Suffolk: Comeback for Labour? Former cabinet member rallies the troops

John Denham and David Ellesmere

John Denham and David Ellesmere - Credit: Archant

NEARLY three years after his party was put to the sword across the south of England, former communities secretary John Denham visited Suffolk to insist it could bounce back at the next election.

Mr Denham, who held on to his Southampton seat by a wafer-thin majority of just 192 in 2010, is now Ed Miliband’s parliamentary private secretary and is leading the task force aimed at increasing the Labour vote in the south of England.

This week he met party members from across the county to urge them to fight back after their disastrous result in 2010.

He said: “The fact is that the party suffered proportionally more in the south of England than it did elsewhere in the country.

“We have to rebuild from that, which is quite a challenge. We have to persuade people who would naturally be Labour voters in other parts of the country to vote for us again.”

The task was not impossible – the party is in a similar position to that which it held in 1992.

“We only have 10 parliamentary seats across the south of England, excluding London. That is not a good position – but it is the same as we were in back in 1992 and in 1997 we turned around and won 40 seats across the regions.

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“But to achieve that we have to work with people on the ground to show them that we can represent them.”

He said it was necessary to target parliamentary resources at key seats like Ipswich and Waveney in Suffolk but that should not mean the party was inactive in the rural areas.

“There is still much we can do to build support – which should help us to win seats on the county council and on districts and boroughs.

“And by working in those areas for local elections you can build up support from those who might then go out and help in the target parliamentary seats when the general election comes.”

Mr Denham said issues like the state of the NHS or concerns about the economy were as relevant to voters in the south of England as they were elsewhere in the country.

And Labour could also benefit from voters’ disillusionment with the Liberal Democrats – their coalition with the Conservatives could cost them many votes in seats across the country.

He said: “Labour is well placed to win back support, but we need to work on this. The task force is not an open-ended effort. We have three or four months of working to draw up a strategy which should be effective in areas like this, talking to members is so important.”

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