Lessons from Waveney | Sonia Barker

In the below post, Sonia Barker – the Waveney Labour Parliamentary Candidate in 2017 and 2019 – sets out her thoughts on the last two general election campaigns and what’s needed to win in 2024.

In December 2019 a Labour voter saidLabour will take away my Brexit if they get in!’ and as the Labour Together ‘Election Review 2019‘ concurs ‘Labour… lost votes’ especially in ‘left behind areas’. Waveney constituency is based around the coastal town of Lowestoft – increasingly looking ‘left behind’ – and includes the two smaller towns of Beccles and Bungay. It is a bellwether seat, between 1997 and 2010 it had a Labour MP.

Sonia became the Waveney Labour (WCLP) general election candidate in May 2017, via the NEC, and the constituency was a marginal – supported by the CWU, FBU, Unite and GMB. She gained the same Labour votes as the then outgoing former Labour MP Bob Blizzard did in 2015.

2019 Result (2017 in brackets)

Aldous – Conservative: 31,778 (28,643) +7.8%;

Barker – Labour: 13,776 (19,428) – 9.9%;

Bram – Green: 2,727 (1332) +2.8%;

Kor – Liberal Democrat: 2,603 (1012) +3.2%

Brenn – Christian Peoples Alliance: 245 +0.5% 

Turnout: 62.2% (65.3%)

In 2019, Sonia was voted in as the parliamentary candidate by a majority of WCLP members, and with the endorsement of the FBU, at an All Members’ hustings meeting after a campaign in July. In 2017, due to the CLP having just come out of ‘Special Measures’ the general election campaign team set up a temporary Campaign HQ; ditto in 2019.

In both cases the candidate had the superb back up of a small group of dedicated WCLP officers and activists. The WCLP Treasurer Alan Green deserves credit for his input during both campaigns as do Neil Coleby (2017 Agent) Len Jacklin, Jane Murray and David Finnigan (2019 Agent) alongside Alison Cousin, Nicky Mathers and George King who all worked exceptionally hard.

A major difference in 2017 was the visit to Lowestoft by Jeremy Corbyn, which was comprehensively covered by both local and national media.

Brexit & Too Much All At Once

Brexit dominated both campaigns, in 2017 UKIP voters voted Conservative (up 6,539) – a portent of the 2019 result in which the Conservative majority increased and a smaller number of votes were lost to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

The 2016 EU Referendum result in Waveney was 62% Leave to 38% Remain – Lowestoft on its own would have been a much higher Leave vote as Bungay and half of Beccles voted Remain. By May 2019 the Brexit Party locally had scored a success in the European Election before ‘pulling out’ of the 2019 general election.

A dedicated team of Labour activists worked enthusiastically and effectively, turning out at least twice a day, and by 2019 were using Labour’s ‘Insight’ targeting system to doorstep alongside Sonia to get out the Labour vote. She attended seven hustings in 2017 but fewer in 2019.

Activists created eye-catching posts and a video shown across different social media platforms such as Facebook and leaflets to get across key policies such as inward Labour investment after years of austerity: in the NHS, by supporting local government; improving resources to schools; increasing police numbers and green technologies offering apprenticeships. 

The living wage offer was popular in 2017 but by 2019 Labour’s enhanced policies were seen as ‘too much all at once‘ by Lowestoft Labour voters.  However, in Bungay the broadband offer and support for banks and improved public transport were really welcomed.

 A key campaign question in 2019 was ‘Where is our 3rd Crossing?’ a reference to a promise made by Cameron in 2015 to fund a key infrastructure project which still hasn’t started.

Very different in 2019 was the use of online targeting towards traditional Labour voters, especially veterans – it was obvious that the Labour leadership was being undermined. Also, the winter 2019 election campaign was cold and shorter daylight hours were a real challenge. As in 2017, there was an army of leaflet deliverers across Waveney in 2019 who were and are much appreciated.

Winning in 2024: You can’t be (or support) what you can’t see!

Thus, there needs to be more practical grassroots support for the local community in a post-Brexit, Covid-19 Waveney via a Labour hub based in Lowestoft with outposts in Bungay and Beccles as the need is there, as witnessed by the Waveney campaign team in 2019.

Finally, to form a Labour Government, both Waveney and nearby Great Yarmouth need to return Labour MPs to Parliament, especially in the light of SNP gains in Scotland.

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.

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