With Labour candidates now in place for the 2015 election campaign in both Southend seats (Ian Gilbert well-established in Rochford & Southend East, and the newly-selected Julian Ware-Lane in Southend West), one would well expect politicians on the other side to have had their say.
The Tory blogs are, thusfar, silent. Nigel Holdcroft, to be fair, has put himself on hiatus until September; hard to begdrudge, for the holiday season (Though this parish managed to give the appearance of life, despite its writer being in a field in Devon the past week – Ed). Tony Cox, sorry “Shoebury Blogger”, has been equally silent. And Mark Flewitt clearly prefers the sound of his own incoherent ramblings to anything meaningful or relevant.
So then to the “others”, which really means the Lib Dems’ sole voice online, Neil Monnery. Neil thinks that Southend Labour have made a grave mistake, because both candidates are, er, good.
At the risk of misrepresenting Neil’s argument, he says that by selecting “their arguably two strongest candidates”, Southend Labour have jeopardised their chances in Rochford & Southend East (where he thinks we have a chance) by putting too much focus on Southend West (where he thinks we don’t).
Looking at the numbers, one might be tempted to think he has a point. In 2010, Labour finished second in RSE some 11,050 votes behind. The closest result recently was in ’97, where the Tories held on to it by 4,225 votes — and one suspects even then only due to the personal charms of Teddy Taylor. Southend West, meanwhile, saw Labour in third place in 2010. The closest result in the west was in 2001, with Labour taking second place 7,941 votes behind.
So numerically, it does seem that Neil is right and James Duddridge’s constituency is ripe for the plucking — indeed, I’ve argued similar myself.
But I don’t agree that this means that Labour have made an error in our candidate selection (well I wouldn’t, would I?). Neil thinks that Julian’s campaign will draw resources away from Ian’s, and that we would be better to run a paper candidate in the West and throw everything at the east. I don’t think that the campaigns are as divisible as he supposes.
David Amess and James Duddridge, aside from being Tories and being incumbent, are very different opponents. But this is a strange time in Southend’s political history. For the first time in fourteen years, the Tories have been dislodged from the civic centre, and Labour have actual power. I would argue that this is already showing dividends, in housing and community cohesion in particular. Ian, as Deputy Leader of the council, takes a large share of the thanks here, but so too does the campaigning genius of Julian, whose hard work saw Labour gains in Milton and Westborough (east and west of the borough).
And the one campaign will benefit the other, because Southend-on-Sea is one town. Parliament may have divided it in two, but a campaign in the West will largely be relevant in the East too. The issues vary, but not so far in the fundamentals that Julian’s successes won’t benefit Ian, and vice versa.
Part of me suspects that Neil is, at least partially, motivated by his own party’s interests. The Lib Dems have long been the second party in Southend West, but one has to see that position as under threat with their party’s propping up a regressive Tory government in Westminster. And whilst Neil may think it a bad idea for Labour to put its two best performers forward, but at least we have (more than) two able performers. The Lib Dems in Southend have Graham Longley (cabinet minister for photo opportunities) and, er…
More than anything, I think that the voters in both Southend West and Rochford & Southend East deserve a strong alternative to Tory mismanagement. They are certainly not going to get that from the Liberal Democrats. As a member and activists in Southend Labour, I am delighted at the candidates we have in place.