Westmorland and Lonsdale needs Labour as much as anywhere else

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

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10 Responses to “Westmorland and Lonsdale needs Labour as much as anywhere else”

  1. Tafia says:

    They can see locals priced out of villages dominated by second homes

    Simple question – so what exactly do you intend to do about it, bearing in mind nearly all Labour MPs have at least one second home.

  2. Robert says:

    Campaigning for Labour in Westmorland and Lonsdale is a waste of time. As it happens, I come from an area where campaigning for Labour is a waste of time for another reason. The MP would be Labour if they stuck a red rosette on a donkey! It was amazing to move to a marginal seat in London where the result was in doubt. First past the post is such a wonderful system!

  3. Ex- Labour says:

    Is this the same ” incompetent Conservative government” that is now delivering what the country needs. Economic growth predicted at 2.4 % higher than most developed countries,the biggest fall in unemployment in decades, popular policies on immigration, benefits etc etc.

    The alternative is of course to go back to Ed Balls, Ed Miliband etc, all of the failed Gordon Brown economics team. Labour dont even have any coherent policies.

    You’re just like many others on here, you dont want to see what is happening, adapt to the changes taking place and develop coherent arguements, strategies and policies. You seem to think that everyone see Labour as a credible alternative. Think again.

    As for the financial crisis, you trot out out the same old lefty canard about the “square mile” but for goodness sake do some research on the subject. The financial crisis was a long time in the making and whilst the sub-prime US market lit the touch paper the result was that profligate governments were exposed. There are many excellent books on the subject, you might want to read one or two.

  4. Robin Thorpe says:

    @ Robert – While I understand what you mean regarding the FPTP system. What Jonathan rightly states is that unless you campaign in all areas then you don’t build a nationwide support system. Furthermore by campaigning in one area which is not electorally competitive then you might increase your overall activist base, which you can then use to supplement the activity in marginal areas. Unless the Labour party (or any political party) adopts this attitude then it can’t be a national party.
    The debate about actual policies is incidental to this argument; but most areas contain a large proportion of people who one might expect to be represented by the Labour Party. So by campaigning in areas that may seem Liberal or Tory areas you might find that support can be galvanised to come out and vote for Labour. That is what the Democrats did in the States. They persuaded people who didn’t normally vote that Obama was a vote for change. I know it hasn’t worked out how they hoped, but again, that’s a different tale.

  5. swatantra says:

    We neglect the rural countryside at our peril. If Labour is indeed a One Nation Party then it must include addressing the rural issues, and not just the problems of major conurbations where most of our votes are to be found. It woukld be a pretty lopsided Party if it did that. So good luck to Westmoreland and Lonsdale.

  6. james says:

    From time to time I do telephone polling for the Lib Dems in W&L (or as it’s known `Farronia`) – I look forward every time to such a delightful and easy `gig`.

  7. Henrik says:

    Labour? Rural? Not a chance. You can’t get a decent latte anywhere outside the cities, darling and the people, my dear. The poor are just so…. poor. Not interesting, no fascinating social rituals like female genital mutilation or forced marriage we can support because of their gritty cultural validity and the ease of getting the vote out through community leaders, no local trade union group hugs and love ins, no students, very few people who work for the government, no, there’s nothing for Labour in the country. Except charming second homes, convenient for the Waitrose in the nearest big town.

    As you may gather, I live in the country.

  8. Robert says:

    Robin, I accept that it is not a total waste of time if you find some activists. To be honest, if I lived in W&L I would vote Lib Dem. Farron is better than a Tory.

  9. DennisH says:

    I live in a safe Tory seat “served” by a cyborg who, like her leader, hasn’t an idealogical bone in her body. In local elections, the Labour party puts up elderly paper candidates and dont bother with canvassing or leafletting at all. It’s dying on its feet – down from 11-12 seats to 0 -1. I think the goal of making seats like this one and W & L viable for Labour, is to play a very long game of building a local grassroots campaigning party, who take on local issues and make some noise for the wild injustices that happen to ordinary people in safe seats. Build some local electoral success and the momentum can grow. It starts with the Labour party nationally, starting the ball rolling, and promoting local activism in ALL seats, not just the targets.

  10. John A Bateson says:

    I’ve never heard anyone refer to W&L as Farronia, though said MP is known as the Charlatan King. Since 2010 Labour support in Kendal has increased substantially, the activist base is strong and the party in excellent form. The only problem is finance, in 2010 the LD’s spent the second highest in the country, an enquiry into how and who finances so lavishly may be an idea.

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