Cllr John Haywood
For many years, when I meet Labour people and tell them about the politics of the New Forest, especially the west of the Forest, they are amazed that there is any Labour activity at all. Our MP, the dozing Tory Sir Desmond Swayne, has a 24,000 majority. Labour only polled more than 10,000 once before in 1945. In 2015 New Forest District Council was returned with 58 out of 60 Tories.
So why bother in places like this?
As those 58 Tory councillors were returned I was becoming active in the party (having been a member on and off since the age of 18); at that election Peter Kelleher stood for district council in the ward that I live in – Ringwood North. With no campaigning Peter came only 261 votes short of winning one of the two seats in a high-turnout election held alongside the General Election. Even though the gap between Labour and Tory was flattered by a split right-leaning vote thanks to UKIP, it showed that there was a solid base of people in the north of Ringwood prepared to put their cross next to the rose on a ballot paper. Something that could be developed.
So we started with petitions and street stalls, plus some Facebook campaigning. The Tory administration on the council embarked on a leisure centre privatisation project which was highly unpopular locally. This provided a fillip for our visibility in the community and was a springboard to door-knocking. It’s hard starting to knock doors in new territory and the petition was a great “permission to knock”. It also generated media articles to increase our visibility further.
Position yourself ready for a lucky break
To capitalise on a lucky break, you need to be in position, you need to be ready. Our lucky break came from a combination of increased local member activity which allowed for increased campaigning, plus a conscious change of strategy to try to get on Ringwood Town Council first and work to the district from there. After a casual vacancy occurred we triggered a Town Council by-election in 2017. Peter got a credible vote in a two-horse race on a low turn-out – but it was not quite enough to take it. This very much tested the water and let me build skills with designing leaflets on Labour Connects and using Contact Creator. I’m a big fan of using the technology that we get from the party.
Both Peter and I became candidates for the 2019 local elections. Nomination day came and we had the surprise of being elected unopposed to Ringwood Town Council as the Tories did not have enough candidates to maintain their stranglehold. We also were the only opposing candidates in the district council election. Luck was allowing the first pieces of the puzzle to fall into place…
…there’s more to come…. in the next blog