Reflecting on my experience as Cheltenham’s Parliamentary Candidate at the last General Election I wrote this speech to be delivered on the conference floor.
James Green. I was Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate in Cheltenham at the last election.
There are thousands of people in Cheltenham right now who feel let down.
The Liberal Democrats won the seat on the back Labour supporters who voted tactically to keep the Tories out. Throughout the campaign they pitched themselves as the only real left wing opposition to the Conservatives in the town.
Conference, how times have changed.
The Liberals are now the face of coalition cuts that will see departmental budgets reduced by 25%, of a VAT rise that will hit the poorest hardest, and, most fundamentally of all, of a Tory ideological drive to shrink the state.
We have become the only opposition in Cheltenham and across the country. The only home for those who oppose the Tory-Lib Dem coalition.
In opposing of course we must expose the Liberals. And that could pay dividends.
At the General Election I held my deposit by 0.1% of the vote but I’m confident that if there was a by-election today Labour would win Cheltenham by a landslide.
But on a serious note, exposing the Liberals will never be enough in itself. It’s vital that we avoid falling into the trap of attacking the Lib Dems while allowing Cameron to rise above the fray.
Conference, we must focus our fire on the driving force of this coalition, the Tories, and on exposing the impact of their regressive and ideologically driven cuts.
But at the same time our history tells us that we can’t rely on the unpopularity of the government alone to win. The public demand and deserve an alternative progressive vision for the country.
This must be credible.
Our approach to tackling the deficit will be seen by the public as the test of our credibility. Of course we should oppose cuts where they are wrong but we must face up to the structural issues within the UK economy which come not only from the bank bailout but also from an ageing population.
It must be ideological.
Conference, we know that that Tories want to shrink the state but you can’t fight ideology with policy alone. We must offer the public a powerful set of ideas rooted in the political and economic realities of today.
And finally it must be authentic.
Nye Bevan put it best when he said, “the first duty of the progressive representative is to reflect the views of those he represents authentically. Because then people know that you are seeking to represent them because they are your inspiration.”
Conference, the quality of life, the public services, the support offered to those who inspired us all to get involved in politics are under threat.
I’m relishing the fightback.
James Green, Anticipations Editor and former Parliamentary Candidate for Cheltenham