Hugh Malik

Labour Victory in Norwich: Winning the unwinnable

Hugh Malik

ON 5 MAY IN THE LOCAL ELECTIONS IN NORWICH, we won Nelson ward off the Greens, overturning their 1,000 majority into a 501 majority for Labour. The turnout was almost 50%, and the swing was over 20%, the highest in the country. I became the first elected Labour councillor for Nelson since 1997. Ten months ago the Norwich Labour Party Executive Committee told me Nelson was ‘unwinnable’.

Corbyn’s leadership was an important element in our victory. However, if we hadn’t done any work since his election, I wouldn’t have won. Although we are seen as a pro-Corbyn ward, many of our key activists come from a cross section of the political debate within the Party. Much of the energy within the ward comes from the genuine friendships we have built. We have proved it is possible to work together. Most extraordinary of all, we discovered we had several national Tories voting for us locally due to our community engagement, and indeed we even had a Tory knocking up for us on election day.

For two years we have worked tirelessly. We have moved on from doing solely a box-ticking exercise with the electorate and have become engaged in the community. We have doggedly represented disabled residents who have been declared ‘fit to work’. We have done localised surveys on issues ranging from parking permits to planning applications, and represented residents on a range of issues from dog fouling to overgrown trees, pedalways and incomplete tar and chip. Everybody who responded to a survey received a direct mail, often with a personalised postscript.

We made a conscious decision to run a positive campaign, which was in stark contrast to the hugely negative campaigning by the Greens. We personally visited every new Labour member, making them feel welcome and making clear the many ways to get involved. We often ignored the ‘recommended voter pool’ that Labour software would point us towards, and instead knocked on every door. Some residents who had said they were ‘against’ us in 2002 hadn’t seen a Labour canvasser for almost 15 years!

A brilliant local member organised a Calais collection where residents donated anything from tents to toothpaste and we filled two whole Luton vans. At Christmas she collected for Norwich foodbank, where three quarters of a ton of food was donated. None of the people who saw us involved in these events could be counted as official ‘contacts’ in Labour speak, but this positive community engagement was unquantifiable.

Another local member started making our own ward badges which gave us a visual presence. We utilised ‘campaign creator’, to produce local literature that was interesting and different. We created a Nelson Youth Branch. We made full use of social media. We put hundreds of boards up as quickly as we could as soon as the election was officially declared. In the last four weeks of canvassing we did shared sessions with our neighbouring ward which meant instead of four canvassers, we often had ten people out, which increased our presence and built up the camaraderie.

I could go on. What I do know is that we have a template for local ward activity that could be crucial as we build towards 2020. It doesn’t matter if the demographic is UKIP, Tory, Green, Lib Dem or SNP. This template can be tailored to suit the electorate, and could make ‘winning the unwinnable’ a reality.

is Labour councillor for Nelson Ward, Norwich