Last weekend I submitted an application to be Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Rochford & Southend East at the next general election, which will be held in 2015 if the coalition lasts till then.
It is with some trepidation that I put myself forward for this. I’m not naturally the most outgoing of people. I dislike public speaking. Whilst many people involved in politics, me included, would like to be an MP if the chance presented itself, I have not had a burning ambition to get myself onto the green benches any time soon.
So why am I going for it? Well, firstly there’s the fact that I have a very strong idea about what needs to be done and how we should campaign. It would be wrong therefore to sit back and moan at people who might have a different approach to me if I were not willing to have a go myself. Second, I do genuinely believe that my experience is useful. Eleven years living in the constituency, being involved in every single election, I’ve canvassed in every ward, leafleted in every ward and have knowledge of the issues in every ward.
When I first moved down to Southend, the constituency was ranked the 9th most winnable for the Labour Party in Essex. Today, two general elections later it is the fourth most winnable. There are a few people, one or two councillors, one or two behind the scenes people, who have kept the Labour party running through thick and thin. We have been lucky to have had exceptional parliamentary candidates in Kevin Bonavia and Fred Grindrod. Slogging away in a constituency that has been Conservative for a century, at a time when the Labour government in power is deeply unpopular, is not the most glamorous of activities.
Can we win Rochford & Southend East? I don’t know, that’s up to the people, and a large part of their decision will be based on the national campaign. But I am absolutely committed to continuing the progress that we have made, and making sure that people’s hard work over the last decade does not go to waste.
In Southend and Rochford we’re faced with a lack of vision and toothless parliamentary representation. I’m fortunate to have campaigned with two truly first class constituency MPs at different points in my life, Gisela Stuart in Edgbaston and Angela Smith in Basildon, which has given me an understanding of what a really good MP can accomplish for an area. Here I look around and I see parts of town neglected and ignored by the Conservatives in office. I see indifference to the loss of treasured services and facilities. I see a lack of understanding and compassion. Nationally, the Conservatives are practicing the most divisive politics we’ve ever seen in our country. They seek to win by setting North against South, public sector against private sector, those who are struggling to get by in a job against those who are struggling to get one. That’s not the sort of country I want to live in.
I believe in the power of politics to change society for the better. I’m under no illusions about how unfashionable that view is amongst the wider population. I still inwardly wince every time I hear the word ‘political’ used pejoratively. Trust in politicians of all parties is at an all-time low. When people think that the state, directed by politicians, cannot be trusted with anything, then the right win by default.
The premise of my campaign will be the need to build trust. I know how hard it will be. Simply asserting that you’re ‘working hard’ or ‘on your side’ on leaflets will not do the trick. Words have to be backed by action. I’m a great believer in that idea that if you do your best to help people resolve the small-scale problems they are faced with in their neighbourhoods, you will win their trust to take the bigger decisions. I want to run a campaign that makes a positive difference across this constituency.
Members will choose who is to be their candidate at the end of the month. If you would like to contact me about the parliamentary selection please email me at ian.gilbert@SouthendLabour.com – look forward to hearing from you.