Many thanks to the reader who has sent me a very interesting link which provides some insight into the thinking in the Reading Labour Party over why they lost the Reading West Parliamentary seat so overwhelmingly to the Conservatives. Aside from their “gaffe prone” candidate, Reading Labour Party clearly have a very poor understanding of the superb local campaign run by and for Alok Sharma.
A summary of the campaign has been written here by Conor Campbell who worked on the Labour campaign team. In case Labour decide that they would prefer to close the site I have pasted the article in full below.
From January until May 6th I undertook an internship with the Labour Party in Reading West. The candidate Naz Sarkar was hoping to replace the incumbent MP of the time, Labour MP Martin Salter, who had decided to step down from public office after 13 years as Reading West’s MP.
Martin had decided to retire about a year or so before the most recent election, so in essence it did not give the new candidate a great deal of time to compete with the Conservative selection, Mr Alok Sharma, who had been already campaigning for 3 and a half years. Adding to this disadvantage was the fact that Naz Sarkar, who had won the chance to run as candidate, was not actually a local member. Naz was a councillor in Waltham Forest, in London, and had done a fantastic job in proving that he was the best man for the job. Despite Naz’s extensive level of enthusiasm and hard work, the amount of local exposure we would have to gain for success was always going to be a challenge…
In spite of the effort that Naz and those around him put in, there was one aspect that we in the party could never hope to improve upon, the finances. The most important example of this has to be concerning the limited amount of time that the party had an Organiser to run the campaign. When I started in January there was not any official organiser to speak of, and it was only in February that an organiser was appointed. The organiser did a fantastic job and his efforts truly helped turn around the operation in Reading, as he removed much of the responsibility from Naz. In turn this would allow him to be completely free to concentrate on the campaign. By the time the election rolled around we had managed to speak to over half the electorate, and the main reason was the addition of a dedicated organiser. If the party had access to funding which would enable us to hire a full time organiser, how many more undecided voters would we have been able to meet?
Finance is a major factor when trying to spread the visual presence of the candidate’s name. In comparison to the Conservative’s, Labour suffers in this department. All the posters, billboards and stakes which parties bring out in the run up to elections are an attempt to get their candidate’s name out into the public sphere. While we had plenty of A4 posters which carried Naz’s name we had no garden stakes which contained the name, and no billboards whatsoever. The Labour Party in Reading also had no extra large, airbrushed or un-airbrushed, posters decorating the town’s buildings, informing Readings inhabitants of our opponents ‘failings’. The financial responsibility of these billboards and stakes with Naz’s name on would have fallen upon the members of the local party, something which we could not afford. Those people who had not met Naz personally had little other opportunities to learn his name. The Conservative party were able to plaster their candidate’s name and image on every free space they could buy. To give you an example of their financial capabilities, they purchased a derelict building next to our campaign HQ in order to decorate it in blue and white.
The majority of our leaflets were simple A4 black and white photocopies, compared to the glossy card soaked in colour which promoted the Conservative message. All of the Labour envelopes stuffed and the leaflets delivered were done by the hands and feet of volunteers from the party. These activities took precious time away from canvassing .A question once asked of us was ‘How come the Conservative’s have their information delivered by the postman?’
I am fully aware that the situation is as difficult, if not more so for the Liberal Democrats and many of the smaller parties. I am not claiming that if the short campaign budget was properly enforced upon all parties then Labour would have kept Reading West. However, name recognition is vital as it ensures the public see you as being active and like an advertisement for any product, the greater amount of exposure you can gain, the better your chances of success.
To conclude I do not feel that Labour lost this seat purely due to expenses, although I am convinced that the subject of finances is a huge factor in fighting a successful campaign.
Apart from the revelation that the Reading Labour Party is almost broke, it is interesting to see that they believe that we “were able to plaster their candidate’s name and image on every free space they could buy“. I was on Alok Sharma’s campaign team and am not aware that a single poster sight was bought. To the best of my knowledge every single poster site was offered by supporters free of charge. Labour’s delusion is further illustrated by the statement that “they purchased a derelict building next to our campaign HQ in order to decorate it in blue and white“. No! A local business wished to show their support for Alok by offering a prime poster site right next to Labour’s campaign HQ!
Having spent hours slogging the streets of several Reading West wards for Alok I can vouch that almost every one of our leaflets was delivered by hand by volunteers. Labour had the same free postal delivery as the Conservative and other parties in order to get their General Election message to the electorate.
At least Conor concludes with a sensible statement: “To conclude I do not feel that Labour lost this seat purely due to expenses“. Too true! They had a candidate who was a London Councillor who came with a reputation for being gaffe prone and then immediately demonstrated his lack of local knowledge on Berkshire-wide radio. With such a strong local opponent as Alok Sharma, Labour were bound to struggle to hold the seat but their candidate selection and the conduct of their campaign undoubtedly contributed to the size of Alok’s victory. The winners undoubtedly are the people of Reading West who now have a first rate local MP.
UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that Conor’s tale of woe about finances takes no account of the millions of pounds that the Trades Unions poured in to support the Labour campaign. Almost every bus stop in Reading had an advert of an axe claiming that if the Tories won essential public services would be for the chop. The Conservatives did not have such support for our campaign.