by Amanda Ramsay
The recent controversy over the Rotherham shortlisting shone a very critical spotlight on the candidate selection process within the Labour party, but no such drama is reported from the current contest in Bristol North West, which concludes this weekend. The three hopefuls are Simon Bowkett, Keir Dhillon and Darren Jones.
The search to find Bristol North West’s next prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) started amidst a long mayoral campaign that gripped Bristol Labour party for five and a half months. Disappointing election results from last week still hang heavy in the air, so lifting members’ morale will be one of the keys to success in 2015, maintaining a match fit team, capable of turning around a 3,274 Tory majority.
Currently represented by Tory MP Charlotte Leslie, one of the beneficiaries of Lord Ashcroft’s millions, back in the pre-2010 general election, Bristol North West saw Labour slip to third place back then.
Former Conservative Party deputy chairman, Ashcroft has recently become the new co-owner of Northcliffe Media, the regional publishing arm of the Daily Mail group, which publishes Bristol’s evening paper, the Post; worrying for local representatives and candidates, keen to have their voices heard through the local press.
On the recent elections Simon Bowkett has this to say: “Last week’s Parliamentary by-election results were very encouraging – a similar swing in 2015 would see Bristol North West return to Labour. Yet the disappointment of the mayoral election shows we can take nothing for granted in Bristol.”
An Exeter Councillor for nine years, Simon works in the voluntary sector. His campaign buzz word has been very much “community”: “Our turnout was very low in core areas and we have much work to do to re-engage with those communities, to build relationships. My background in community development will enable me to lead on this work, to move voters to being supporters, and supporters to being members and activists,” he promises.
Simon will need to be on his mettle, against larger than life character Keir Dhillon. Many local members will know him from the last PPC selection, where he came second and from campaigning as an MEP candidate.
Experience, knowledge and campaigning drive, they are his key words and as a former councillor and PPC in 2001 Tewksbury, Keir has served as the south west representative on the national policy forum for years. His reasons for standing are clear: “To return Bristol North West to a Labour – Coop MP and ensure by winning seats like this, we return a Labour government.”
Darren Jones is also a very strong contender. A Bristol born and bred lawyer, school governor and Prince’s Trust business mentor, Darren is a former PPC in Torridge and West Devon in 2010 who has worked at board level for some of the country’s largest public sector organisations, as well as a number of smaller third, public and private sector businesses.
Pledging a community driven campaign, resonating with the Arnie Graf school of thought and emphasis on “relational” politics, Darren promises to develop ward level community and policy interest panels, to engage and listen to non-party political voters across the constituency.
He has approached this selection with forensic precision and with the hustings and vote this Saturday, he’s has already made a stark calculation for all candidates: there are only 122 Saturdays left until the start of the short campaign in 2015.
“This gives us only three opportunities per electoral ‘box’ to persuade voters to vote Labour,” Jones explains.
“Beating a personable, actively campaigning Tory MP and taking us from third to first place won’t be easy, which is why we need a candidate that can genuinely connect with local families, by delivering an innovative and new style of campaign,” says Darren.
“If we are going to take back Bristol North West in 2015, we need an additional 6,000 votes to win. It won’t be easy.”
“The policy priorities for the constituency are similar to the rest of the country – a focus on economic growth, to create opportunities for everyone, providing the best quality healthcare and education and ensuring safety and security, including security of energy and food at reasonable prices.”
Darren Jones certainly has the background, vision and skills to be an effective opponent to Tory MP Charlotte Leslie. But then Keir Dhillon is a very impressive character, oozing experience and personality. While Simon Bowkett has won three elections and in May was elected on the highest turnout in the Exeter.
May the best man win.
Amanda Ramsay is a member of Bristol Labour party and community campaigner