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Labour – the new Nasty Party?

May 21, 2008

By the time that this column is published there will be one day to go until we know the result of the by-election in Crewe & Nantwich.This is make or break time for Gordon Brown. He will be hoping against hope that Labour manage to hold on and avoid what will be a humiliating loss.

Of course David Cameron and the Conservatives will be hoping for a big win to confirm their trajectory in the national polls.

Being a St Helens lad myself, and knowing the Northern psyche, I am sure that the voters of Crewe & Nantwich won’t be fooled by the media circus. They will be well grounded, and will vote for the person who they believe is best-qualified to serve them at Westminster.

Despite the fact that the Lib Dems have had zero coverage in comparison to the other parties, I would not be surprised if our candidate, Elizabeth Shenton, does well.

One of the most interesting things about the by-election has been how a highly negative campaign from the Labour Party has been received by local people. You may have seen the top hat and tails gags – aiming to discredit the Tory candidate as a ‘posh boy’. I am told by Lib Dem colleagues on the ground that Labour’s shenanigans have gone down like a lead balloon with voters.

This is the kind of political campaigning that reinforces people’s dislike of politics and politicians. It is the kind of politics that results in electoral turnouts such as the 36% that we have just seen for Hastings Borough Council, on 1 May.

Since I have been in post as the local Lib Dem parliamentary campaigner for Hastings & Rye, I have been willing to speak out against our MP when I think he has been wrong, or when I think he should have acted, or voted, differently in the interests of local people.

It is imperative that our elected representatives are held to account.

But I have not been, and will not get, personal about it.

I believe strongly that parliamentary candidates must be able to demonstrate their understanding of the needs of local people, as well as the skills that they will bring to the job if they are voted in.

Inequality is as much an electoral issue here in Hastings and Rye as anywhere else in the UK. But New Labour’s dog whistle to class warfare is not the way to start the debate, nor find the solutions for this social ill.

And let’s not forget that although the Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives started the rot, levels of inequality have got worse under Labour’s watch.

The Labour Party should be ashamed of its campaign in Crewe & Nantwich. It not only does damage to their electoral prospects, but also to our national political life.

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