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.