Yesterday at our street stall, talking to people in the middle of Witney town centre, in our regular pitch just by the butchers, next to Mountain Warehouse and Waterstone’s (and beside the singing Big Issue seller), one topic didn’t come up much. Can you guess what it is? Here’s a clue – it isn’t Europe.
We have been gradually ramping up our activity as a local party, as we have become more confident and capable and as the national party has become more permissive and action-oriented.
When I first moved to Witney in 1996 from Oxford with my family, I was proud to be elected chair of the constituency Labour party at a time when Labour councillors ran Witney town council, Chipping Norton town council, and West Oxfordshire district council. In 2000 our member of parliament Shaun Woodward joined Labour and signed his membership card at our house. I have stood for election over the years in Bampton, Eynsham, Woodstock and Bladon, Carterton, Brize Norton and Shilton, and, since 2007, in Witney East. Gradually building support based on local campaigning, I won a by-election to Witney town council in January 2011, defended it in May 2011, and then got the highest vote in the District to be elected to West Oxfordshire council in 2012. I am very proud that my fellow councillors voted for me to lead the group this year.
By rooting our campaign in local concerns I believe we are able to both shame David Cameron at national level and get action locally. For example, by forcing him to be involved in the campaign to save the Post Office in Witney we have the best chance of success; by making him commit to children’s centres we put pressure on him nationally while maximising pressure on County to stop cuts; by supporting foodbanks we do the right thing locally while pointing out that it is the Tories who force families to rely on handouts. I propose to use the extra publicity of the campaign, which I have learned to manage through work and political experience, to attack Cameron while advancing local causes. We can contribute to the national campaign significantly if we get things right.
The parliamentary candidate acts as a convenor for new members and supporters. By having candidates from outside the area in the last few elections we have not had the presence on the ground to build properly. I will prioritise recruiting and inspiring supporters from all our towns and villages, with the aim of increasing campaigning strength without more meetings.
Our high profile can also be used to draw wider support. In 1997 against Michael Heseltine I was able to field a Colliery Band from a pit he closed in a concert called ‘Brassed Off with the Tories’. John Mortimer organised an evening of readings. Sinead Cusack came canvassing while Jeremy Irons made us tea.
I believe we can draw on this sort of support from across the country, to ‘think national, act local’, and will continue to do so in Witney.
Duncan Enright is prospective parliamentary candidate for Witney, and a councillor on Witney town council and West Oxfordshire district council. He tweets @DunxE
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