Staring at the depressing blue map being painted as a
result of Thursday’s elections, I thought I would share with you a story that bucked
the trend, and which illustrates what a difference strong local campaigning,
issues based, can make.
The story is of a by-election in Princes ward in
Lambeth, where turnout was almost 43 per cent, and where Labour candidate Mark
Harrison earned 1,726 votes, with a 330 majority over the Liberal Democrats. My
congratulations to Mark and the team who supported him, bucking the trend as
Labour did in Lambeth in 2006, when the borough was Labour’s only gain in the
country, led to victory by Cllr Steve Reed.
What is also interesting about Thursday’s vote is that
parts of the ward are traditionally Tory, yet the Conservative candidate
trailed in third with 707 votes, showing that Cameron’s followers have yet to
engage voters in inner city areas like Lambeth.
I hear a fair bit about the politics of Lambeth from
Cllr Mark Bennett, who used to work for me at Downing Street, and is now in
Lambeth’s Cabinet, where he holds the crime portfolio. As those of you who are
involved in Go Fourth will know, he’s also a tireless Labour campaigner – as
are many in Lambeth.
So for the past couple of months I’ve been getting
regular texts and emails from the frontline as the by-election was fought.
Knowing how hard Labour members in Lambeth were working on the by-election, I was
pleased to see their hard work rewarded. I was also pleased to hear that the ward was buzzing with Labour activists on polling day.
It was a bright spot for Labour on an otherwise pretty
dark day, a by-election won despite difficult national circumstances and the
MPs’ expenses scandal in Parliament, which is just across the Thames (you can see
it from some of the council tower blocks).
It shows that Labour can still win when we have a
clear message about what we are offering, defend the record, show the dividing
lines between us and our opponents and, crucially, work hard on the doorsteps to
get these things across. Particularly now, with the media creating a constant
wall of noise around politics, mostly to Labour’s disadvantage, there is no
substitute for face to face contact with voters.
Labour activists in Lambeth held firm to their local
campaign, despite all the current turbulence of national politics and a
typically shameless Lib Dem campaign – I’ve seen some of the leaflets, and Nick
Clegg should be ashamed. Indeed, I’ve suggested sending them to Saint Vince
Cable to see what he thinks.
So it seems that despite everything, residents in
Princes ward chose to vote on local issues, for a good new candidate and in
support of a dynamic Labour council that has invested in schools and youth
services, cut crime and kept the council tax low. Along the way Lambeth under
Labour has repaired the shattered finances they inherited from the Lib Dem-Tory
coalition they ousted, who put up council tax by 40% over four years.
In fact, Labour has stabilised Lambeth’s financial
position to the extent they have been able to freeze council tax for this year
and next to help people through the recession, which must have helped too.
Their priorities – young people, crime, value for
money – are the priorities of residents. They know this because they have surveyed
residents on the doorstep. Lambeth is a Labour borough in constant touch with
Labour voters, with a good story being told by councillors and MPs hard at work within their communities, and now something of a beacon shining out on a day when so many
council elections, often for national reasons, went in the opposite direction.
So take heart, I say. All is not lost. There were a
few ‘what planet are you on?’ type comments when I said here yesterday that I
did not detect any great enthusiasm for the Tories, as there was for TB in
1997. That remains my view, however, even after the drubbing Labour took around
the country on Thursday, which will be underlined when the European election
results are announced.
An economic crisis and a Parliamentary scandal, with a
few ministerial resignations thrown in, are about as bad a backdrop as you
could have for a governing party. Frankly, the Tories should have done better.
So take heart from that too, I say.
Meanwhile, you have to admire GB’s resilience. He goes
through all he has gone through in recent days but can still pull out a superb
speech at the commemorations of the D-Day landings.
And finally, having tweeted on the
excitement last night, a word of congratulations to the Dutch for winning the
cricket against England last night. For half an hour, I thought Kazakhstan were
going to do something equally miraculous on the football front today. That
really would have been crisis time.