Whips Notebook: Postcard from Bradford West

by Jon Ashworth

I love by elections and always have done so since I first campaigned as a scruffy teenager with a hair-do like Noel Gallagher in Littleborough and Saddleworth.

Those were heady summer days indeed as us young insurgents fought like tigers for every Labour vote. The drill was soon to become familiar in by election after by election. We slept on floors at night and knocked on doors all day. A merry band of brothers and sisters from which enduring friendships formed and last to this day – Tom Watson, Michael Dugher, Gloria De Piero to name just a few of the future stars I would first meet on the by election campaign trail in towns like Littleborough.

Sadly in Littleborough and Saddleworth it wasn’t enough with the Lib Dems managing to just nick it. But the Tories were obliterated and we knew that our unsuccessful candidate Phil Woolas would easily take the redrawn seat whenever the general election came. 15 years later I would be trudging through many of the same streets in thick snow to help Debbie Abrahams secure victory in the successor Oldham East and Saddleworth seat.

Not downhearted with defeat, in fact the very opposite, we moved on to Wirral South. A ‘safe’ Tory seat that easily tumbled to us with local businessman Ben Chapman, whose election posters proudly boasted “Ben Chapman means business”, becoming Wirral South’s first Labour MP. Ben retired at the 2010 election but Wirral South is still held by us today by the ever impressive Alison McGovern.

Looking back it feels like all I did was work on by elections in those early years of the Labour government.

In the heart of Tory Cheshire’s Eddisbury we campaigned hard with the slogan “vote Labour or the fox gets it.” Today Eddisbury is a comfortable Tory seat with a majority over 13,000 but in 1999 tantalisingly it could have been ours if just 800 or so Tories had switched to us. So ok we lost, but only just and yet bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.

Next came Wigan, later Tottenham, West Bromwich West, Preston, Falkirk, Ipswich, there were many others. I was there on every one, sometimes for the duration sometimes just a few days doing my bit either as a door knocker, researcher, leaflet writer or simply tea boy.

In Preston I spent the campaign in the “battlebus” driving round the constituency while a tape of Tony Robinson on loop declaring “I have a cunning plan for Preston, vote Labour on Thursday” blasted out from the loud speaker at bemused (and confused) Preston folk.

In Ipswich, working alongside Labour Uncut’s own Peter Watt, I accidentally sent pre-proofed leaflet copy to the printers and told them to press the print button. A day later box loads of 40,000 direct mail turned up littered with spelling and grammatical typos.

I also campaigned on some right turkeys too – Crewe and Nantwich and Norwich North, perhaps the less said about them the better. And of course I was elected in my own Leicester South by election last year ably managed by Michael Dugher.

These last few days, Toby Perkins, Gerry Sutcliffe and I have been helping the Labour candidate for Bradford West Imran Hussain. And what a great campaigner he is. This clever, modern Bradfordian who has risen to Deputy Leader of the Council and before that qualified as a barrister, knows every street in the constituency in which he was born.

More importantly everyone knows him and the esteem and affection in which he is held by members of the community is obvious to anyone who spends any time knocking on doors here in Bradford.

Imran is passionate about opportunities for young people and won’t sit back while the Tories and Lib Dems allow unemployment to blight another generation in Bradford. The effect of unfair Tory policies on Bradford is stark. Long-term youth unemployment in Bradford West has tripled since the beginning of last year. And the total number of people out of work here has risen more than anywhere else in Yorkshire.

The budget has done nothing to help Bradford young people find work nor relieve the pressure on families set to be clobbered by tax credits cuts next month after the VAT rise.

There is also anger amongst now former Tory voters over the “granny tax” pension raid – already getting raised on the doorstep the night of the budget with Imran and his team.

On Thursday a pensioner walked into Imran’s campaign HQ to let us know he’s never voting Tory again. It’s why Ed Miliband’s priority on getting to Bradford on Friday was to meet angry pensioners to listen to their disquiet at the budget measures and then later hold a q&a event with “Tory switchers.”

But it’s not just pensioners who are angry. On the doorstep I’m sensing a wider group of voters, who supported the Tories in 2010 possibly for the first time in years but now are feeling disappointed and let down.

This is not the Cameron deal they thought they were buying into. He had promised them so much yet all they got were higher bills and more insecurity. “I didn’t think it would be like this, never again” one woman told me on her doorstep after a hard day at work.

But I’ve worked on enough election campaigns to know we can’t take anything for granted. Despite the disappointment, I recognise there is still some resilience in the Conservative vote in Bradford. Quite simply if we don’t turn out the Labour vote next Thursday there is always a danger we could end up with a new Tory MP.

So please join us in Bradford West over the next few days.  After all, what better way to send George Osborne, Nick Clegg and David Cameron a message about a Tory budget that hands a £40 grand a year tax cut to 14,000 millionaires – while doing nothing to help young people get back to work – than by ensuring that Imran Hussain is elected as the next Labour MP for Bradford West.

Join me in Bradford West, the campaign centre is at 29 Cheapside, Bradford, BD1 4HR. and the campaign office is on 07872 417244.

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South and an opposition whip

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4 Responses to “Whips Notebook: Postcard from Bradford West”

  1. swatantra says:

    Good luck Imran! We need a few more brains in Westminster. And some MPs with street cred. Labour has to attract more businesses into Bradford otherwise there’ll be no jobs, for anyone.

  2. paul barker says:

    You are proud to have campaigned for woolas ?

  3. Jay stewart says:

    Hi imran, i totally hope you win but please go head to head with george galloway, they say you cant face him because you are running scared. you need to attend a hustings

  4. Mike says:

    That went well then. The danger was obviously from the Tories.

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