Shirebrook - How We Won Too

Issue section: 

Shirebrook is a former mining town in the North Derbyshire district of Bolsover, a rock solid Labour town at the heart of Dennis Skinner's constituency.

Shirebrook North West is in the poorest 1 percent of council wards in England and almost entirely white working class. Two years ago the British National Party (BNP) ran a candidate in the county council elections and won 20 percent of the vote.

The Labour majority on the district council is a mix of solid Labour left wingers and self-serving placemen. Stephen Fritchley, our opponent, has built a property empire in the area over the years and is widely unpopular.

About two years ago we began talking to Ray Holmes about standing in Shirebrook. Ray has kept up a level of local activism, particularly around housing and NHS privatisation. Our original concept of the campaign was quite defensive as we thought the BNP were planning to run.

Alongside Unite Against Fascism work we wanted to offer voters an alternative and not allow the BNP a clear run. The BNP threat never materialised, although they did put up a candidate in another ward.

We began the campaign proper in March by leafleting the entire ward to introduce Ray, our candidate, and Respect, and focusing on NHS cuts, union rights and fighting racism. As a result, Ray received several supportive letters, emails and phone calls from local people, who he used as his nominees. We followed this up with two further leaflets, a final election evening postcard and letters to all postal voters on the day their ballot letters arrived.

There is probably no such thing as the perfect election candidate, but Ray must be about the nearest thing. To call him rooted in the community is an understatement. He, like a large swathe of the population, is an ex-pitman, and had been part of a generation of militant mine workers in the 1960s.

Getting Ray face to face with as many voters as possible was crucial. Two days before polling day there were only a few dozen doors we had yet to have conversations at. We were very political on the doorsteps, raising Iraq and privatisation and the fact that there had not been a contested borough council election in the ward for over 25 years.

On polling day we had a pretty accurate list of our solid voters. By 6pm we had identified those who had not yet turned out, so we visited them and managed to shift an extra 20 to 30 voters.

In the end, after two recounts, we were declared winners. Victory was very sweet indeed.