A 2005 General Election Labour Campaign Diary

Article excerpt

AT the last general election in 2001, Solihull, a pleasant West Midland town situated in the geographical centre of the country, eight miles from Birmingham, had a Conservative majority of about 9,500. It was a true blue area. The Liberal Democrats were in second place and Labour came third. This was a seat for a Labour novice to cut his or her teeth on. Having been approved as a potential Labour parliamentary candidate by the National Executive of the Labour Party, Rory Vaughan put himself forward for selection when the Solihull seat was advertised. The author watched his campaign unfold.

10 December 2004: Selection by the local Labour Party group for Solihull as candidate was a proud moment for my fiance Rory Vaughan, a step up the political ladder after years of footwork in the Labour Party and studying politics at his University. Although the Liberals had been hard at work building up a presence in the area for over two years, no-one really expected the political scene to change in 2005. As Rory was brought up in Solihull, he knew he could rely on support from his family and friends and this fact counted in his favour when the selection committee voted. That he now lived and worked a hundred miles away in London was overlooked on the understanding that he would put up a good fight, and that, if he won, he would move to Solihull.

He was, however, unlikely to win Solihull, a traditionally safe Conservative seat. Indeed, the local Labour Party activists' attentions were focused on fighting for neighbouring Birmingham Yardley, a marginal seat which was being targeted by the Liberal Democrats. Birmingham Yardley had been represented since 1992 by Estelle Morris, the former Education Minister. She decided not to stand in the 2005 election. The seat was to be contested by a first-time candidate.

19 February 2005: The Iraq war proved the Achilles heel of the Labour Party as the 2005 general election loomed. Was the Iraq war legal? Should Tony Blair be punished for taking the country to war? The problem was that no weapons of mass destruction materialised. And there was no second UN resolution to justify an attack on Iraq. So was regime-change on human-rights grounds, notably the fact that Saddam Hussein allegedly used chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds in March 1988, permitted? Rory would be called on to justify the war and debate Labour policies ranging from immigration to pensions in the coming weeks.

4 March 2005: A supper social meeting in a local rugby club on a particularly cold night marked the start of Rory's election campaign. As guest speaker the then Arts Minister, Ms Morris, made one of her last public speeches as a Member of Parliament. She summarised in her quiet and straightforward manner all the good things Labour had achieved in its two terms in office: she no longer got complaints from constituents about waiting lists for the local hospital; the school where she held MP surgeries to find solutions for local people's problems no longer had a leaky roof, and its caretaker no longer hounded her about the ramshackle state of the building; youth unemployment was no longer an issue, nor was negative equity, the repossession of houses as interest rates on mortgages spiralled out of control, as they had done under the last Conservative government. Luckily Estelle Morris also turned out to be Rory's long-lost friend. She told the assembled party members how he had helped in her 1992 campaign, canvassing and delivering leaflets. He was sixteen at the time. And he came back for the 1997 campaign, even though he had left Solihull for Oxford by then. Estelle's said: 'He was bright and he was committed and he cared and he loved meeting the big names. I've seen him grow up and I'm thrilled to bits that he is back as candidate'. Great news.

6 March 2005: We had an early start. Rory, his younger brother Gerard, the vice-chair of the local Labour Party (also called Gerard), Ian, a local student who was the party secretary, and I gathered in the corner of a cul-de-sac in Solihull to canvass opinion. …