by Michael Dugher
Yesterday’s Corby by-election victory for Andy Sawford was a significant result for Labour. It went well beyond our expectations, with a swing of 12.7 per cent from the Tories, which if repeated across the county in a general election would see a Labour majority of well over 100.
Corby is important as it is a key middle England seat and the result shows that people in the heart of Britain are putting their trust in Labour once again. The Corby constituency is a microcosm of the country – with Corby itself, alongside small market towns and chocolate box villages. Since its creation in 1983, Corby has been held and won by the party that has formed the government. Labour won it from the Tories in 1997 and the Tories gained it in 2010.
Andy Sawford fought a one nation campaign, reaching out right across the constituency, persuading those who did not vote for us in 2010 to put their trust in Labour once again. That is exactly what Ed Miliband and one nation Labour is about – standing up for working families who are having their budgets squeezed, for young people who are out of work, and for those who are being ignored by a Tory-led government that thinks the priority now is to cut taxes for millionaires.
The government has tried to spin away the result as just people venting their anger at Louise Mensch for quitting half way through her term. But that’s not what people were saying on the doorstep. When I was out campaigning during the by-election, most people I spoke to hadn’t even heard of Louise Mensch. But they had heard of David Cameron. And they were angry with a government that is cutting taxes for millionaires while families across the constituency are feeling their incomes squeezed.
But what about this week’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections? The prime minister and the home secretary cannot run away from their responsibility for what was a dismal turnout. Some cities – like Coventry – barely scraped above 10 per cent. Overall, fewer than 15 per cent of voters turned out, a new peacetime low.
The chief executive of the electoral reform society, Kate Ghose, went as far as describing the election process as “a comedy of errors from start to finish”, adding that “those responsible should be held to account”. Well it was David Cameron and Theresa May who chose to hold the elections in November rather than May.
And it was their decisions that led to too little information being available, that the organisation of the elections was a shambles and that ballots were shredded and reprinted.
But more than anything else, the disastrous turnout was also a damning verdict on the prime minister and one of his centre-piece reforms. It demonstrates how disappointed and disillusioned the public are with his promises of change that are never delivered. Most people will be baffled that the prime minister decided to spend £100m on these elections that could have been better spent on 3,000 frontline police officers.
The challenge now will be for the elected commissioners to try to make the new system work. We have some great new Labour PCCs who will fight to keep police on the streets, fighting crime, and respecting the operational independence of chief constables.
Labour candidates won in areas across the country, from Bedfordshire to Northumbria, as well as in the big forces like greater Manchester, Merseyside and the west Midlands. These forces cover large numbers of constituencies and millions of people. Indeed, Labour won the largest share of the national vote and our Labour PCCs will be covering more of the county’s population than any other party.
And as well as the PCC elections and the Corby victory, we also saw good results for Labour in the Manchester and Cardiff by-elections. In Manchester in particular, there was a 17 per cent swing to Labour, with the Tories even losing their deposit.
We can take heart from all these results but, as Ed Miliband always says, we must be “the eternal enemy of complacency”. Labour is working hard, listening more, and reconnecting with people from across the country. But that work goes on. So as the new Labour PCCs take up their posts, and as Andy Sawford, Lucy Powell and Stephen Doughty begin their work in Parliament, Labour will be taking the battle to rebuild our country as one nation to every corner of Britain.
Michael Dugher MP is the member of parliament for Barnsley East and the vice-chair of the Labour party