General Election 2017

Local campaigning is key for saving Labour’s seats

As Labour and the Liberal Democrats begin battle in Cambridge, Sam Willis examines their defence tactics

Sam Willis

Huppert campaigning in CambridgeANTONY CARPEN

News in from the front (and by that, I mean the CULC campaign launch on Friday).

Daniel Zeichner, previous Labour MP for Cambridge, was in good spirits – in fact, remarkably good spirits considering the small margin by which he won in 2015 (less than 600). But Zeichner was cheerful – relishing, it seemed, the prospect of getting out there and chatting to people on their doorsteps. He looked and sounded like a man who loves his job – even the part where he could potentially lose it.

Unsurprisingly, the focus of Zeichner’s speech was on making this election a true local affair. He stressed his pro-Remain record in Parliament. He stressed his work with the Council to extract more money for local housing. He stressed bread-and-butter issues, like his work with the ‘Keep The Streetlights On’ campaign. It doesn't need to be said that this is his most sensible, if not his only, option.

In fact, up and down the country, Labour incumbents are piling up the metaphorical sandbags in their seats, ready to brace themselves. Wes Streeting (previous Labour MP for Ilford North, with a majority of less than 600) had his campaign launch on Saturday. I spoke to someone who attended the launch and went canvassing in the local area. News on the street is that people don’t like Jeremy Corbyn (not a hard one to guess), have mixed feelings for the Labour Party as a whole but have real respect and liking for their local MP.

"Labour MPs are piling up the metaphorical sandbags in their seats, ready to brace themselves"

Much like Zeichner, Streeting stresses his local presence, campaigning for clear local issues such as preventing the closure of an A&E unit. In a bizarre twist, it is only the assumption of a Tory landslide that makes this strategy even potentially viable. What puts people off voting for good Labour MPs? Jeremy Corbyn. But if people assume Labour aren’t going to win nationally, they may feel they can safely vote for their local MP without moving Corbyn any closer to No. 10. You can bet it’s not just Zeichner and Streeting who are praying this is true.

Besides his local work, Zeichner also talked about the Liberal Democrats (who came second in 2015) and gave his reasons for preventing them from gaining power. The Lib Dems will be tricky competition: Julian Huppert, their candidate, was MP from 2010-15 and is also widely liked in the Cambridge community. Like Zeichner, Huppert is resolutely pro-Remain, but enjoys a key advantage in that the Lib Dems are now generally known nationally for being the pro-Remain party, while Labour are known nationally for being split during the Referendum campaign (or muddled, lost, bewildered - depends on how nice you’re feeling). Zeichner gave some strong arguments, mostly based again on local issues or on Tory policies that the Lib Dems supported in the coalition. We shall soon see how this fares on the doorstep.

Originally, it was the Lib Dems who pioneered this type of ultra-local campaigning that we are now seeing from Labour MPs. Will their stolen weapons be enough to keep the Lib Dems out? This is the real question of the Cambridge campaign