Chairs report to the South Suffolk Labour Party AGM
18th March 2017.
It has been an unusual year and it looks like the next year could be as full of surprises as this.
In many ways it has been a frustrating year as far as the development of the CLP is concerned as we have had a year of almost continual elections and by- elections which is positive in the sense that that it is our reason for existing, however it has meant that some projects that we were intending to carry out (e.g. new member engagement, voter registration etc.) have not really got off the ground.
Campaigning and Elections.
The year started with the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. We did lots of canvassing with, and on behalf of Cath Pickles. Labour’s candidate. One of our great achievements during this campaign was that we managed to get 30,000 newspapers delivered in all areas of South Suffolk. Unfortunately Tim Passmore was returned as PCC.
The PCC election was closely followed by the European Referendum. Phil Dunnett led a very active campaign for South Suffolk. We knocked on doors in areas we had not previously concentrated on. We had 8 people door knocking on one mid-week night in Shotley. We also spent an evening with Alex Mayer (the present MEP) talking to voters in Capel St Mary on a Wednesday night. When we started the campaign we were optimistic that this was one campaign that the South Suffolk CLP was going to win, and celebrations were planned. However it soon became apparent that our optimism was misplaced. Despite the enormous efforts of Phil and his team who put the Labour case for staying in (a different case to that put by the lame campaign let by Cameron and Osbourne- remember them). I think you can all fill in the rest of this continuing saga. One positive note was that the Remain vote in South Suffolk was higher than in other areas of Suffolk.
Before we had a chance to digest the referendum the Labour Party decided to poke itself in the eye, shoot itself in the foot and stab itself in the back. As this is the Chairs report I am given licence to state my personal views. So please indulge me. The second leadership election was an absolute disaster for the Labour party. What did we learn- that Jeremy was more popular than ever amongst the membership and that those who opposed Jeremy could not organise the proverbial party in a beer making establishment. After one quickly aborted leadership challenge, the second barely got off the ground and copied the Corbyn campaign in policies and execution but fell flat. (These comments come from someone who voted Burnham first time round.)
Do not get me started about the suspension of members. We had three members suspended however fortunately they have been reinstated. I will keep my comments to myself on this one otherwise I will get myself in trouble.
During this period we were unable to hold meetings which interrupted some very important training and campaigns. We were unable to restart these events during the year but hope to resurrect them in 2017. At least we had Phil’s ‘Labour cycle club’ meetings to keep us active.
My plea is for those who oppose Jeremy to get behind the leadership for the sake of the party and the people we wish to represent. Standing by and watching someone struggle, making snide remarks and emphasising their weaknesses is not mature and certainly does not follow Labour values or principles. We all have strengths and weaknesses. The comradely thing is to applaud a person’s strengths but to help and assist them deal with their weaknesses. By the way- any Labour M.P. who appears on Andrew Neil’s This Week should be sent to a Tibetan Retreat for two weeks to assess their lives. I will start the crowdfunding now.
Once normality was restored we contested a by-election for the Hadleigh County Council seat. Sue Monks ran a very efficient campaign working very hard. We should also acknowledge the valuable support of the Ipswich Labour Party during this Campaign. The seat reverted to the Lib Dem’s, however we nearly pushed the incumbent Tories into 3rd place. Well done Sue.
Just when we were getting our breath back after Christmas there was a by-election on Sudbury Town Council for the Sudbury North ward. Katie Clark stepped forward as candidate to stand in her first election. Katie ran an energetic campaign with the help of a large number of people who pounded the streets of Sudbury North dropping leaflets in doors. Katie came second. It is difficult to provide comparisons with previous elections as this is a multi-councillor seat however it is clear that our percentage of the vote increased against a very well-known Tory Candidate.
The year has finished as it started with more campaigning, this time for the Suffolk County Council Elections on Thursday 4th May. We will have candidates in all seats. We have a very good chance of winning seats in Sudbury and Cornard. Good luck Sarah Page, Jack Owen and all of our candidates. We have been campaigning in these areas since the beginning of the year and will increase our campaigning right up to polling day.
The Pinewood and Stour Valley Branch is in good health. Their regular meetings are lively and are a good example of how to hold engaging meetings. They also inspired the formation of the Suffolk Young Labour Party. The SYLP began at a Pinewood Branch meeting. Young members from South Suffolk have joined with young members from Ipswich to form an energetic, campaigning group that is growing fast in numbers and aims to cover the whole of Suffolk effectively. They are an inspiration to us all.
The Hadleigh Branch has established itself after being ‘re-founded’. It is holding regular meetings and campaigning. It is well represented on the Hadleigh Town Council. Our 6 Hadleigh Town Councillors have been deeply involved in various projects in Hadleigh during the year.
The Sudbury and District Branch is the largest of our branches. Our 6 Sudbury Town councillors have represented us well and led on the fight to save the fire provision in Sudbury. Sarah Page is Deputy Mayor for Sudbury and will shortly be Mayor. The Great Cornard Parish Council consists almost exclusively of Labour members. We have one Babergh District Councillor, Tony Bavington, representing Great Cornard North. Tony continues to hold the torch for Labour values at Babergh.
Our Membership has continued to grow. The second leadership election produced another growth in our numbers.
At the beginning of the 2015 General Election we had about 214 members, since then we have grown three fold. As far as I am aware we are the largest political party in South Suffolk. I think that the Tories have just over 600 members. The numbers have fluctuated, and continue to fluctuate, with people leaving and joining for various reasons. Our membership peaked at about 680 during the year.
We need to strengthen our branch network, engage with and retain our membership. Our greatest asset is our foot soldiers. We have the largest presence on the ground than any other party. We need to capitalise on this advantage and campaign so that the people of South Suffolk are represented by Labour Values wherever possible and that we work towards the return of a Labour government in 2020.
David Plowman (Chair South Suffolk Labour Party.)