So, the fantastic work of Labour activists, promoted by Jack Eddy from Labour: Coast & Country and spearheaded by Huw-Irranca Davies MP, has been recognised. The Rural Manifesto has been given the green-light by Ed Miliband – now comes the time to develop innovative and appealing policy for coast & country areas in order to fill it.
Excellent news, yes, but what does it mean?
LabourList readers not local to the area, won’t know much about South Suffolk. It spans Shotley to Shimpling, Pinewood to Glemsford and has a coast.
We’ve put together a campaign, a profile and a growing base of support using energy, nous and the tools available – including nation-builder and contact creator.
Siren voices insist this is forever true-blue Toryland, but voices on the doorstep tell a different story. They tell of an historic lack of opportunity to vote Labour. In some places that’s because we’ve rarely had a name on the ballot. Local members, often retired to rural villages after rich years of activism elsewhere, simply can’t do it any longer. In others it’s arisen from tactical decisions to concentrate effort and resources elsewhere.
Then there are those who talk of accepting second-best – a habit-forming tendency to vote tactically for the non-Tory. That’s allowed Lib-Dems, Greens and the odd – sometimes most odd – Independent to flourish. Then there are tales of parliamentary candidates campaigning only in nearby Ipswich.
So how will Labour’s Rural Manifesto translate into real action in South Suffolk? Well, it won’t without activists. Nor will it without campaigning hard on local issues all year, culminating in local elections – whether Parish, Town, District, County or Parliamentary.
As in many rural areas, District and Town Council elections take place at the same time as the General Election in May next year. I’m not the only one excited by this; nothing brings out activists old and new with a sense of hope and optimism like a General Election
But here is the challenge. In South Suffolk we have just 3 Labour District Councillors and no County Councillors. If we see building rural Labour as a ladder with District Councillors as the bottom rung then we have lots of work to do.
I fully understand how important our key seats are and have and will continue to support my fabulous key seat colleagues as much as I can. But we’re not going to get up that ladder if potential activists and Parliamentary Candidates are encouraged not to campaign in their locality because it’s ‘hopeless’ or ‘a waste of time’.
All of the potential Town, Parish and District candidates I have met in South Suffolk want a Labour Government. They would also like people with Labour values running all three tiers of local government. They want to campaign in their locality to achieve this and I intend to help them.
Jack Eddy has discussed with me the need for Labour to have a real mandate to govern our country. He’s right. Such a mandate can only be achieved if voters from all parts of the country cast their votes for Labour – not just those in heartland urban areas. As I topped the first preference voting, but ultimately came second, in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2012 with a 16% turnout, I know from harsh experience the significance of winning the broadest mandate.
The General Election in 2015 gives us an opportunity to begin delivering on the rural manifesto. We need to take it.
Jane Basham is Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for South Suffolk