by Jonathan Todd
Labour has invariably been in third place in Westmorland and Lonsdale, as Dr David Clark, Lord Clark of Windermere’s vivid history of the local Labour movement accounts. As Labour’s candidate in the constituency in 2010, however, I know that Westmorland’s Labour activists are as passionate as any elsewhere in the country.
They can see rural poverty around them. Which grinds as its urban cousin does. They can see locals priced out of villages dominated by second homes. Which is inequality as visceral as the contrast between the Square Mile and the poorest parts of London. They can see a country struggling to recover from the ruin reaped by the inhabitants of the Square Mile and a world scarred by injustice. And they know that only a Labour government can best respond to these national and global challenges.
As a party we cannot ask members in seats like Westmorland and Lonsdale to look upon the inequities of their neighbours and to hunger for a Labour government capable of alleviating them without then providing them the support to make a difference in their neighbourhoods and communities.
Pragmatists might point these activists to near-by parliamentary seats – Barrow, Lancaster and Morecambe – that Labour is closer to holding or winning. And I’m confident that John Woodcock, Cat Smith and Amina Lone will provide a warm welcome to helpers from Kendal, Ambleside and elsewhere in South Lakeland.
However, as John Kay argues across many contexts, we’ll better secure the goal of extra helpers in Barrow, Lancaster and Morecambe obliquely. Specifically, by having a dynamic campaigning presence in Westmorland and Lonsdale, we’ll convert more supporters into members and more members into activists in this seat. Which will create a bigger pool of activists interested in taking the fight to Barrow, Lancaster and Morecambe than if we begin by saying to the Westmorland and Lonsdale CLP: “Go somewhere else; your struggles do not matter.”
Since 2010, these struggles have deepened, as the constituency voted Liberal Democrat and received incompetent, Conservative-led government. But the resolve of Labour activists has strengthened. They have fought local elections hard, formed a local Fabian Society and hosted a Pragmatic Radicalism event.
While we should be grown up enough to acknowledge areas of agreement with the Liberal Democrats, this resolve should be applauded and cultivated. As Clark’s book discusses, in previous eras, it was not uncommon for senior members of the Labour Party to campaign in Westmorland and Lonsdale.
This is exactly the kind of encouragement that hardworking CLPs like this deserve. I’m sure they wouldn’t grumble if it came en route to Barrow, Lancaster and Morecambe.
Activists might even be inspired to jump on the battle bus to campaign in these seats too, which is why Progress’ Third Place First initiative and event on Saturday are important. It is strengthening the party in areas where we have been weaker, making us a one nation party, as the Conservatives wither to their geographic and cultural strongholds.
Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut