Our message from Labour’s battle bus? This is not a Brexit election

It was heartwarming to see so many activists out in the cold weather and enthused by our transformative manifesto across the North this week. Along with Ian Lavery, Grace Blakeley, Dave Ward and fantastic Labour Party staff, I have just concluded a second three-day stretch on the Labour battle bus around the Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East and North West.

Our message was simple: this is not a Brexit election. Quite a bold claim when visiting constituencies who voted 60 to 70% Leave – but the tour was, in reality, characterised by conversations about the impact of cuts, local industry and the real apathy towards politics that many people in these constituencies feel.

Grace Blakeley spoke about the unique opportunity that this election offers to reverse Thatcherism once and for all – symbolically, 40 years since her election. These communities are still facing the legacy of Thatcherism compounded by the financial crisis and then harsh austerity, and Labour’s manifesto gives real meaning to the slogan ‘take back control’ that resonated with so many in these deindustrialised areas.

Dave Ward told the story of the CWU’s recent court cases to argue that there is no point ‘taking back our laws’ from the European Union, as the Leave campaign promised, only to hand them back to a right-wing administration in Westminster. Only a Labour government can reverse the unjust legislation, being fought by organisations such as the CWU, that the Tories themselves introduced on a national level.

Party chair Ian Lavery emphasised that this election is a “whose side are you on?” election. In light of the extent of child poverty exposed by Dispatches, and the research released recently that showed the five richest families have as much wealth as the bottom 13 million, we must challenge the mass of undecideds on the doorstep and remind them what the Conservatives have done to their communities for decades.

Appearing on This Morning, Jeremy Corbyn showed the side of him that everyone who works alongside him knows well: his leadership style of listening and learning from everyone he meets and using political power to give it back to the majority. We also listened, and the stories we heard emphasised the urgent need for a Labour government. From the disabled woman confiding in us about contemplating suicide and how much she was relying on a Labour majority this month, to the chip shop owner who came over to get a Labour sticker and ended up giving us free fish and chips for the journey – it is clear these are, and should be, the Labour heartlands.

In Hartlepool, a group of college students joined us, too young to even vote. One young woman explained that she had three jobs to make up enough hours and she knew it was affecting her education at college. A 23-year-old who voted Leave was enthusiastic to go on camera to explain that the Labour Party’s messaging was spot on: we can’t let Brexit obscure the clear choice in this election between those who represent the many and those who represent the few.

We concluded the first day in Blyth Valley in a packed room with contributions from Eva and Bethan, two local members who had opposing views on the European Union. They both spoke emotively about child poverty and climate change, and why voting Labour was imperative to address the issues they and their communities most care about.

Two posties walked past delivering letters in our stop-off in Pendle and happily told their friend in the crowd that they had already sent off their postal votes for Labour and we were beeped by numerous passing cars. There is definitely apathy in these areas, but our positive campaign with detailed policies has so many advantages over the gutter politics and vague manifesto pledges of the Conservatives.

We ended the three days in Weaver Vale and the most memorable part of the event was three WASPI women in the crowd, one of whom had experienced the cruel nature of Universal Credit, applauding enthusiastically at Ian Lavery’s statement of “It’s their money anyway!”.

Those who have been disempowered in their workplaces, local communities and politics as a whole for years deserve a government that represents them and to return a Labour majority we have to win arguments and seats in the Midlands and the North.

There is not long left at all in this general election campaign. Every conversation and every vote matters. Our positive campaign, which goes beyond the binary issue of Brexit, is working. It is working particularly well on the ground – and that’s crucial when the media doesn’t give us a fair hearing. This is not “the Brexit election”, as Sky News claims, but a chance to choose real change with the Labour Party.

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