‘Forget the progressive alliance. Labour must fight as many seats as possible’

Keith Dibble
© chrisdorney/Shutterstock.com

As the next general election fast approaches, there is talk amongst supporters of the ‘progressive alliance’ about Labour doing deals with other parties to maximise the anti-Tory vote and deliver humiliating defeats for the government.

How would Labour stepping aside or not campaigning in the Tory shires or Brighton Pavilion deliver a Labour government? What message would it send to voters? It would be telling voters in large chunks of the shire counties Labour is not the party for you. We don’t care for you. We actually don’t want your vote.

The Labour Party is a national party; we should campaign for every vote in every constituency. There must be no ‘no-go’ areas for our party.

With the right strategy, Labour can make gains in unexpected areas

In the recent local elections, Labour made hundreds of gains and became the largest party in local government in England. In some districts, this was achieved by unofficial deals or pacts with the Lib Dems or Greens. However, the vast majority of gains were the result of Labour working in the target wards and becoming ‘champions’ of their communities.

In my own Constituency Labour Party (CLP), Aldershot, Labour gained five seats on Rushmoor Borough Council, won eight of the 13 wards up for election and came within a handful of votes of gaining two further seats. The council after the election is Tory 23 (-5), Labour 14 (+5) and Lib Dem 2 (-).

How did we achieve this outstanding result? Planning, selecting hardworking enthusiastic candidates early, campaigning to take control of the council and rejecting the approach from the Lib Dems for a deal.

The Rushmoor Labour group is now planning for power in 2024. We have a shadow cabinet working with officers to be fully briefed for power, and we have the competence and energy to be ready for control when that day comes.

Our work after the 1992 election shows Labour can fight every seat

How can we build the knowledge and expertise to stand and fight every seat from Cumbria to Cornwall? This was the challenge to the party after losing the 1992 general election, and history shows we can do it.

In 1993, I along with a small group of South East party activists formed Third Place First, with the objective to rebuild the party presence as an election machine throughout the country and increase the number of Labour councillors.

We arranged workshops, training sessions and held conferences to encourage third place CLPs to organise and fight elections. We advised on:

  • How to run a campaign on minimal resources. In 1993, that was £20 and three volunteers;
  • How to produce inexpensive but good quality newsletters;
  • Why every seat must be fought;
  • Having the confidence to stand for Labour wherever you live;
  • Showing Labour can make a difference, even if you are the only Labour councillor.

Through this work, Labour in 1994 gained numerous council seats across the country, including many from third or fourth place, with our network becoming established in the party.

This was acknowledged by the national party leadership when we were asked to support John Prescott’s Operation Toehold project, the scheme to secure at least one councillor on every council in the country.

Now is the time to relaunch and ensure Labour has no ‘no-go’ areas

Operation Toehold, with the support of Third Place First, was a great success with dozens of local authorities seeing Labour representation for years.

The combination of the key seat strategy, and the ability of CLPs and prospective parliamentary candidates to turn local election victories into national votes was a huge stepping stone towards the 1997 landslide general election victory.

I believe now is the time to relaunch the 2023 version of Third Place First. The resources now available to us are vastly improved from those 30 years ago. The party must ensure CLP campaign teams have the competence and enthusiasm to use them.

I repeat, Labour is a national party. There must be no ‘no-go’ areas for our party. If you are interested in forming a new Third Place First network, please contact me.

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