This seat won’t win Labour the next general election. You won’t see it on any target list, or flashing up on the screen on election night as David Dimbleby breathlessly announces an unexpected gain. Just 9% of its electorate voted Labour at the last election, and it hasn’t returned a Labour representative at parish or district level since 2004. But you’ve all heard of it. Welcome to Stratford upon Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, steeped in culture and history, and etched in to the nation’s fabric. And, it seems, since time began, Conservative rule.
Ever since Philip Staveley Foster regained the seat from the Liberals in the by-election of 1909, the ballot box has returned a Conservative member at every general election since. It is easy, therefore, to see why Labour has little interest here. It is but another rural, affluent constituency that has little or no interest in the machinations of the Labour Party. 80% of England’s population live in towns or cities, so we’ll win elsewhere. But this is to ignore a fatal flaw that emerged during Labour’s thirteen years in power; that, put simply, we do not care about the rural vote.
Towards the sorry end of Labour’s time in government, the Conservatives, rightly, accused Gordon Brown of diverting money from the rural countryside to urban centres, in a cynical, last-gasp, attempt to please Labour-voting urbanites at the expense of their Tory-leaning, shire-dwelling compatriots. Rural policy often presented some of the most difficult and unexpected challenges to the Labour government. From the Foot and Mouth crisis to the rise of the Countryside Alliance, from farmers protests to concerns about rural crime, rural issues frequently seized headlines and formed the basis of organised opposition to the Labour government. Such imagery resonated precisely because they played to a broader feeling that Labour – traditionally a party of the urban working class – ignored the countryside.
4809 people voted for the Labour Party in the Stratford on Avon constituency at the last general election. They care as much as you and I do about the labour movement and about the return of a Labour government. They deserve Labour representation just as much as the residents of Stratford, East London.
Politics doesn’t stop at constituency boundaries. The issues of rising inflation, stagnant growth, cuts to Sure Start and EMA, the discretion of public sector workers, rising NHS waiting times, child benefit frozen, rising unemployment, chronic youth unemployment, the Future Jobs Fund cancelled and many more besides will affect any and everyone. It needs Labour representatives.
The fight for social justice in Stratford upon Avon is just the same as the one in our strongholds. The Labour Party should undertake a systematic programme to position itself as the party of the countryside. It is audacious, for sure, but in 1997 Labour swept to power with a record number of rural MPs. We must remember what brought us that coalition; from a 28,000 majority in Blaenau Gwent to the return of a Labour Member of Parliament in North West Norfolk.
Stratford upon Avon may never return a Labour MP. But year after year we fight district council elections. Our aim is simple, to return a Labour councillor to fight for Labour values. It is easy for those in safe Labour seats to sneer, to discredit our efforts to bring a tinge of red to a tidal of blue – but activism is at the heart of the Labour party. We need to win back rural areas, from leafy Warwickshire to the southern-most tip if we are to form the next government – it’s a must. In 1598 our most famous resident penned the oft-forgotten Love’s Labour’s Won. Join us as we try and make Labour win here.