As Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Skipton and Ripon, a seat we came third in in 1997, I was under no illusions about the very likely outcome for me and us in the 2010 election.
Selected in 2007 before the “election that never was”, I and the committed CLP team there set local objectives, relevant to the seat, focused on building Labour’s foundations for the future.
For those who haven’t had the opportunity to visit this beautiful part of North Yorkshire, the constituency is the second largest in England. It encompasses the tourist-enticing towns of Skipton and Ripon, alongside Fountains Abbey and a tapestry of picturesque villages.
With local elections taking place ahead of the far off general election, we wanted to ensure that everyone who wanted to had the opportunity to vote Labour – no matter where they lived. With a strong belief that nowhere should be considered a “no go area” for Labour, we fielded candidates in every seat. Building on these foundations, today we hold three seats on Craven District Council.
The second approach we took was one of high visibility, to show local people that Labour was here, active and serious. We knocked on doors, and handed out campaign leaflets in high footfall areas, including Skipton’s high street. Activities like this led to a number of useful conversations with those pleasantly surprised to see us there.
I also ran community drop-in sessions in different towns and villages to hear thoughts from local people on local campaign priorities for the general election. Speaking of no “no-go areas”, one of these was in a village where the road sign as you drove in proudly declared it to be “A Conservative Village”.
When I was first selected, this vast constituency only had one branch and dedicated members came from all over it to our monthly meetings in Skipton. To build and mobilise the local party base, it was important to establish new branches in different communities, supporting people to get more involved and lead localised campaigns where they lived. These are very much still active today.
We also focused on reaching young voters who hadn’t yet cast their first vote. While the Conservative tradition was strong in the constituency, this was no reason to think that all future voters wouldn’t be interested in hearing about an alternative – especially from a similarly aged candidate, passionate about encouraging others to become politically active too.
I was 19 at the time of my selection, and so spoke to a number of issues and lived experiences that were similar on a personal level, from feeling the housing ladder had been pulled out of our generation’s reach to passionately wanting to protect our environment. We were also of a generation that had seen and felt the benefits of a Labour Government. My own class had been a packed 37 in a village school before Labour came in.
If recent elections have taught us anything, this should include that we should never be complacent that people will definitely vote one way or another. We always need to earn trust, wherever that is.
Places and views also change over time. There are constituencies on our national target list that were not considered plausible only a matter of years ago.
Take Filton and Bradley Stoke, close to where I live now and am out campaigning with a great team here at least every other weekend. If we are fortunate enough to earn the trust and votes of local people to represent this key seat for the first time in its history, then this will be in no small part because of the hard work done over years by campaigners, candidates and councillors, and our Labour Metro Mayor, never taking a single vote for granted – one way or another.
By building strong foundations, we can build a strong Labour future. Maybe not at every level of government everywhere, but we can win town and parish, and local authority council seats anywhere, and show people what Labour can do to improve things in the places they love.