Opinion: Six months to make the difference in Oxford East and across the UK

I’m writing this in the wake of Nick Clegg’s 54th Town Hall meeting since he became leader – held in fact in the Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford East. It’s always good to be reminded just how good Nick is when performing in front of an audience of any size: he was articulate, passionate and persuasive.

It was striking, chatting to people afterwards, that Nick was felt to be at his best when speaking with a little bit of passion – when he gets slightly riled, he articulates a liberal approach very effectively indeed. I’m pleased that we can justifiably claim a ‘packed hall’, with over 250 present; and even more pleased that we gained a number of new members and activists after the meeting. Clearly Nick’s messages struck a chord.

The timing of Nick’s visit was great: with almost exactly six months to go until the likely election date, it gives us a great fillip in our campaigning to oust Labour from Oxford East – a seat which until about five years ago they thought was rock-solid safe. Now, in contrast, we’re the favourites with most bookies (and aficionados of the politicalbetting.com website will know their panel of six leading punters are heavily favouring us to win), and we’re campaigning hard with an excellent team.

We wouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume it’s in the bag – but the sitting Labour MP certainly deserves to lose. He’s a serial New Labour loyalist, with a bad habit of saying one thing in the constituency and voting the opposite way in Parliament: most recently on the environment, when he followed up a visit to a campaigning rally looking forward to Copenhagen by voting against Simon Hughes’s 10:10 motion in the Commons. He’s also saddled with a minority Labour-run City Council who are making bad mistakes: their plan to close numerous public toilets in Oxford is proving a great campaigning issue in the press and on the doorstep.

It’s also a great time for campaigning: I always forget in each parliament quite how the activity levels ramp up from about six months out. As in previous parliaments, people are starting to get motivated – the turnout at Nick’s meeting shows that, but so does the number of people who are contacting us from across Oxford East to offer help or to ask for our help in campaigning on issues that matter to them. It’s looking like a busy six months, and there are many challenges ahead, but I’m convinced we face a greater opportunity than any I’ve known in my political lifetime.

I still don’t believe the Tories have sealed the deal with the British public, but the electorate have clearly had enough of Labour: a seat like Oxford East, with large numbers of people employed in the NHS, substantial ethnic communities and tens of thousands of students and university employees, has seen just how little Labour has achieved these last twelve years – and how much we have to offer as a party and, I hope, as local representatives.

If we can win Oxford East and seats like it across the country, we will form a major force in the next parliament, and be able to start working towards restoring confidence in politics. It’s going to be a challenge, but campaigning over the next few months is going to be very exciting – and it would be great to meet a few LDV readers coming to help in a winning campaign during that time!

* Steve Goddard is the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Oxford East, looking to over-turn a Labour majority of just 963.

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  • All the best, Steve – as a former Oxford East dweller, I’d be more than happy to see you join Evan Harris in representing the Dreaming Spires in Parliament!

    The story about Labour abandoning vulnerable seats should give you an extra boost! You just need to make sure that Peter Tatchell doesn’t take too many votes from us… I’m sure DELGA can give you some tips about campaigning on the LGBT equality agenda which is Tatch’s strong point.

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