Last month I campaigned hard in central London. There was a by-election in Peckham Lane ward in Southwark, south London. There are always lots of stories to tell in such campaigns. I started recognising people who’s doors I had knocked on before. I remembered the first names of people we were trying to convince to go out and vote on the day. It was fun, but hard work.
It’s an area full of estates and social housing. And many of them are right next to leafy streets with middle-class residents. It’s a nice mix.
It’s also an area hit hard by cuts imposed by the central government, which the Labour-controlled Southwark council had to carry out. So surely Labour would have paid the price for imposing the cuts?
Rowenna Davis (Labour) won. In fact, by a landslide and a majority even bigger than before. The Libdem vote collapsed, naturally, and the Greens beat them to second place by one vote. The Tories came fourth. TUSC – the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition – got just over 100 votes.
Voters didn’t blame the Labour-run council for imposing the cuts; they were intelligent enough to know who was behind the cuts. They just wanted Osborne and Cameron out of power.
There are lots of people who constantly accuse the Labour party of betrayal over lots of things. Fair enough, that’s up to them. But I didn’t see any lefties come out and support the Greens nor TUSC there either. Peckham was in fact the only local-election in London in May. The TUSC had no support, no money and no activists. They didn’t even come close to making anyone else sweat on a platform of no cuts to local services. Even the Greens were starved of activists.
Now, obviously I wanted Labour to win and I worked hard for that. But it seems to me that if people are going to start talking about supporting alternatives to Labour, they should do so in practice too (exception for disabled people who can’t knock on doors easily of course). Even Sue Marsh campaigned hard – despite her illness – and got some amazing results for Labour. My utmost respect to her.
The other point is this. Lots of lefties seem to think it’s quite easy for a new party to spring up, win people’s trust, and get elected. But left of Labour is littered with failed alternatives. Of course they don’t have the money or the organisation. But they also under-estimate how difficult it is to win people’s trust, to become comfortable with them, and start worrying the more established parties.
This doesn’t mean I always support whatever the Labour party does. I don’t. I’d like Labour to win power in four years time but I’d like an engaged electorate that has plenty of choice. This is also why I campaigned for AV – it would have given people the opportunity to support smaller parties while making sure the vote wasn’t split so Tories get in. But we’re stuck with FPTP for the time being. The choice won’t be there.
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Filed in: Party politics