Taskforce figurehead confident labour will win seats in the east at next election

Communities secretary, MP John Denham, centre, on a visit to Norwich, with Steve Morphew, right, lea

Communities secretary, MP John Denham, centre, on a visit to Norwich, with Steve Morphew, right, leader of Norwich City Council and John Cook, prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich North.Photo: Denise BradleyCopy: Tara GreavesFor: EDP/EN©Archant Photographic 201001603 772434 - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2010

With Labour MPs a scarcity in many parts of the south of England the party set up a taskforce to look at how it could woo voters in the East. Political editor Annabelle Dickson meets its figures head John Denham.

'Many southern constituency Labour parties have developed a 'Labour can't win here' attitude,' a report by its Southern Taskforce concluded almost exactly this time last year.

Now its figurehead, long-standing MP John Denham is much more upbeat.

While acknowledging there is more work to do, he says he believes that the Labour Party is beginning to build up its man and womanpower on the ground, where he claims the next election will be won.

In the wake of a decisive defeat in 2010, even two years ago people would have ruled out Labour forming the next government, he claims.

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And while he says Labour will win back target seats in the East, tellingly, perhaps, he won't be drawn on which ones.

But he is quick to point out that his taskforce is also about the longer term strategy, whatever a happens at the next election.

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'We are trying to win as many of our target seats as we can next year, and that is the emphasis now. But we also want to look beyond the next election and building up the basis of Labour support, inclduing in those areas where people share our values, but haven't voted Labour in the past because they have not seen it as a significant party to vote for. We have got a short term and a medium term strategy.'

He thinks Labour's message goes much wider than the 106 constituencies it has said it is going for. 'YOu find poor school standards not just in inner cities or old industrial towns, you find low wages all around the coastal areas of East Anglia, even perhaps in the commuter belt,' he said.

Pushed on the argument that it was Labour's legacy which saw schools in areas like Norfolk and Suffolk fall behind, he is dismissive, claiming: 'People want to look forward. IF you are thinking about your own children, you may take an interest about what happened in the past, and I know schools were much better funded as a result of the last Labour government, but people are going to look and say what is going to happen in the future.'

And while he believes that Labour will win a majority, he is realistic that the party has a lot more to do in many areas, and it could take 10 years to get there.

'You have to win your first councillor, then you have to have a few councillors then you have to become the largest group. In other areas you have to win councillors where you already have them, it is not really even progress across the region all moving at the same time.'

But what about the UK Independence Party, which appears to be trying to do the same? With more success in Great Yarmouth where it won 10 out of 13 councillors.

'We know there are people who are completely turned off politics. They have rather given up believing politicians can make a difference. One of our central messages is to say actually politics can make a difference. It does make a difference who you vote for. Some have gone to UKIP, but most haven't voted at all.'

And said his party was 'tough and practical on migration'.

'We don't think turning our back on the rest of the world will provide better wages or prospects for young people,' he added.

So how does the rest of his party view the south?

'As a born and bred southerner I believe there is this case for Labour values that goes much wider than our target seats, and I think that has been accepted widely now across the Labour party. We are a party of the South and East. We have a message for the south, and our job now is to win the target seats in the shorter term, but to take that message out into other areas of the South-East, the South-West and Eastern region in the coming months.'

'This time around, compared with 2010, compared to 2005, the preparedness of party activists and the preparedness of the volunteers to do the hard work is at a much higher level.'

'I'm confident we will win key seats in Norfolk and Suffolk. I'm not going to be drawn on predictions about individual seats for obvious reasons, but I'm confident that across the south we will deliver enough of our target seats to enable Labour to form a majority government.'

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