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Labour’s southern mission

21 February 2013

6:49 PM

21 February 2013

6:49 PM

How can Labour win back voters in the South East? At the 2010 general election, Labour took ten southern seats outside of London, compared to four times that in 1997. Like the Tories in the North, Ed Miliband needs to offer policies that will ease the concerns of these lost southeastern voters; to convince them Labour is once again on their side.

Miliband has tried to address the problem. The catalyst came from John Denham, who urged Miliband, as Giles Radice did with Neil Kinnock in 1992, to remember the ‘6:14 from Basingstoke’ voter and avoid using ‘north-south’ language. Instead, Denham suggested Labour should present policies that appeal across the whole country.

The Labour leader has examined the cost of living several times, a particular concern for those in the south — as the Daily Mail illustrated here. He has vowed to fight the 2015 election on this particular matter and has already advocated a living wage. Miliband has also raised concern over rising energy and rail prices — but one has to question his thoroughness. On ticket prices, he offers no actual solution on how to reduce fares, just that it needs to be done. On energy prices, Miliband’s rhetoric suggests he is more concerned with cutting carbon emissions than bills. Paul Goodman explains here the political importance of advocating lower energy bills.

Tristram Hunt confirms in this week’s Spectator Labour is keen to win back these voters and their Eastleigh by-election campaign — just the kind of seat they need target — is a good precedent for 2015:

‘What is more, voters in Hampshire and the south do not have a foreign set of values to the heartlands of the Labour north. Instead, the difference is that the Labour party has too often failed to provide both a language which speaks to southern voters and a presence on the ground.

‘This is the psychological significance of Eastleigh. It shows that the Labour party is not going to retreat to a core strategy of upping the solid Labour vote while picking off disaffected Liberal Democrats. Nor will we limit ourselves to precision strikes against a few target wards in Stevenage and Redditch. Instead, we will treat the electorate with respect by offering them choice.’

In his political column last month, James bemoaned Miliband’s solid policy problem. When I heard Miliband give his energetic conference speech last year, I was impressed that he had created a strong party branding which still didn’t tie him to any particular policies. But so far, his announcements, while fitting into that framework, have lacked the definition these lost voters will want if they are to believe in Miliband and Labour.

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