So why and how did Andy Slaughter defy the national swing to the Conservatives? I would highlight three factors: a strong local candidate, an effective, long-running campaign and various electoral issues.
Firstly, the candidate makes a real difference. Andy Slaughter has a great track record of serving the people of Hammersmith for more than 25 years; he grew up in and lives in the constituency and is well known locally; and he is seen as principled with strong values. Three examples: he resigned as a PPS over the Government’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow, an issue which gained a lot of local support; he was untainted by the expenses scandal; he stands up for people on local issues not least their homes, whether it’s council tenants whose homes are threatened with demolition or homeowners whose communities are threatened by planning free-for-all. Andy is widely recognised across the constituency as someone who is on the side of local people. During the campaign he was constantly stopped in the streets by people whom he had helped, both as an MP since 2005 and previously as leader of the council.
Secondly, elections are a marathon and not a sprint. Defeat by the Conservatives in Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) in the 2006 council elections was a real wake-up call. This was reinforced by the Tories holding an open selection for Shaun Bailey in early 2007. The Labour campaign started almost four years before the 2010 general election, with targeted canvassing every weekend, particularly in key Labour wards. Highly visible knocking on doors was the priority. If Andy was to win, we had to mobilise Labour support and especially in parts of the constituency where we had not campaigned actively. We had one of the highest contact rates across the country, both in the long campaign and the short campaign. We were helped by the fact that the new Conservative council in H&F was making savage cuts to local services as well as planning to demolish council estates. Constant highlighting of these issues by the Labour group on the council and by Andy over a period of more than three years meant that the voters understood what was at stake. This all involved lots of hard work by activists over a long period who were augmented by an influx of volunteers, some who are not party members, in the last two months of the campaign.
Thirdly, a number of factors all worked in Andy’s favour. Not only did we make a lot of contacts with voters on the doorstep, but we got out the vote in the north of the constituency, with big increases in voter turnout in Labour wards. People alienated by the Iraq war in the 2005 general election returned to Labour. Hammersmith has relatively low support for the Liberal Democrats and an effective squeeze on these and other ‘don’t know’ voters helped Labour. And finally there was a disconnect between Shaun Bailey, the media darling nationally, and Shaun Bailey, the Tory candidate who didn’t live in the constituency and who was widely viewed as a fake construct with flakey views. Bailey’s credibility rested on running a youth charity but the charity’s expenses have raised big questions. Despite the continuing gentrification of Hammersmith, Bailey failed to capture Tory votes.
Ultimately there is no substitute for a good candidate, leading a focused and hard-working campaign team. The campaign for the next general election has already started in Hammersmith.