The Rural Group of Backbench MPs that operated throughout our 13 years in power did invaluable work to raise the profile if Labour in rural communities. What it established beyond doubt was that Rural Britain faced exactly the same issues as Urban Britain, but that the scale and sensitivity of the way in which they should be approached needed to be different.
It is this realisation that has concentrated my efforts on how best to campaign in the countryside and that is what I would now like to impart:
1. Spread the word: Word of mouth is the most effective way of getting our message across and in order to do this Labour campaigners have to build local presence in rural areas by being visible and working through (rather than instead of) community activists.
2. Be Visible: There is no substitute for earning peoples’ trust and this must be done through accessibility, visibility and by careful application of campaigning. Never overtake someone else’s campaign – be alongside those who are campaigning and find mutual support through help and advice where appropriate.
3. Keep it local: Always be sensitive to local opinions – literature should be focused on as narrow a local area as you can manage. Remember that when people start to trust and appreciate you then they begin to offer to deliver for you and provide the communication channels that will be so important to stay in touch with that community.
4. Use local Media: Where other organs of communication exist, such as Parish magazines, use them as much as possible – a good letter is worth their weight in gold if published. However, you should never over do the Party Politics as this will be counterproductive. Instead come up with solutions to some local issues.
5. Get to know the key people: the vicar (or other Church Ministers), Head Teacher, Postmaster/mistress, Parish Council Chair and Clerk, GPs, landlord, other major movers and shakers in the village. Within reason people will want to see you, even when they may be allied to our opponents, and you will be surprised what an impression you can leave if you try.
6. Think long-term: Relationships cannot be built overnight, but if you play for the long term you will elicit an amazing amount of loyalty and this will be the basis of your political campaign when this is needed.
7. Remember you are never off duty: a casual indiscretion can cost you dear! And remember that everyone is related to everyone else so be very careful what you say about others.
8. One size never fits all: what worked in one place at one time may not work somewhere else next week. That’s why there is no alternative but to get into different rural communities and work with what is the best approach there.
9. Keep trying: sometimes it is difficult to prompt a response but this does not mean that people there have not listened – it’s just that they are coy about communicating back.
10. Overall, reputation is everything: so build it up in those communities over a long period of time – fetes, carol concerts, school visits, charity events, sporting fixtures are all good ways to raise profile. Be sincere and don’t ever appear that you are there for the sake of it or perish the thought, electioneering!
David Drew was Labour and Co-operative MP for Stroud 1997 – 2010, and is PPC for Stroud for the 2015 General Election
Follow on Twitter: @DavidEDrew
Or Stroud Labour: @StroudLabour