Labour’s HQ should connect more with East Anglian voters
- Credit: PA
Labour headquarters were not listening enough to activists on the ground in East Anglia, stand-in leader Harriet Harman has admitted.
Ahead of the Eastern region hustings for a new leader on Saturday, the veteran MP said her party needed to do more to make its presence known so voters did not think it was a foreigner to the East.
And she said that in her role leading the party, before a longer-term appointment is made in September, she would be holding the government to account over its election promises on infrastructure amid swingeing cuts expected in the emergency budget next month.
Ms Harman is currently undergoing a 'lessons learnt exercise', and had met many of the defeated candidates from Suffolk and Norfolk.
'It will be a big part of lessons learnt why across Norfolk and Suffolk we only have one MP now, when we hoped to have Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth, another Norwich seat, Ipswich...'
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She said that local council elections next May would be crucial in building up grassroots support for the party, after there was a sense from the candidates that the region had suffered because it did not have a 'big base'.
'Developing the arguments depended on having a bit of a Labour culture. That is why our council elections are going to be important in May. We have got to show ourselves properly to the Eastern region and build up our confidence, and then there is also the issue of a regional agenda.
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'I think that we have got party members in all the towns around Suffolk and Norfolk, but I think their visibility is not strong enough. We need to think about how we remind the region we have Labour Party members and supporters all around and we are not foreigners to the region.'
She admitted that head office had not always listened to those going out and knocking on doors.
'I think what was said to us in the Eastern region [by activists] was that people on the doorstep could hear what people were concerned about, but there wasn't enough ability to transmit that back to HQ.'
Discussions are already taking place about when they start the process to select candidates in key seats.
Norwich candidates Clive Lewis and Jessica Asasto were both early selections, but Ms Harman said there were arguments on both sides about when the best time to choose who would represent the party on the ballot paper was.
'On the one hand people say it is a good idea to select early because the person can have time to build up their identity as a candidate.
'On the other hand there are a lot of people who might put themselves in if it was nearer the election, but are not willing to commit three or four years out,' she said,
With the Eastern region hustings taking place on Saturday, Ms Harman urged as many people with Labour values to have their say.
The party will be allowing people to register for a vote, costing £3, by simply sending a text message – the first time a political party has done this.
'We really do want people in Norfolk and Suffolk to be voting – even if they haven't got Labour MPs or councillors, they could have a say. All they have to do is be a supporter of our objectives and send a text.'
Ms Harman would not say who she would like to see as the next leader, saying: 'I am being absolutely neutral. But I am glad that both amongst the leadership and deputy leadership, we have a spread of candidates.'
While the leadership contest occupies the party, Ms Harman said she would focus on holding the government to account.
'The question is whether they are going to deliver on their promises on infrastructure. Where they have promised things they must deliver them. They have promised people will be able to see their GP and their A&E...
'They have made promises we have got to hold them to account on that.'
Labour members from the Eastern region will be meeting in Stevenage on Saturday morning to put their questions to the leadership and deputy leadership candidates. More details on www.labour.org.uk