One of my earliest campaign memories is from the run-up to the 1997 election. I was a newly-joined party member and my presence was requested in Basildon to help out in Angela Smith’s campaign. Basildon was then a barometer seat. Despite boundary changes it still is a significant seat, although I doubt that winning here will necessarily mean government for the victor (although it did go Tory in 2010).
1997 was a good year for socialists in Essex when six Labour MPs were returned from my home county. Now all eighteen seats belong to the two governing parties; opposition has no home in Essex today.
It may be a gross generalisation, but describing the typical Essex man and woman is to describe people who are only a generation or two removed from London, most often the East End. Essex is home to Cockney barrow-boys done good.
Wheeling and dealing, dodgy and diving, getting on with a large dose of self-sufficiency, making one’s home the dreamt of castle – all this may portray a pastiche, but as a shorthand description for a county that embraced Thatcherism, and rejected her successor, it kind of works.
An inspection of Essex’s electoral history shows a county that embraces Conservatism. Yet, Labour’s breakthrough successes nationally came with famous victories in Essex constituencies.
To succeed in 2015 Ed Miliband has to succeed in Essex. Essex is not the only way for victory, but a Labour Government that has no representatives from the most populous non-metropolitan county would be a gross distortion of a party claiming to be a truly national one.
So, how to succeed in Essex; I think the key word is ‘aspiration’. What Thatcher gave, and Major took away, were the keys to ambition. Paint a picture of prosperity, where hard work is rewarded, and I believe Essex will deliver. Labour has proved it can win in Wales, Scotland, and the north of England. Its ejection from government came when the south and east turned its back on Labour, and success must come with victories in these areas. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives can claim good representation across Great Britain, an unhealthy state of affairs, particularly for the largest party in the Commons. Labour must win back those areas we have gradually lost over the last fourteen years. Winning in Essex will prove that we will once again be ready for government.