If, together, we rebuild a culture of campaigning, Labour can win

ben bradshawBen Bradshaw MP, running to be Deputy Leader of the UK Labour Party, reflects on what he’s learned in Scotland and how in many places our grassroots campaigning needs to be reborn.


When I was first elected MP for Exeter in Devon in 1997 in what had been a safe Conservative seat, I never imagined I would still be an MP all these years later, while great colleagues like Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Anne Begg would not. Never did I think I would share a state of political isolation with a Scottish colleague. Me, a small red dot in a sea of Tory blue in South West England, Ian Murray, in Edinburgh South, the lone Labour survivor of the nationalist tsunami in Scotland.

I am married to a Scot and all my in laws live here, but no politician from south of the border should come here pretending to have the answers after the trauma Labour in Scotland has just suffered. What’s important is that we listen and learn, that we avoid doing anything to make Scottish Labour’s job more difficult and that resolutely and painstakingly we help and support you rebuild.

I know from my three visits to Scotland so far during the deputy leadership campaign that we have the people, the talent and the will to recover. From Glasgow, through Edinburgh to Aberdeen we have great Labour councillors running things. They are already delivering for local people in difficult circumstances – with a Tory UK Government and an SNP Scottish one. We have great members and organisers working hard. They need to be, because the recovery here is going to be hard and it’s going to be long.

Canvassing in Glasgow for one of the city council by-elections this week I spoke to a life-long Labour supporter on his doorstep who said: “You need to get your act together – from top to bottom.” I replied, we were doing so – at the top, with the election next week of a strong new Scottish leadership team and, that I hoped we would, on September 12th, for the UK as a whole. But, what about at the bottom? I noticed as we went door to door, street to street, that we had virtually no historic data on our canvass sheets. When I asked later about this, the excellent young volunteer running our session told me that before 2012, the contact rate in this constituency, represented until May 7th for decades by a Labour MP, had been zero. That’s right, zero. Not a single conversation on the doorstep or the phone. How could that be possible? We must never allow it to happen again.

Now, I’m not saying we lost the election because of our campaigning, organisation or activism. We lost for bigger reasons than that. But where Labour bucked the trend, we did so thanks to good organisation and campaigning. And in too many places, including here in Scotland, we had lost that campaigning culture and become hollowed out. It won’t be possible everywhere to achieve the 75% contact rate we have in Exeter, but nowhere with a Labour MP or Labour councillors should have a contact rate below 50% and it’s time these figures were published.

The UK Party and its new leadership need to foster an enabling and supportive culture and not a rigidly controlling one. The same goes for the Scottish Party and those in the regions of England. You can’t campaign in the same way in the Highlands and Islands as you can in Edinburgh. Again, where Labour bucked the trend in the election, we did so with strong locally branded campaigns. We must get better as a Party at sharing best practice and let’s give local parties and candidates the resources and freedom to build their own campaigns. They know what works best on their patch.

I am the only candidate for either deputy or leader with a record of winning and building for Labour in hostile territory. Over time, week in week out, we have turned what used to be a safe Tory seat into a solid Labour one and we nearly trebled the Labour majority on May 7th. Nothing we do is rocket science. With sensible politics, hard work, an all-year-round campaigning culture and an MP and councillors who lead from the front, it can be done anywhere.

I’m standing for deputy leader because I believe I have the skills, experience and campaigning acumen to do the job. I don’t want to be leader and have never wanted to be leader. I have always been loyal to all or leaders and don’t bring my own agenda. I believe I complement any one of the leadership candidates in useful ways – of gender, geography or politics. But most of all I’m standing because I want us to win and I believe I can help.

With the right leadership, the right political strategy and the right organisation together we can beat the Tories and the SNP and win in 2020 and provide the Labour Government the UK needs.

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12 thoughts on “If, together, we rebuild a culture of campaigning, Labour can win

  1. So Ben lets suppose Labour for example in Scotland go all out to reconnect with the electorate on a face to face basis with door to door “conversations” what do you actually say to them? Do you ask them what they want? or do you tell them what you’re going to do without asking first?
    How do you answer questions such as
    Why do you support the renewal of Trident over funding much needed public services?
    Why do you support the privatisation over much needed public services?
    Why do you want to continue to exponentially increase local taxation above the rate of inflation?
    Why do you want to charge students and their families fees they cannot afford to pay while continuing to insist on greater levels of taxation?
    Why do you insist on continuing to cut welfare and benefits? Do you still believe its something for nothing or you are still not the party for those on welfare?
    Why do you continue to abstain on Tory austerity instead of opposing?

    And you wonder why Labour members go out of their way to avoid face to face “conversations”?

  2. “From Glasgow, through Edinburgh to Aberdeen we have great Labour councillors running things.”

    If you think the GE was a tsunami wait til you see the Scottish Parliamentary election results followed by the local election results.

    You’ve already lost 4 councillors to the SNP since yesterday and its all because of people like yourself on the extreme right wing fringe of the Labour party.
    Whether you care to admit it or not Corbyn is the only outspoken Labour member let alone potential leader who is actually in touch with the vast majority of the UK electorate.
    If you want Labour to reconnect with the electorate on the ground then you better let Corbyn do it alone because none of the rest of you will have anything worthwhile to say to them.
    The truth is the electorate are sick to the back teeth with your soundbytes and token pretence in support of social justice.
    The only outspoken member of the Labour party who actually talks convincingly of Social justice is the one most Labour party members such as yourself distance themselves from.

  3. Purely as a matter of interest who is going to do this campaigning? During the referendum campaign much of Labour’s street level work had to be outsourced to other political parties, imported party workers from England and frankly even with that I saw little or no sign of any viable campaign in any part of Scotland I stayed in or travelled through. During the General election campaign the situation was even worse. The only sign I saw of any SLAB activity was a couple of lonely souls just down from Mid Steeple in Dumfries. They packed up and left before the rivals on the SNP and Tory stalls. You do not have the basic membership, activist base or money to do what you say you want.

  4. By 1997 there had been a Labour hegemony in Scotland for more than thirty years. Mr Bradshaw is unaware of the decades of cronyism, indolence and small town partiality that destroyed a century of social progression build by Scottish Labour.
    Murphy, Alexander and Co are not going to be missed by most of us. It would be my belief they were percieved as ideologues, rather than working directly for their constituents.
    leadership, strategy and organisation may well be what is needed.
    But—whoever is Leader will split the party.
    Strategy? –” Can’t buck the market” —the mantra of the top brass.
    Organisation–Lack of troops. New recruits suspect of infiltration. Where will funding come from?
    Labour is in trouble, no doubt. Media bias. Ideological splits. Lack of confidence, focus, direction, money, members.
    The UK , Scotland requires an articulate and committed opposition.
    Labour is running out of time to provide it.

    1. Gavin, there time has come. Labour in Scotland is finished. A left of SNP nationalist ‘labour’ party will probably rise from the ashes of old ‘Scottish’ labour but how significant it will be is the question.

  5. Ben the reason why the Scottish Labour MPs lost their seats is because they took the people of Scotland for granted and sat back comfy in in the knowledge that they would be elected without doing the bread and butter duty of representing their constituents and knocking on doors, and being available through surgerys in their wards to help them and as a result they became idle careerists collecting their substantial corn from Westminster.

    If the next Scottish Labour Party leader could convene a extraordinary meeting of the Scottish Labour Party and announce that the Scottish Labour Party policy will be to no longer send any of its current or past Scottish Labour Party members or MPs to the House of Lords is this possible or is it up to the Labour Party UK.

    Do you think this would bring the issue of the House of Lords reform or closure to the forefront.

    Do you think that the Labour Party UK including the Scottish Labour Party will shut down the House of Lords club that many of their current or past Labour Party UK including the Scottish Labour Party members or MPs are hoping to get into someday.

    Ben what is your position regarding the House of Lords.

    1. Will, he won’t reply. They never do. Its diktat from on high. Its all they can do.

  6. That’s unfair.
    One Glasgow councillor answered me on here.
    Was a righty catty retort but they did answer.

  7. Richard thanks your probably right on the lack of reply, although Ben does himself no favours as it shows that he is just on a PR mission to get some votes for his deputy leadership bid and this shows him in a bad light.

    Its funny that that the Scottish Labour Leadership contenders are scared of having a real independent Scottish Labour Party separate from the control of the Labour Party UK entity and instead keep mumbling the line that they will be autonomous, can somebody help me out what does this mean? Does it mean that the Scottish Labour Party could have a different policy in Scotland than the Labour Party UK on matters that are not devolved to the Scottish Parliment and are UK wide for example Trident.

    1. Will, It is debate Labour are scared to get involved in. When you don’t have any original policies it is not comfortable to go into a TV studio, chap doors or go online.
      Your point about Labour’s refusal to, even after the GE result, discuss the prospect of an independent Scottish Labour party is revealing. Both contenders are opposed to the idea, which tells me that both a firmly under the control of the British Westminster Labour Party. McIntosh and Dugdale both look south for their reporting line. It is as Professor Trevor Davies likes to remind us The British Labour Party first and Scotland second. The term Scottish Labour Party means nothing. The accurate terminology is British Labour Party (Scottish branch office).

  8. Richard thanks for the info, I am now wondering if McIntosh and Dugdale are under the control of Westminster as far as I can make out they do not support Jeremy Corbyn do you think that if he becomes the next Labour Party UK entity leader that they will they be under his control, in other wards will he be pulling their strings. I cannot understand why I never hear any resemblance of policies from McIntosh and Dugdale instead vague soundbites for example Dugdale “All kids should get a fair crack at life…no matter there background.” This is obvious but you get nothing like a policy just generalised comments does the two of them think that people are stupid they need to set out policies if the want to get anywhere soon.

  9. I like Bradshaw. It’s very strange the Blairite faction put forward Liz Kendall who was an unknown when they had much better candidates available. Except of course they may have calculated that it would be wiser to sit this one out.

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