Why Eastleigh matters

February 15, 2013 4:30 pm

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Mark Latham writes that Labour has a chance in Eastleigh to make headlines or make history on March 1st but has no choice but to fight.

Elsewhere on LabourList today John Denham has dismissed the navel gazing question ‘can Labour win in Eastleigh’. Here I argue, win or lose, fighting for Eastleigh is as important to Labour as the Corby win. Perhaps more so.

New Labour despite its successes never reached Eastleigh we are told, but this is not actually the case. Yes, LibDems have held the seat since 1994 but there can only be two reasons for this; either Eastleigh is not full of progressive, ordinary hard-working families, homeowners and the self-employed who look to the state for good services and protection of the vulnerable, or voters in those years accepted the ‘New Labour Lite’ Lib Dem narrative “Labour can’t win here” AND so did we. Clearly it is the latter. Even in Cameron’s zenith in 2010 over 56% of progressive voters were against the Conservatives.

New Labour ignored the Eastleighs throughout the South, happy for the Lib Dems to proffer New Labour Lite and save our resources for elsewhere. Both ethically, if we value a real One Nation Britain, and electorally in times of Coalition government, we cannot let the Lib Dems ride our coat tails to office and then bolster Tories in dismantling hard won protections for working people.

The New Statesman ran an excellent piece by Rowenna Davis, who pounded the streets of Fair Oak with me at the weekend. She writes about indecision in Eastleigh but the sub editor has attached a bizarre headline about ‘apathy’ – there is no apathy in Eastleigh – in a week’s hard door knocking (by last Tuesday we had over 3,000 contacts prior even to having selected a candidate). In driven rain I encountered no apathy; people are indecisive, there is little tribal vote and people want to talk about the issues – particularly what Labour are offering. This curiosity bespeaks a wide open contest; there is not apathy but anger, frustration and worry. This is Ed Miliband’s squeezed middle.

The Labour Party are taking Eastleigh seriously with an excellent campaign team on the ground within hours and we have attracted a dream candidate in John O’Farrell willing to show that Labour can resurge in the South. Chuka Umanna has promoted initiatives to attract business people, like Eastleigh’s voters to be Labour candidates in order to reach the Southern consituencies that we abandoned to the Lib Dems. That message won’t reach the South unless we knock on Eastleigh’s doors. The truncated campaign is the LibDem’s tactic to stop us doing this.

“No one from Labour ever comes round, you’re not even at the polling station” a Bishopstoke voter told me at the door of their small detached home. The issues in Eastleigh are familiar; housing, cost of living and most of all fairness. One Nation can speak to this. The military tradition of the South coast doesn’t mind sacrifice but the feeling that we are “not all in this together” resonates, they see the super rich get tax cuts and investment prices rising as the cost of living squeezes their own lives.

As Jim Knight proved in Dorset South, and explores in his Labour Coast and Country work, we can appeal even in Southern Tory heartlands. Eastleigh is not a Tory heartland. In exploiting Eastleigh’s progressive leanings LibDems have been exposed; no constituency shows better how little LibDems stand for, how flexible their convictions when they are in pursuit of power.

Eastleigh was Labour. The heritage is remarkable, the CLP own a large constituency building in the middle of town bought with a brick by brick subscription at £1 each in 1956. Our CLP treasurer, Ted White, tells the story with a glint in his eye at the promise a by-election brings to a local CLP. We have to rebuild in Eastleigh and the South brick by brick. We need people to help us now to do this in Eastleigh.

John Denham has dealt with the pointless, London-centered debate on whether voters should be manipulated to vote tactically. In Eastleigh some 80% of contacts so far are one-time Labour voters who voted for Huhne to keep the Tories out. They are undecided. Talking to them will persuade them to vote Labour. They are willing to listen but the campaign has not reached a tipping point. You, gentle reader, can help tip this balance. If Labour knock the doors we will be taken seriously. Plan a couple of days on the coast, bring friends who are experienced at campaigning, who know Labour’s systems and who can drive to across the semi rural constituency.

Eastleigh CLP is a bit moribund by our own admission but we can sense a change. We know whatever the result we will have a strongly positive legacy from this by election. So desperate are we to have experienced Labour campaigners now, this weekend onwards, not just on polling day, we have raised ourselves a petrol money fund of £1,000 in 24 hours.

As Luke Akehurst wrote come down here and bring “the kitchen sink”. Leave the New Labour / Lib Dem compact behind, only the Labour Party can build One Nation. Last night James Cutts, Conservative Future spokesman, who organized the Tories 2005 campaign tweeted “can I say, as the man who ran the Tory campaign in Eastleigh in ’05. If the Labour Party ran an effective campaign – they could win.” In fact, we will “win” in almost any event. Doubling our vote or more shows we are back in the South, second place or better then we have an active platform for 2015. With O’Farrell we can win in 13 days time.

In Eastleigh only one thing is certain; Labour can, on March 1st make headlines or we can make history. The latter just requires experienced activists with cars knocking on doors.

If you can come and campaign for John O’Farrell and Labour in Eastleigh, the Campaign HQ address is 69 Leigh Road, SO50 9DF

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