Real lessons from the actual doorstep

by Tom Keeley

One year after a general election defeat, a resurgent Labour party has taken 800 council seats. With the exception of Scotland, up and down the country people are back in love with Labour.  People are hearing and agreeing with the party message that we are “your voice in tough times”.

Those parts of the electorate who briefly flirted with the Tories are repentantly coming back.  An unpopular prime minister has been replaced with a fresh credible opposition leader, with new ideas.  National control is all but a certainty in 4 years time.  Right?  Well the doorsteps of Birmingham suggest something different.

The Birmingham city council elections were a success for the Labour party.  Lib Dem and Tory seats were taken in equal number.  Not one seat was lost.  Some wards considered safe Tory strongholds like Harborne and Edgbaston were taken, or pushed to the absolute wire.

However, even amongst this unqualified success, the message from the doors and the phones was a mixed one and certainly not the message above. We must listen and learn from the feedback on the doorstep.

The recession was our fault: While voters consistently railed against the cuts, behind this anger was a strong belief that the recession was our fault. A piece of economic mismanagement by a spendthrift Labour party.  The Tories have established a narrative that this was a Labour recession and Labour can’t be trusted with the economy. The first part has been broadly accepted by the electorate; the second is up for grabs.  But by setting this narrative, while we were indulgently selecting our leader, the Tories have a huge head start on all things economic.

A vacuum at the top: On doorstep after doorstep it was apparent that the departure of Gordon had helped us. However, the narrative was one of “now that Gordon has gone, you can have my vote” rather than one of “now that Ed is here, you’ve got my vote”.  People consistently voiced opinions on Ed: “his hair is too short”, “he seems awkward”, “he’s not married”. It is easy to dismiss these as irrelevant. However, in the absence of a clear idea about who he is and what he stands for, people will form opinions on other things.  It did not seem that the Miliband leadership was doomed in the eyes of the public, but if next year people are saying the same things, the game is up.

Anger at the Liberals, indifference towards the Tories: “Let’s call a spade a spade, the Lib Dems lied”, was the comment of one swing voter I spoke to “but the Tories are doing exactly what they said they would, and fair play to the bastards”.  The indifference towards a Tory party, who, on both economic and social issues, are to the right of the Thatcher administration and are seeing through a set of ideological reforms that most (including myself) thought not possible, was the most shocking thing about the doorstep this time around. The message was clear; the big game has yet to be played, let alone won.

Local issues connect: Four years away from a general election, local issues mattered.  And, they will matter next time around. People were concerned about the NHS reforms, but not outraged. People knew that cuts to police were a bad thing, but felt back room staff could be cut more. Egypt, Libya and Syria were hardly mentioned.  AV barely qualified as the side show it was. However, people really engaged when it came to their neighbourhood or their street. It was these issues of pot holes; bus routes; rubbish collection; anti-social behaviour that people really engaged with. And it is through these issues that most people will be affected by the cuts.

This is where local Labour parties can make a difference. This is where the narrative on the door step can be changed. By building party capacity and engaging meaningfully in the issues of the community, whatever they may be, local parties can do something independently of the national scene. As things stand this is looking like our best chance of winning the next general election.

Tom Keeley is a member of Birmingham Edgbaston CLP

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3 Responses to “Real lessons from the actual doorstep”

  1. Richard says:

    Similar messages in Bristol. Although many too are asking why Labour isn’t challenging the Tory narrative which they know to be mostly false and feel very frustrated by this. If the top brass in the Labour party wasn’t so wrapped up in its erroneous belief that it knows what the public is thinking, it would ask each CLP to submit a post-election report on what it has leaned on the doorstep.

  2. David Seymour says:

    I think it is optimistic to say voters are back in love with Labour. I don’t yet sense there is a positive move to Labour, just a move away from the LibDems.

  3. Euclid says:

    “The recession was our fault: While voters consistently railed against the cuts, behind this anger was a strong belief that the recession was our fault. A piece of economic mismanagement by a spendthrift Labour party….”

    Yep – pretty much spot on….

    UK debt end 2001 : £385,5 billion
    UK debt end 2002 : £402,9 billion
    UK debt end 2003 : £441,1 billion
    UK debt end 2004 : £487,9 billion
    UK debt end 2005 : £529,4 billion
    UK debt end 2006 : £573,3 billion
    UK debt end 2007 : £618,4 billion
    UK debt end 2008 : £750,3 billion
    source ONS ….

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