labour will be seized on by Cameron and Clegg as an endorsement of the government’s approach.

That’s why we need your help over this vital final week. Please come and help Leicester South deliver Britain’s verdict on David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Call 07872 417224 or email

Jon Ashworth is Labour candidate in the Leicester South by-election.

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