Monday, 12 May 2008

MP John Denham rallies troubled Labour

Political Producer Ben Burton blogs from Parliament

It’s no secret that the vast majority of Labour MPs in the South and South-East are a tad concerned about holding on to their jobs.

And it’s made even more unpleasant when they see poll ratings as bad as those which have dominated the weekend’s papers. Many of them are on such small majorities that it only needs a small swing to the Tories for them to be quickly adding to the unemployment figures after polling day.

However one of the region’s more experienced campaigners believes that Labour aren’t yet finished. Not for the first time John Denham MP (Southampton Itchen and pictured right) has returned to his “Southern Comfort” theme.

And Mr Denham can certainly draw a crowd. A large meeting room in Portcullis House – the modern extension to Parliament, built above Westminster tube station – was packed to hear his message: Labour can still win in the South. If they don’t, he said, there’s no way they’ll stay in power. It would be close to impossible for Labour to form a majority at the next General Election without a decent clutch of seats from our part of the world.

As the only Cabinet member with a seat in the South he highlights issues like Inheritance Tax and housing as part of the key to bringing the undecided voters back on board as David Cameron’s Conservatives continue breathing down their necks. Many Labour party members from across our region travelled to London to hear what the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills had to say but one subject was surprisingly absent. Despite his recent troubles no one at the meeting wanted to point the finger of blame at the Prime Minister.

Now, the thought of anyone actually trying to kick Gordon Brown out of Number 10 still looks unlikely. But many MPs know that, regardless of policies and ideas, the PM will be an enormous factor - good or bad - when a General Election does come around.

John Denham has called on his party to do more to understand hard working people in the South and South-East who feel they’re being ignored and he says Labour must develop a clearer vision.
The Southampton MP is highly respected in Westminster. His principled resignation from the Blair government over Iraq won him many admirers. His ideas will get a broad audience.

But the government’s problems over the 10 pence tax debacle still rumble on and not for the first time a by-election could set the political weather for months to come. Voters go to the polls in Crewe & Nantwich in ten days time. A 10 per cent swing to the Tories would give them an historic victory and if repeated come a General Election would see almost every Labour seat in the South and South-East turn blue.

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