One of the many lovely conversations I had on polling day was with a group of women on the way to vote in the bright sunshine. “It’s been so nice to see lots of neighbours” they said. “It’s been like a social event”. And that is something we should be properly proud of. Even if the national result was far from being what I hoped for, we should all celebrate the fact that we can exercise a democratic choice in peace and freedom, especially when that right is denied to so many millions. Democracy also relies on all those people putting themselves up as candidates, often at considerable personal cost, and the volunteers from all parties who do the unsung and unglamorous work of canvassing, leafleting and stuffing envelopes. It may not be fashionable to celebrate the business of politics and those who take part in ii, opponents as well as supporters, but I do.
So- the result. Locally, I was honoured to be re-elected after a closely fought campaign. Westminster North is a wonderful, fascinating area, but it is also an area of extremes, and it tends not to have large numbers of swing voters. I knew the outcome would still be close, and so it proved. Now my task will be to do my best for the residents whilst managing the reality of working with a Conservative Council, Conservative Mayor and Conservative government. I’ve been campaigning on ‘quality of life issues’, like the impact of the growing short let economy on residential areas, mega-basement excavations; defending essential public services like the NHS and care for elderly people, Neighbourhood policing and Children’s Centres, and helping people in housing need. All this will continue. Much of it is likely to become harder still as further deep spending cuts bite. I am lucky to have an excellent team of local Labour councillors and we will be doing our very best for every part of the constituency. However, there are also thousands of residents who are part of the fabric of the community, involved in schools, residents associations, faith groups and not involved in party politics. I want to reach out to them too, and work with them in responding to the challenges we face.
Nationally, we need to come to terms with what was a very bad defeat- and worse for being unanticipated. It is essential that we have an honest and rigorous debate about our campaign, our messages and our policies, which also recognises that different factors came into play in different parts of the country. What happened in Scotland was very different to what happened in some of the English towns, even after allowing for the obvious truth that many English voters were clearly also reacting to the surge of Scottish nationalism. We also never managed to overcome the fact that we were blamed for the global economic crash, and for spending too much before it, even though the Conservatives were backing our spending plans and calling for less financial regulation not more. Yet there was no single cause and therefore no single prescription for the future, and we must make sure that we are open and inclusive in our debates.
Looking forward, it is still true that a Labour politics which embraces aspiration and opportunity is entirely consistent with a commitment to quality public services and a decent social safety net, a healthy economy and a strong sense of national and cultural identity. Indeed, I would argue that we can’t have any of these without the others. Ed Miliband quite rightly put fairness and inequality at the heart of his vision and that perspective must not be lost either. The desire for a better life is not owned by any one sector of society, by any one income group, residents in any one category of tenure, any one ethnic group- aspiration is built into everyone’s dreams, for themselves and their children. We must show we understand this and shape that understanding into specific policies and messages for the next election- responding to people’s need for a decent, affordable home, a clean, safe environment, fair access to educational and work opportunities and the means to make a reasonable living, efficient transport…
In the meantime, we face a fight for London next year, one of the fiercest-fought Parliamentary sessions for many years and all the risks of the coming European referendum. Time to get on with it.