The election of Movement for Change activist (and now County Councillor for Clenchwarton and Lynn South) Alexandra Kemp moved Labour from 4th to 1st place in a traditionally Conservative area last month. Here, Alexandra outlines how she used relational politics as the basis of her campaign:
On 28 September 2012, Labour came first from fourth place in the safe Tory seat of Clenchwarton and Lynn South in Norfolk at the County Council election. It was a Labour landslide in a seat we had not held or even fully contested for 7 years. We turned a 700 Tory majority into a 400 Labour majority. There was a 25% swing to Labour. How did we do it?
We won through using relational politics to build a groundswell of support based on action we’d taken before the election was even called. We won by playing a leading part in a high profile community campaign throughout the county division. We won by building a social consensus in a division spanning as large a distance as some constituencies, across a hugely varying demographic. People told us they were breaking the habit of a lifetime to vote Labour for the first time. Yet in pledging their support, they affirmed a belief in local democracy, and in a community united by a shared love of place and neighbourhood. To me, it felt like a David and Goliath struggle where community action won out.
Local issue, local voice
Labour’s unique offer to our community was to stand up and challenge the age-old practice of siting the most polluting industries within breathing distance of our poorest areas. We spent time listening within our community and then helping to make the case for the green option of locally-based recycling. In doing so, we were on the side of local residents in resisting Tory plans to make King’s Lynn the Norfolk capital for waste.
Having been pro-active in learning about the local sentiment and framing our narrative, Labour was therefore the first to write to local residents alerting them to the proposed development and exposing the sham Tory consultation that had taken place. We used this momentum to lodge planning objections; we recorded our own song of protest on a CD with other campaigners; and meanwhile Labour Councillors put pressure on the Tories to reverse their decision. It was a relational campaign organised through 121 conversations with people of all ages and backgrounds; through meetings with community groups; and (in the final week) a hustings recorded live in a local community centre under the eagle eye of the regional press and media. Our message throughout was a positive one based on action Labour had taken locally. We showed that Labour will act in the interest of the whole community. As a result, the electorate took the plunge and voted for a Labour woman who looks very different from the usual Tory man in a suit. I now know that in other parts of Norfolk, Tories actually told Labour members that they wanted “the girl in the West to win”.
To all those who made this possible, I want to say a huge thanks. We used relational politics to build momentum with local residents, but I also relied on a fantastic team around me to make that happen, from my agent (Lawrence Wikinson) to the local Labour Group Council Leader Councillor Charles Joyce. There was Jessica Asato the PPC from Norwich North and Jo Rust from the Trades Council. There was Harry Clarke from the regional board, Peter Smith from South-West Norfolk and Terry Jermy from Thetford. There was George Nobbs the Labour County Leader, County Councillor Bert Bremner and Labour PCC Steve Morphew. Youth Officer Ashley Collop, former County Councillor Bill Davison and Jenny Davison, and Councillor Laurence Scott. And so many others. Thank you to all of you.
The achievement of first place from fourth is a definitive answer to all those who accept that politics can only be a certain way; to those who would abandon rural or non-traditional areas as “hopeless”; to those who don’t see the relevance of community-based action to our work as Labour activists.