The Labour alternative

Chelsea Nelson

When the snap election was announced, many Labour supporters initially felt despondent. This election felt like a cynical move to capitalise on the huge poll lead the Tories had over Labour – a lead that has slowly been eroded. Since the announcement, Labour has rallied and played to its strengths: getting activists out on the streets and spreading the message that Labour is the only alternative to five more years of Tory government.

Cornwall has been no different. Local supporters have been galvanised, with volunteers offering help on a daily basis, keen to spread the Labour message through street stalls, door knocking, leafletting, and telephone canvassing. Locally, this has yielded encouraging results. A poll conducted by Cornwall Live on 14 May 2017, asking 3,000 people across Cornwall what their voting intentions were, revealed that in the constituency of St Austell & Newquay, Labour was second on 18 per cent, behind the Tories on 21 per cent. If this figure is correct, this is a huge achievement for Labour on a local level. In 2015, Labour came fourth with 10.2 per cent of the overall vote share, behind the Tories, Lib Dems, and UKIP respectively. On street stalls and out campaigning, there has been a surge of support for Labour and a positive response to the recent manifesto launch. One voter went so far as to say: “You’ve got it in the bag, haven’t you?”

However, there has been one issue I expected to come up again and again as a deciding factor in this election: Brexit. As a county, Cornwall voted overwhelmingly to leave (despite receiving huge investment from the EU), so surely this would be the deciding issue for many voters locally? After all, this is the ‘Brexit election’ called by Theresa May to strengthen her hand during negotiations. Would Brexit be front and centre for local people? Surprisingly, no. Instead, this issue has become the elephant on the doorstep.

For local people, Brexit is not the defining issue; in fact, I haven’t had a single conversation with local voters about Brexit. A snapshot of conversations whilst out campaigning cover a range of topics including: the NHS and provision of GP services (a surgery was recently closed, with a week’s notice), pensions, education, and cuts to benefits. There was a spike in these concerns after the publication of the Tory manifesto, with many local voters considering switching to Labour. According to one local voter: “Labour have got this. Who would vote for Theresa May? She looks like a Disney villain.”

The elephant on the doorstep is reflected in the number of candidates standing in this constituency, and could explain the boost in support for Labour. In 2015, there were six candidates standing, splitting both the left-wing and right-wing vote. This time, it’s a three-horse race between Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems. Ukip have failed to stand a candidate in this election, which could prove significant; at the last election, Ukip came third with 16.9 per cent of the vote ahead of Labour in fourth. Will those voters back the Tory candidate, now that the delivery of a hard Brexit seems certain under Theresa May? Or will these voters choose Labour or the Lib Dems?

The Lib Dems are scoring an own goal by standing the same candidate who lost the seat in 2015. Much of their local campaign has been focussed on the myth that ‘Labour can’t win here’ and styling themselves as the only realistic opposition, to encourage tactical voting. However, Lib Dem voters will remember that a yellow vote in 2015 left them with a blue MP. Labour is the only realistic opposition in this constituency, and this election will prove a crucial test for Labour’s ability to attract disillusioned voters from other parties – something it needs to do to ensure a majority in future elections.

In the run up to polling day there is still time for Labour to make further gains, and Cornwall shouldn’t be written off just yet. An article on Cornwall Live by Dr Joanie Willett, a politics academic from the University of Exeter, stated that the “Conservative hold on Cornwall is far from certain”. To what extent the elephant on the doorstep will influence voters remains to be seen, but debates in this election deserve to be about more than Brexit. With the prospect of another five years of Tory austerity on the horizon, voters deserve to hear credible arguments about the Labour alternative for this country, safeguarding the interests of the many and protecting the most vulnerable in society. That’s the message I’ll be taking to the doorstep between now and polling day.

The Young Fabians are organising campaign days in the run up to general election. Find out more details and RSVP, here.  

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