IN JANUARY, I was again selected as the Labour parliamentary candidate for Hastings and Rye. As the only local candidate at the hustings, I had the home advantage - helped by having been the candidate for the 2017 general election, reducing Amber Rudd’s majority to just 346.
The selection last year was a strange affair, with no opportunity for local Labour Party members to have their say in who the candidate should be. I filled in an online form and was then contacted by a regional party representative a week or so later to tell me I’d been selected. It was about as democratic as winning the lottery. Standing as a candidate with no local party mandate doesn’t feel right, so I was happy to have the opportunity to do it again in an election where all eligible members had a vote. And I was still happier to be selected by a comfortable majority.
Planning an election campaign now is difficult, as none of us knows when the election is going to be. It seems highly unlikely that the government will last its full term. But predicting when their shaky bribery-based deal with the DUP and their strife-riven parliamentary party will collapse is not easy. We have ‘all-out’ council elections in Hastings this May, so as leader of Hastings council my mind is going to be focused on that, as is our campaigning activity.
The campaign we ran last April and May was excellent, and so nearly successful. We achieved an 11% swing to Labour - pretty good against a high-profile cabinet minister. That campaign broke a few traditions in the way we conducted it. We didn’t criticise Amber Rudd in any way. We criticised Tory policy of course, but our local MP was strictly ‘she who shall not be named’.
We also produced a 16-page pamphlet, written entirely by me, based primarily on local issues and how Labour policy would help the constituency. This was a bit of a risk as we produced it well before the national manifesto was published. In the event, the national manifesto was spot-on, in that it equated closely with our local version.
I also made it clear in the pamphlet that I had openly supported Jeremy Corbyn in both leadership elections - possibly the only council leader to have done that. And it felt good to campaign on a Labour Party manifesto that I wholeheartedly supported for the first time since I joined the party in 1980.
These approaches were well received locally and gained us support from former Conservative voters, because they appreciated the ‘clean campaign’ and election materials that fully explained what I believed in, and didn’t patronise. So I’d want us to take a similar approach for the next general election campaign. There were however some things we got wrong, or just didn’t have time to do properly. We know now that quite a few people didn’t get any material from me, so voted for Amber by default. With more time, we can concentrate on getting reliable delivery networks in place, with built-in checks to make sure deliveries have happened. Had we got the pamphlet to every household, as we intended, we could well have won last year.
We used social media well in last year’s election, with targeted Facebook posts aimed at groups of residents, or communities in the constituency. But other social media platforms were not used effectively, so there’s more we can do there.
We also need to build on the support we received from party members and others, locally and from other constituencies. Over 2,000 people helped with the 2017 election - we need to get them back next time, and start getting them engaged in a new campaign, using the council elections as a launching platform. And we need to get Jeremy, John and other leading Labour figures down to Hastings, which we’ve been promised will happen. Jeremy did visit Hastings last year, getting a crowd of more than 2,000 in a local seafront park - but this was after the election.
So there’s plenty of work to be done before the next election, whenever it is. But it’s going to be enjoyable - and this time, with another radical, socialist manifesto, we’ll win!