The team effort that proves there are no no go areas for Labour.
Ahead of the Morecambe North By-Election on the 15th February, Labour candidate Darren Clifford talks about the campaign and the issues that have been discussed on the doorstep
Saint Francis of Assisi once said “Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible and suddenly you’re doing the impossible”. That could pretty much sum up the campaign for Morecambe North in this Lancashire County Council by-election. In a normal year in a normal election the seat would be solidly and incontrovertibly Tory, but nothing about this by-election is normal.
It was called because of the resignation of previous Conservative County Councillor Tony Jones who had left the Tory group at County after 32 years of service because of the scandal surrounding the leader and some of the more bizarre decisions that have been made in local government in recent times. This isn’t just the catalyst of the campaign but it is also the context, and it is inescapable on the door step.
In the last month there has not been a street we haven’t walked down, there are in fact some driveways in the division that are the length of some of the streets where I’ve campaigned previously, that is the literal and proverbial hill we’ve had to climb.
But like most campaigns it’s been made a whole lot easier because of the team effort. We’ve had help from all around Lancashire, neighbouring constituencies and even colleagues from Manchester have come to lend their support. Often in the pouring rain and driving wind, we are by the sea after all, some hardy souls have been out most days either delivering leaflets or listening to residents on the doorstep.
It should come as no surprise that the things that concern our residents are the same things that concern us, but the one issue that is a constant is the state of the roads. Lancashire’s roads and the epidemic of potholes is constantly brought up and no kind of protest to the contrary from the Tory controlled County Council will convince people otherwise, in fact they’ve recently decided that any pothole that isn’t a minimum of 300mm wide and 150mm deep will NOT be a priority. I’m no engineer, but that doesn’t sound like a pothole it sounds like a trench. Then, to add insult to injury, at last weeks County Council meeting, there were more holes found in the policy than in Lancashire's roads and the policy has been withdrawn to be redrafted!
There are lots of other issues too, including ones that aren’t the responsibility of the County Council. But our residents don’t make the distinction between who does and doesn’t provide services, they’d just like the place they live to be decent. So we make a note and make sure their concerns are passed on.
They are though, rightly exasperated, when they hear that bus timetables are being taken out of bus stops, so we have to guess when the bus is coming. Or that emotional support for children in care is being cut. Or a reduction in the funding for learning difficulties, when getting a young person statemented so they can get the help they need is difficult enough. Or a £45m cut to social care, reduction in funding for library books when the county council are opening libraries, and the list goes on.
It wouldn’t be so bad if that wasn’t all being done with the backdrop of the senior management team having been relieved of command at enormous legal expense, an interim director being paid £1125 a day (yes you read that correctly) and the Leader of the Council presently waiting to answer bail conditions.
This is all why this is no ordinary election and as a result Labour activists have been receiving a much more favourable response than the Tories would like. It may be close, but we won a Lancaster District City Council by-election by 2 votes last year in a seat we’d never won before so we know what that feels like. A defeat for the Tory candidate would send a strong message to County Hall that the people of Lancashire have had enough and would be nothing short of a cataclysmic blow for their chances in future elections and especially the marginal parliamentary seat.
Thursday 15th February may just be a very important day in history.