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Take heart from a win in Lambeth

Posted on 6 June 2009 | 6:06pm

Staring at the depressing blue map being painted as a
result of Thursday’s elections, I thought I would share with you a story that bucked
the trend, and which illustrates what a difference strong local campaigning,
issues based, can make.

The story is of a by-election in Princes ward in
, where turnout was almost 43 per cent, and where Labour candidate Mark
Harrison earned 1,726 votes, with a 330 majority over the Liberal Democrats. My
congratulations to Mark and the team who supported him, bucking the trend as
Labour did in Lambeth in 2006, when the borough was Labour’s only gain in the
country, led to victory by Cllr Steve Reed.

What is also interesting about Thursday’s vote is that
parts of the ward are traditionally Tory, yet the Conservative candidate
trailed in third with 707 votes, showing that Cameron’s followers have yet to
engage voters in inner city areas like Lambeth.

I hear a fair bit about the politics of Lambeth from
Cllr Mark Bennett, who used to work for me at Downing Street, and is now in
Lambeth’s Cabinet, where he holds the crime portfolio. As those of you who are
involved in Go Fourth will know, he’s also a tireless Labour campaigner – as
are many in Lambeth.

So for the past couple of months I’ve been getting
regular texts and emails from the frontline as the by-election was fought.
Knowing how hard Labour members in Lambeth were working on the by-election, I was
pleased to see their hard work rewarded. I was also pleased to hear that the ward was buzzing with Labour activists on polling day.

It was a bright spot for Labour on an otherwise pretty
dark day, a by-election won despite difficult national circumstances and the
MPs’ expenses scandal in Parliament, which is just across the Thames (you can see
it from some of the council tower blocks).

It shows that Labour can still win when we have a
clear message about what we are offering, defend the record, show the dividing
lines between us and our opponents and, crucially, work hard on the doorsteps to
get these things across. Particularly now, with the media creating a constant
wall of noise around politics, mostly to Labour’s disadvantage, there is no
substitute for face to face contact with voters.

Labour activists in Lambeth held firm to their local
campaign, despite all the current turbulence of national politics and a
typically shameless Lib Dem campaign – I’ve seen some of the leaflets, and Nick
Clegg should be ashamed. Indeed, I’ve suggested sending them to Saint Vince
Cable to see what he thinks.

So it seems that despite everything, residents in
Princes ward chose to vote on local issues, for a good new candidate and in
support of a dynamic Labour council that has invested in schools and youth
services, cut crime and kept the council tax low. Along the way Lambeth under
Labour has repaired the shattered finances they inherited from the Lib Dem-Tory
coalition they ousted, who put up council tax by 40% over four years.

In fact, Labour has stabilised Lambeth’s financial
position to the extent they have been able to freeze council tax for this year
and next to help people through the recession, which must have helped too.

Their priorities – young people, crime, value for
money – are the priorities of residents. They know this because they have surveyed
residents on the doorstep. Lambeth is a Labour borough in constant touch with
Labour voters, with a good story being told by councillors and MPs hard at work within their communities, and now something of a beacon shining out on a day when so many
council elections, often for national reasons, went in the opposite direction.

So take heart, I say. All is not lost. There were a
few ‘what planet are you on?’ type comments when I said here yesterday that I
did not detect any great enthusiasm for the Tories, as there was for TB in
1997. That remains my view, however, even after the drubbing Labour took around
the country on Thursday, which will be underlined when the European election
results are announced.

An economic crisis and a Parliamentary scandal, with a
few ministerial resignations thrown in, are about as bad a backdrop as you
could have for a governing party. Frankly, the Tories should have done better.
So take heart from that too, I say.

Meanwhile, you have to admire GB’s resilience. He goes
through all he has gone through in recent days but can still pull out a superb
speech at the commemorations of the D-Day landings.

And finally, having tweeted on the
excitement last night, a word of congratulations to the Dutch for winning the
cricket against England last night. For half an hour, I thought Kazakhstan were
going to do something equally miraculous on the football front today. That
really would have been crisis time.

  • Humpty_Dumpty

    ‘Meanwhile, you have to admire GB’s resilience.’

    Er, no, I don’t; it’s not resilience, it’s pig-headed stubborness. He’s like a spoilt little boy, with his fingers in his ears and his tongue stuck out, saying ‘Shan’t, can’t hear you!’. If he really thinks he’s the answer, God knows what the question was. I despair.

  • morph366

    Are you referring to GB’s superb speech on Obama Beach?

  • Humpty_Dumpty

    ‘Meanwhile, you have to admire GB’s resilience.’

    Er, no, I don’t; it’s not resilience, it’s pig-headed stubborness. He’s like a spoilt little boy, with his fingers in his ears and his tongue stuck out, saying ‘Shan’t, can’t hear you!’. If he really thinks he’s the answer, God knows what the question was. I despair.

  • David Boycott

    “superb speech”?!?

    “Obama beach”?!?

  • James Wildbore


    Poor people of Lambeth. As shown by Glasgow East and other Labour heartlands – voting Labour will not do them any good. I live over the border in Wandsworth council and have tried to avoid Lambeth where the tax is way too high.

    Campbell – you are associated with the old successful Blair regime. Speak-out and put Brown out of his misery. He can’t forcus on the issues as he is has no authority -= this country will go to the dogs as he fights for HIS own survival. Disgusting!

    You always struck me as a brave man – do the right think – shoot this lame Prime Minister and quick.

    Plus I have seen the bit of the speech where GB fluffs his line and renames Omaha beach as Obama beach – it’s just getting embarressing. Shoot the idiot before we lose anymore credibility as a nation.

  • Harry Jones

    I agree GB’s speech good today but all we will hear about is his mis-speak

  • Steph Marshall

    I can see why you want to find a silver lining somewhere but it is blindingly obvious you want to say GB should go but are too loyal to the party. Real loyalty demands more of the Purnells and less of the Milibands

  • Brian

    Alistair, don’t you lose the plot as well as all the others. You are the only remaining icon of society. What is your furure move?, i am interested to know.

  • Charlie Watson

    Alan Sugar as a peer advising on enterprise? It is beyond parody. Brown should be the star of his own reality tv show — I’n not a prime minister get me out of here

  • Mike

    Brown’s just delaying the inevitable. The backbenchers surely realise they must remove him as leader if they are to avoid total catastrophe at the general election. Thereafter, the party needs some radical, progressive policies. Until that time, I will continue to vote for the Green Party.

  • Charlie
  • Boudicca

    This country is supposed to be a Democracy yet Gordon is relying on unelected members of the House of Lords to prop up his Government. And this is the man who tells us he intends reforming our Constitution and electoral system. He appears to be deranged.

    Labour Ministers and MPs of the past must be turning in their graves.

    As for today’s speech …. OBAMA Beach! And he nearly said it twice. His infantile obsession with the US President is as bad as Bliar’s was with Bush.

    For goodness sake Labour MPs, get rid of him. He is a national embarrassment.

  • Steven Walsh

    Just finished reading your book (Diaries) Alistair and thought I would just post to say what a fantastic read it was. Thanks for several hours of both entertaining, enlightening and thought provoking reading. Reading it has persuaded me to take a more active part in our political process than has been the case in the past ……. well almost! Maybe you can Swing me with the next edition. My Thanks and Congratulations once again on producing such a cracking read!

  • wyrdtimes

    “a superb speech at the commemorations of the D-Day landings.” lol yes superb! Booed by the war veterans and calling Omaha beach “Obama” beach.

    What a statesman!

    McCampbell you are living in a fantasy world. Everyone hates Brown.

    And onto your other silver lining…

    I bet as a proud Scot born and raised in England and having lived in England all your life you would have enjoyed the Holland win and would have enjoyed England losing to kazakhstan even more – tough luck there.

    It seems that even a plastic Scot gets pleasure from England losing. Probably because thy’ll never get any pleasure from Scotland winning.

  • Chrissy

    I’m also wondering if anyone has actually sat and analysed the expenses scandal that has caused this debacle. This information did not come out until we were in the middle of an election. Nobody had the time to actually analyse what was being said, but we should have done. Now that the election is over, I’ve been looking properly at these HEADLINE figures. Second home expenses – David Cameron is claiming close to the mazimum but just calling it interest, despite using it to pay off a main home loan. Our lot have gone into great detail. Silly buggers.

    But take out the second home allowance, take out the travel expenses and look at the admin expenses (everything else). David Cameron – leader of the opposition is claiming a lot more than the Prime Minister – leader of the country – can that be right? and Nick Clegg is claiming more than either of them. Why can’t they just have a budget to keep within. Surely, the Prime Ministers budget should be higher, he’s leading the country for crying out loud, and the lib dems, they truly must have the smallest one. Or am I missing something? Please explain

  • Sukhpreet Hothi

    Nice job with sorting out the Iraq war you heartless bastard.

  • Jonathan Evans

    As someone who stood (unsuccesfully) for the Labour Party in last year’s Welsh County Council elections, I agree that efective local campaigning is essential if we are to rebuild the Labour vote in national, UK and European elections. Deep roots in local communities can help us to withstand wider shifts in public opinion and hostile media coverage. However, I would make a couple of obvious, if sometimes overlooked, points.

    1. Local campaigning should be based on clear principles, shared values and a cogent manifesto. People need to have a clear idea about what a Labour-run council would deliver. What are the essential principles underpinning the policies?

    2. A good local media management strategy then needs to be put in place. In my experience we could do this a lot better than at present. I’m sure there is good local practice out there, but this needs to be shared more widely.

    I spent some time earlier this week trying to get the Labour vote out for the European elections. Whilst there were predictable comments about expenses and a disunited party,people also brought up local issues and the distance they felt existed between themselves and the professional political classes. We have to nurture our local roots.

  • David Barrett

    Hmmm Well no one turned up on my doorstep and I haven’t heard of anyone doing else getting a visit in the street, which is just at the top of Steve Reed’s patch. May be it was because of the vociferous outrage at the prospect of a controlled parking zone in the area (completely unjustified and a blatant tax by the council to raise revenue), the state of the streets which can only be compared to a third world shanty town at times (you’ve them on news reports, well come to South London, it’s not too dissimilar at times), pointless road ‘improvements’ and complete refusal to impose 20mph speed zones in residential areas (offering instead electronic smiley faces when cars stay below 30 (if only!) – do you know how much 30mph looks like when a car is traveling down a gap between cars parked on either side of the street?
    Local issues count as well. Labour still got my vote though – Can’t change the habit of a lifetime.

  • Nick

    Who is the better leader, Owen Coyle or Gordon Brown ?

    Watch out for a Lib Dem MP in Burnley next time BTW, Kitty Usher can then spend more time with her artex ceilings 🙂

  • Jane A

    This just shows that if people make the effort and knock on doors, promote the message, answer the no doubt very difficult questions, it works in influencing the vote. I just wish more candidates had done it. But good for Lambeth.

  • Susan Brown

    You can also take heart from good results in Oxford. Labour made 5 gains in Oxford City (yes really) including gaining a councillor in a division that includes a ward that hasn’t had Labour representation for about 40 years. This is down to extraordinary hard work, excellent candidates and the involvement of large numbers of party members and volunteers. The Oxfordshire county group is now larger than it was before these elections, even though we lost every Labour seat (all 4 of them) outside Oxford City. Astonishingly, it is also the third largest county group in the country which is appalling.