As someone who counts going to the seaside and canvassing as two of my favourite things, Labour’s “Seaside Express” seemed tailor made. So I joined day two of Labour’s tour with instructions to meet at Lowestoft’s South Pier.
By the pier all the elements of a traditional British seaside holiday were on show: Punch and Judy, arcades, kiosks selling fish ‘n’ chips, plus a spot or two of rain(!)
Labour MPs and Campaign Deputies Jon Ashworth and Gloria De Piero, Labour Students and local activists from Lowestoft and surrounding CLPs donned red “Seaside Express” T-shirts and began handing out sticks of Labour rock to passers by whilst signing people up as official Labour supporters to help the campaign to re-elect Bob Blizzard as Waveney’s MP. Then in the afternoon we split into teams and hit the doorstep.
As well as visiting Lowestoft, the Seaside Express has visited Brighton, Morecambe and Blackpool which are all marginal seats Labour is campaigning hard to win.
As well as the obvious benefit of lots of additional activists campaigning in marginal seats (and seaside towns often face a UKIP threat), the Seaside Express helps remind those in the Labour movement who don’t live in coastal constituencies some of the particular challenges as well as the opportunities for our seaside towns.
Coastal erosion is a case in point and Bob Blizzard showed the visiting MPs the damage caused to the town’s seafront by the tidal surge last year which have left parts of the beach inaccessible for the summer season.
Other issues of particular concern in coastal areas include the challenges of seasonal work and second home ownership increasing house prices for locals.
Coastal communities have been let down by the Government who cut funding for flood protection, abolished the Sea Change Programme which drove cultural and creative regeneration in our seaside towns and slashed Visit Britain funding. On tourism, David Cameron pledged in 2010 to lift the UK up the destination rankings of the UN World Tourism Organisation from sixth to fifth – we are now eighth.
However there is huge potential along the coast not only from tourism but increasingly areas such as the East coast are becoming known as renewable energy centres of excellence. When I visited an offshore wind farm I met many local people who had found employment in this expanding sector. Lowestoft College provides training for those pursuing a career at sea or in the energy sector and Lowestoft’s EU funded Orbis Centre clusters renewable wind, wave and tidal power businesses offering a bright future of high skilled jobs.
I do like to be beside the seaside so I’ll certainly be back to Lowestoft and other marginal coastal seats in the run up to 2015. I hope many more Labour MPs and Labour Coast and Country activists will too.
Alex Mayer is NPF Representative for the East of England
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.