My monthly column for Progress.
The Labour party National Executive Committee met on 4 and 5 November. The meetings were characterised by a determined focus on the 2014 and 2015 elections.
Harriet Harman set the tone, emphasising the importance of the 2014 elections, which she said are inseparable to our fortunes in 2015. To win in 2015, we need to strengthen our position by ensuring that we have as many Labour voices as possible in each region. This means gaining an MEP in the south-west, to give us a voice where in areas there currently isn’t one, and electing more Labour councillors and MEPs across the country to help spread our message further.
Harriet said that our current MPs would be a vital resource during the 2015 election. To get the best for their constituents, sitting Labour MPs need a Labour government, which means they’ll need to help to win marginal seats as well as their own. It is the job of current MPs to help get more MPs elected and that work starts with the 2014 elections. Each key seat will be twinned with a frontbench spokesperson to support them and there will be an onus on all Labour MPs to campaign in our target seats.
We were told that by the 2015 election we will have an organiser covering every key seat. Where we had organisers in the run-up to the 2010 general election this made a discernible difference to the results, reducing the average swing against us. Campaign plans for each of our target seats will be in place by December 2013 and organisers will be supported by the key seat unit in HQ.
Ed Miliband’s focus was on policy priorities for 2015. We will be fighting the election primarily on the cost of living. He said that the ‘pound in your pocket’ argument was an important one but that our offer had to be bigger than that and go beyond the energy prize freeze. Ed said that we need to show people how we will make them better off as a result of how we will run the economy – creating jobs and apprenticeships, reforming the banking system and more. Wages, and specifically the living wage, are a key part of that answer, along with housing.
The NHS will also sit at the heart of our next election campaign, as our second big theme. This will be about uncovering what is happening in the NHS under the Tories, as Andy Burnham is doing. While Ed Miliband said that he wants to win the next election on the basis of hope, he said that it would be important to give people a sense of what is at stake if the Tories are allowed to govern for another five years – both in terms of the NHS and beyond.
Our third priority is around credibility, showing that we recognise that there will be tough times in regard to spending and that getting the deficit down is important. Ed said that reforming the Labour party is key to this message, as is Labour’s agenda on immigration. On immigration, we will put forward a positive message about diversity and the benefits that it brings, while also addressing people’s concerns about the way that employers use immigration.
The fact that the core campaign team is entirely made up of men was raised frequently across the two days, thanks to Keith Birch and the equalities committee. Ed told us that, with a shadow cabinet that is 44 per cent women, a significant number of our spokespeople throughout the election would be women. Nonetheless, we are still disappointingly short of having a shadow cabinet that is 50 per cent women, and having women at the heart of our campaign strategy team is essential. It’s good that equality issues are at least being talked about but we still need to do more.
John Denham rounded the meetings off with a presentation on the work he has been doing on the ‘Southern Taskforce’. He outlined what needs to be done to win more seats in the south, saying that voters in the south generally share the same fundamental values as those in the rest of the UK but put more weight on those values. Rhetoric around the ‘north-south divide’ and the ‘Tory south’ is unhelpful, creating the misleading impression that, while people struggle in the north, everyone is fine in the south, and making it sound like we don’t belong there. We need to show that we understand the concerns of voters in the south and are actively working to address those concerns.
In the run-up to May 2014 we must prove that we are the ‘one nation’ party, active and winning in all regions and building our base for 2015.