Labour's woes in Kent after the elections

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, May 17 2011

Labour has a considerable distance to go before it can claim to be a political force in Kent.

Not my opinion but those of an increasing number of Labour figures who, in the cold light of day, have come to realise that gaining one council from the Conservatives on May 5 was hardly the breakthrough Ed Miliband tried to present it as.

Among those to offer his insights as to what went wrong is a former Labour councillor in Medway and now an MP, Bill Esterson. His analysis? That voters in Medway "accept the Tory argument and rejected ours." That's a devastating indictment but I suspect he's right. The Conservatives ought to have been troubled in councils like Medway but emerged relatively unscathed and in some - Dartford - actually increased their numbers.

Why Labour was rejected in Medway>>>

Bill's analysis is that while there was no lack of enthusiasm among candidates, Medway had no real support from the wider party and only a handful of volunteers. Part of this is that Labour lost all its MPs in Kent in 2010, leaving it without a natural organisational base and the lines of communication to the national party that make it easier to get big hitters down during election campaigns.

And his warning that the next general election could be tough is a salutary one. "Unless we put resources into Medway and dozens of  seats like it, we won't make enough progress at the next general election." In other words, we'll have another four years in opposition.

He's partly right about the organisation and need to build up an army of activists. But there's another equally important task: if Labour is to make any headway against the Conseratives, not just in Kent, it needs to present a coherent, meaningful alternative to the government's.

Taking an anti-cuts stance is fine as far as it goes but I don't sense that Labour has fully understood that is not enough. The party has endless policy reviews under way and while every party who is turned out of office is right to re-examine its policies, voters won't take much of an interest until Labour puts a bit of flesh on the bones.

As Bill Esterson rightly says, voters appear to have accepted the government's argument over the key objective of sorting out the economy. That may not last, of course, especially as I expect there to be much more pain to come from the spending squeeze before thigs improve. That might undermine the Conservative support among the all-impoertant "squeezed middle" that represents the heartland of Kent's parliamentary constituencies.

But relying on people to get even more disillusioned with the coalition does not strike me as presenting voters with a compelling political alternative.

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Categories: Labour

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