I love elections – I love the drama, the arguments and most importantly the people. I knocked on my first door for the Labour Party during the 1992 General Election – I was 12 and from that point on I was hooked.
As MP for Stoke-on-Trent North I really enjoyed knocking on doors in my constituency, talking to people about the issues that matter to them – not the issues I wanted them to care about. I’ve campaigned for three decades across the country and have been involved in winning and losing campaigns of all shapes and sizes. But the 2019 General Election was the most painful and bitter I have ever known. In the Potteries people were angry both because of Brexit and because of Jeremy Corbyn. I had people screaming at me, and crying on me, because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote Labour. It was our fault – we had failed them and my former seat is now represented by a Tory for the first time since the war. When you inspire that level of emotion in people it takes a lot to rebuild a relationship and time for the anger to fade.
Which brings me to this week’s elections. It’s fair to say the results are a mixed bag, and while I obviously want us to win every seat we contest; the reality is that through the prism of 2019 these results are extraordinary. This is not a continuation of the horror show that the Labour Party experienced only two and half years ago. The anger has dissipated, the hatred has gone, and the votes are coming back. These results really do mark a turning point in the Labour Party’s relationship with the electorate.
In London the Labour Party has had an historic night winning councils and seats in traditional Tory heartlands. As a Jewish Labour woman, who paid a significant personal price for being Jewish in the Labour Party, I cannot articulate my joy at some of the individual results in north London where several Jewish Labour activists, who had been at the forefront of the fight against anti-Jewish hate within our own party, stood and won wearing Labour rosettes, convincing an understandably sceptical Jewish electorate to vote for us. Winning Barnet council is miraculous when you consider that in 2018 86 per cent of the British Jewish community considered the Labour Party to have a significant problem with anti-Jewish hate.
In my own backyard we have had elections in Newcastle-under-Lyme – a true “Red Wall” Staffordshire seat. So far, the Labour Party looks likely to equal its 2018 results (which were significantly better than those we saw at the General Election in the same areas). We may not win control of the council, but we will have held our own and been competitive in a parliamentary seat which now has a Conservative MP for the first time in a century, who sits on a majority of over 7,000.
None of this is to say job’s done for the Labour Party. It simply isn’t. In order to gain a parliamentary majority of one, we need to be more than competitive, we need to secure a greater level of electoral swing at the next General Election than Tony Blair did in 1997, which is one hell of an ask. And to do that, we need to ensure that each and every time the Labour Party speaks to the electorate it’s about the issues that affect them and their families. It’s with a policy platform that will make their lives just a little bit easier than they are now. It’s with a vision for a proud and strong country that works for normal people. And it’s by making it clear that Labour Party will put their issues and concerns first.
This is all doable, but it is hard. And while we while we cannot overstate how big the mountain is that we have to climb, in order to earn peoples trust and their votes, these results suggest we’re on the right path.
Ruth Smeeth is the CEO of Index on Censorship. She was the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North between 2015-2019