A few weeks ago, a political journalist asked me whether the state of the polls made me feel ‘vulnerable’ in my marginal seat. “I’ve felt vulnerable since the 2 May 1997,” I replied. But I see this as a strength.
To win a seat like mine means constantly building and rebuilding a coalition of support; it means being forthright in explaining what value you’re adding as an elected politician; it means spelling out what you stand for and how you differ from Tory opponents.
It’s harder to ‘campaign’ as a government and as ministers than as a marginal seat constituency MP but it’s not impossible – and it’s a mindset that injects energy and purpose.
Firstly on the coalition. Of course we’re not still fighting the elections of the 90s. Not least because of the success we’ve achieved as a government in transforming public services, challenging the worst forms of poverty and moving social attitudes. Not least because we’ve proved we can tackle crime, be tough on security and deliver economic stability through previous tough economic times.
But feeling secure in your job and your community; being treated fairly – with help when you and others need it, recognition of your contribution and expectation that people take responsibility for their actions – and getting the best chance to make the most of your life and that of your children wherever you start out. These aren’t heartland or middle class values. They’re the values shared by Labour voters from Glasgow to Henley and, despite the results, are not yet embedded in Tory policies.
In fact, the Tories face a big political challenge in the current climate. What is the role of government in a period of global economic uncertainty? It certainly shouldn’t be to fudge long term decisions on energy policy. It certainly shouldn’t be to revert to isolationist political and economic policies. It certainly shouldn’t be to promote elitist education and training options. We haven’t. They have.
What is the role of government in driving further public service reform? It’s to build local voice and capacity as we’ve done with neighbourhood policing and in the Police Green paper. It’s to use direct, private and voluntary sector provision to ensure access, choice and quality as we’re doing in health.
In as much as the Tories have a view on the modern role of government, it’s appears to be that it should be smaller. With a progressive view of the role of, and point of, democratically elected national government we can make our case and turn a spotlight on Tory plans over the coming months.
And we have another opportunity. Labour in local government has historically shown both the best and worst of Labour in power. Tories in local government are already showing the worst of Tories in power!
I’m ready for my holiday, but that’s because I want to be ready for September. There is everything to play for in my marginal seat!