Sunday, 4 August 2013

My thoughts on the 1st August Thetford-West by-election

Wow. What a few weeks and months. I have gone from feeling really rather sad on the 3rd May, having not won the Thetford West Division on Norfolk County Council by a single vote, then onto fighting one of the most (if not the most) exciting and inspiring election campaigns that I have been involved in, and now of course having won; a fantastic feeling of pride and accomplishment. 

I was naturally disappointed to not win in May, not because of any personal achievement or gain, but because I genuinely wanted to be able to work for Thetford and address some of the many issues that we know exist. Many issues can be resolved through community work, but all too often local Councils can provide the key to changing things, or unlocking that potential. Having not won in May I felt genuinely disappointed that so many of the issues that I wanted to address may not have come to fruition as a result of the poll. Issues that I knew that local people cared about, but because of the UKIP surge nationally, people did not vote for as many became caught up in the UKIP 'protest'.

It was all the more frustrating that the eventual winner had no real sense of what to do, or how to achieve what the community wanted. Myself and other residents had no particular idea what his priorities would be should he win. Losing an election must be easier to appreciate if the person that beats you is able to fulfill the requirements of the role well?

I still feel genuinely sad for the UKIP candidate that did win in May, whom I know personally. He had no idea what he was getting himself into, and did not expect to win, and did not anticipate the scrutiny that you come under when you are successful with an election. I hope that things have moved on for him now and that he is well. 

The campaign over the past few weeks unfortunately in many ways became a battle about immigration. We had to constantly fight that message that UKIP was putting out both locally and nationally that they were the party that would put an end to immigration. There is unfortunately a widespread belief that many of our problems locally are down to immigration and that by electing UKIP, these problems would be resolved. This is simply not true. 

Take housing for example - there is a belief locally that we have a shortage of social / council housing due to migrants getting preferential treatment over the local population for housing. This is not true - in fact, a very small percentage of the existing housing stock is occupied by 'non-UK' born people. We have a housing problem as we have not been investing enough in social housing for many years and the housing stock that we do have cannot cope with the demand. In Breckland, approximately 500 houses belonging to registered social landlords (i.e. 'Council houses') become available per year to re-let, there's approximately 5,000 people on the housing waiting list - doesn't take too long to spot the problem here. Most migrants locally are in buy-to-let properties, often in houses of multiple occupation, living in some very squalid conditions. They are often paying considerable sums of money to unscrupulous landlords who are exploiting their situation - these landlords are sometimes foreign nationals themselves, or, UK citizens exploiting the migrant workforce and their lack of understanding.

Don't get me wrong - there are issues to do with migrants that need addressing - take street drinking for example. There are very real concerns about the amount of street drinking and public urination that takes place, very often (but not entirely) committed by migrants. This has got to be addressed, and it is something that I have been addressing through my role as the Vice Chairman of the Safer Thetford Action Group, and will continue to address in my new role as a Norfolk County Councillor.

However, voting UKIP is not the answer to this issue.

I won't dwell too much on UKIP now, as I intend to write a report on my thoughts about this and how UKIP needs to be tackled, and how it can be tackled, at a later date.

One of the most interesting aspects of the result on Thursday however was the Conservative vote. I thought May 2nd could have been a blip, or that it had hit rock bottom in terms of their core vote - but I guess not. Getting just 353 votes in May was an awful result for the Conservatives in a seat where just 4 years earlier they had got 882 votes. But this time around their share of the vote went down 3% further, and they got just 282 votes, this is despite their candidate being endorsed by Carl Clark this time around, who was the Christian Peoples Alliance candidate in May, and obtained 134 votes then. So surely some of his votes this time would have gone over to the Conservatives? perhaps masking that even more Tory voters had gone over to UKIP? They are the party with the most resources, both financially, and in terms of foot soldiers, and they are normally the ones contesting whatever seat is up for election with one or another party - so it was amusing to see them as mere spectators in this contest (Sorry Ian and Tristan!).

I want to say thank-you to every-body that voted for me, I really do appreciate it, and will work to further earn that support over the next few years. Many people voted for me personally, people who do not normally support Labour, and I am grateful for that.

I also want to say a massive thank-you to the amazing team of helpers over the past few weeks. Particularly thanks to my Agent - Ciaran, to local party members including Peter, Colin, Sylvia, Brenda, Albert, Vic & Joanne, Ray, Gerald, Dennis, Heather, Jim, Phil, Jake, Lorna & Michael, and Chris. To friends and family that assisted including Alan, Michelle, Jane, Corinne. And particular thanks to Angus, who kept me sane and relaxed and much more. Plus, the numerous helpers from neighbouring CLPs - it was a real team effort, a fantastic effort from Labour supporters both near and far - thank-you!!!

My particular memories from the campaign;

1. Talking to previous UKIP voters, often at length, and eventually helping them to understand that voting UKIP was not the answer to their concerns - many UKIP votes from May came back to Labour in this election 

2. Campaigning outside my First & Junior School (Queensway) with the Labour MEP Richard Howitt, who was stood outside the gate explaining to parents why they should vote for me

3. Turning Barnham Cross red - thanks to Bert and Chris for erecting numerous 'Vote Labour' boards around the area - no doubt that there was an election on!

4. One of the campaign helpers, encountering an entirely naked man that opened the door whilst we were canvassing - and worse than that, he actually wanted to talk, whilst he was stood there naked.

5. Knocking on thousands of doors ! We covered so much ground and spoke to so many people, something that would not have been possible without such fantastic support from so many people.

6. The campaign day itself, and the campaign centre at Fulmerston Church - amazing! 

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