In the last couple of weeks, Brighton has been transformed into a sea of scarves and darker clothes. We feel instinctively drawn to the safety and warmth of home as winter sets in for the long haul. For many, the shift in season happens imperceptibly and goes unremarked for some time.
Something similar often happens in politics. It is the moment when a national party succeeds in achieving a paradigm shift in the terms of political debate. Suddenly, you find yourselves on the front foot. Many activists don’t pick up on the change in circumstances, or are so pleased and relieved at the reversal in fortune that their guard goes down, forgetting the most crucial point – they are the next athlete in a collective relay race to the electoral finishing line. Too often, we can respond to good news by a slackening in our pace.
We’ve seen one of these transition points in the last few weeks, as Ed Miliband has managed to shift the political conversation away from unemployment and growth, onto the cost of living crisis and the uneven distribution of the modest fruits of the economic upturn. As Emma Burnell pinpointed in a recent blog post, the Conservatives are still struggling furiously to find a response that chimes so closely to the public mood. As is always the way in politics, the moment will pass and the Conservatives will dominate another issue for a period of time. We must resist the temptation to savour the respite from attack and make the most of imbedding this message locally to as many audiences as we possibly can. The more that we can make this argument resonate within our communities , the tougher it will be for our opponents to regain their footing.
Local parties, already under-resourced and dependent on a small number of activists to do the necessary and often thankless tasks needed to run their local party, probably balk at the idea of yet another thing to consider. Yet whilst Ed’s role is to knit together his interventions into a coherent philosophy and narrative, these moments also provide us with valuable space to undertake our own strategic thinking. It isn’t enough to wait for command and control narratives to be handed down from the Shadow Cabinet. We are at the coalface, hearing from our communities about the issues facing them. Success stems from communicating a campaign narrative that neatly threads through both national and local debates and binds them into a strong story.
Last week I attended my first ward meeting in Brighton’s Queen’s Park and found myself part of a vibrant, joined-up conversation about low pay, jobs, housing and a vision on how we can strengthen our relationship with the city’s Universities. I saw how gaining national attention to Labour’s diagnosis of the cost of living crisis is reinforcing and energising initiatives locally, such as Brighton and Hove Labour activists putting their collective muscle behind Small Business Saturday UK. It was a refreshing contrast to my recent experience ‘across the road’ and I’m keen to see how readily the leadership of the local party are open to finding ways to pass the baton to ordinary voters to see how far they can sprint with it too.