Labour activists relaunch ‘Third Place First’ initiative

Chris Tarquini discusses the launch of the Labour 'Third Place First' initiative.

Labour activists gathered this week to relaunch ‘Third Place First‘, an ambitious plan to try and push for success in constituencies that have previously been ‘no-go areas’ for the party electorally. With the aim of rebuilding Labour’s presence throughout the country – particularly in the south – it would build on previous successes such as ‘Operation Toehold’, a scheme that in the 1990s aimed to secure at least one Labour councillor on every council in the country.

The event opened with an introduction by Keith Dibble, leader of Rushmoor council Labour group and the driving force behind Third Place First, before a speech from the Shadow Secretary of State for Education and perhaps more relevant, Labour’s election co-ordinator Andy Burnham.

Burnham opened by discussing the need for a ‘Team Labour’ approach that moved away from the reliance on the key seat strategy previously used by the party and the importance of getting Labour more involved in the community:

“If you are not just asking for something from the community but doing something for the community, then it legitimises Labour within the community once again… New Labour articulated the aspirations of ordinary people, with or without alarm clocks.”

Mr Burnham did not just use the event as rallying call, arguing for the need for a ‘candidate contract’ that would see candidates nominated earlier than before, therefore allowing them to build a well-run campaign.

Burnham was quickly followed by the director of Britain Thinks Deborah Mattinson, who spoke candidly about the challenges faced by Labour. She discussed first how unfortunately for the party in opposition most people believe the coalition government’s cuts are necessary. She also explained how her focus groups have shown that seven out of ten people in Harrow had a positive view of David Cameron with much of the blame for unpopular elements of the coalition being pinned on Nick Clegg.

Mattinson also argued that although Ed Miliband’s popularity has grown in the new year and Labour have opened up a five-point lead in the polls, Labour’s economic credentials were ‘in tatters’ in the eyes of much of the public. Despite public fear over the coalition’s NHS proposals she explained the economic credentials must be rebuilt to make Labour a truly credible electoral alternative.

Further focus groups had shown that three-quarters of people believe they will be directly affected by public sector cuts, particularly amongst 40-60 year olds, a lot of that due to the massive rise in tuition fees costs that their children may have to pay.

Speaking to Left Foot Forward, organiser Keith Dibble explained why he started Third Place First:

“Labour should fight for every vote in every seat. There should be no no-go areas, Labour should have a voice in every area”

Whilst the event involved strategising for the future, there was also an elements of self-reflection for Labour, with issues such as economic reputation being openly discussed. The collapse of the Liberal Democrats in the polls will open up new areas for Labour to become competitive throughout the country, which will be ripe for initiatives like Third Place First to take hold.

Andy Burnham also unveiled Labour’s slogan for the next election, ‘Your Voice in Tough Times’. Whether this can resonate with the British people remains to be seen.

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