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Labour Has to Fight the Issues Which Matter to Voters - Academies Isn't One of Them

19/04/2016 17:20

I remember vividly the run up to last year's general election.

In countless meetings and discussions with Labour activists and members the two main issues which came up time and time again as being the most heinous which the coalition had introduced and facilitated were the so called Bedroom Tax and zero hours contracts.

Hardcore Labour supporters were apoplectic that the Tories had introduced legislation which had provided for perceived onslaughts to the very poorest in society. I have absolutely no doubt that Labour were right to identify those issues as being things to be put right should we have taken power last May.

The only problem was that weekend after weekend as I knocked doors in our then marginal constituency was that to ordinary, non politically aligned, voters both issues were failing to resonate.

Simply put swing voters were either not concerned or didn't prioritise either issue, what they were really worried about was the economy and having secure jobs.

You will remember that last May Labour lost the election badly. We lost because voters didn't trust us to handle the economy, we lost because they didn't see our leader as being Prime Ministerial material, and in no small part we lost because we sought to fight the election on the wrong issues.

It's nearly a year since we took our drubbing and it's pretty self-evident that we have not learned our lessons.

There has been much written about whether we have tackled our frailties on the economy (we haven't) or if we have found a leader who will be seen by the electorate as someone who will hold their own when stepping into the room with Putin or Merkel (ditto) but very little has been said about whether we have learned to fight the right issues.

In last months Budget George Osborne announced the Government's plan for all schools to convert to academies by 2022. As you may well expect Labour and the Unions became apoplectic once more.

Academies, it is argued, are 'privatisation by the back door', they are 'an attack on public accountability', they're 'top down reorganisation' or 'attacks on teachers terms and conditions'.

They may, or may not, be one or all of those things but most crucially they are something which most parents either don't recognise as critical issues or are not concerned about.

Three years ago I was the vice chair of governors at a local secondary school. As a governing body we decided unanimously that considering all of the challenges and risks facing us converting to academy status was something which was right for the staff and pupils of the school.

As is the correct process we commenced a consultation with stakeholders including, perhaps most importantly, parents. We issued surveys and held meetings and the thing that became most apparent was those parents, parents who respond regularly to parental surveys and other times we ask their opinion, were not really bothered.

In total we received a handful of responses from parents, only one or two were strongly anti-conversion. We became an academy a few months later and went from strength to strength.

Things have not changed.

This morning BBC 5 Live visited a school elsewhere in my county who are currently undergoing the conversion process and in doing so conducted a vox pop survey of parents. It will come as no surprise at all that away from the ideological Headteachers and anti-academisation voices the parents, or if you like the voters, were ambivalent.

Parents said they were happy with the school, that they trusted the Head. It was revealed that there had been few responses to parental consultation.

Purely politically forced academisation isn't an issue which will sway many votes because to most people other things are far more important. Labour are in danger of picking the wrong fight once more.

That's not to say there are not plenty of issues which parents are concerned about. They are worried about a lack of school places, they are worried about teacher shortages, they are worried about rising class sizes. But academisation? No.

The current Tory government are poor. They are split and time and time again they are incompetent. This isn't a government which is particularly liked by voters. The simple fact is Labour can defeat them if they show that the issues which matter to Labour are the same ones that matter to the electorate.

If Labour are to succeed they must start to campaign on issues which voters care about and not just those that matter to the unions and in the falafel bars of Islington.

One course is the route to victory the other the route to oblivion.

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