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Let’s cultivate the red shoots of recovery in the South on our way back to power – LabourList

There can be no denying that many of the local election results were disappointing for our party. The reasons for this are numerous and complex. Covid incumbency and longer-term demographic changes clearly both played a role, especially in former industrial heartlands. But more fundamentally, we are yet to articulate a vision that wins a broad church of electoral support. However, despite the bitter disappointment felt in northern areas, the party did see some red shoots of recovery, particularly in the South and constituencies like my own.

Labour took the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoralty from the Tories, and impressive gains were made in Oxfordshire, including Chipping Norton and Witney, David Cameron’s former seat. In West Sussex, Labour took more than half of Worthing County Council seats, in what could mark the beginning of a transformation of Labour’s fortunes alongside the south coast. In Cornwall, Labour gains in Falmouth built on the strong second-place finish in the seat at the general election. Finally, in my own constituency, we increased our vote share by 4.1%, gaining a council seat and making at least three other wards razor-thin marginals.

Nationally, Labour won 11 out 13 elected mayoral contests, including the election of Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire as the first female metro mayor, and Dan Norris in the West of England swiping the post from the Tories. Andy Burnham romped home with an increased majority and Sadiq Khan eclipsed the Prime Minister’s own majority when he was mayor of London. Labour also retained power in Wales, where Mark Drakeford won half of the seats in the Senedd, equalling its best ever result. In Scotland, Anas Sarwar’s early momentum could be the key to a long-overdue revival in our support over the long term.

All of this is worth celebrating, and we must not miss the opportunity to do so. We should be loud and proud in recognising the hard work of candidates, organisers and activists on the ground who helped bring these victories about. And we should be generous in our compassion for those who were unsuccessful. Anyone who has ever done these jobs will tell you that a pat on the back is the best, and sadly sometimes only, reward in politics. It makes the victories sweeter and softens the defeats.

But we must also immediately begin work to build on these initial successes. And with this, there are lots of lessons from the South. While there is no doubt that the overall picture remains a challenging one for Labour, we must recognise that the way back to power lies not in perpetual soul-searching and infighting played out in the national press, but in a relentless focus on voters.

Why are we performing better in pockets of the South, and how can we expand on this? What support can we give candidates at a national level and how should this inform our policies? How do we root our efforts in the communities we strive to serve? Answering these questions, over and above those about the personalities at the top of our party, must be our key focus.

As we discover and build our new winning formula, our party must always face the public first, not ourselves, and be led by what people are actually telling us on the doorsteps. Voters will continue to punish us at the ballot box if we do not. There is no silver bullet solution to the challenges our party faces, and there is no single route back to power. But any path must understand and replicate the early successes we have seen in the South, at scale, if we are to build a broad church of electoral support in England once more.

Over the next few months, I will be meeting candidates, activists, and organisers from across these areas to get a better understanding of their important early achievements. Our party must harness them in the future if we are to achieve our fundamental goal of a Labour government to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old in.

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