Another turbulent year! We started it still getting to grips with implications of the Referendum, and gearing up for the County Council elections. We had candidates in every Division. A stalwart team of volunteers helped keep a Labour Party presence on the streets of Kesgrave, Framlingam, Debenham and Eye on a series of national campaign days. Passers-by were sometimes surprised to see us but responses were on the whole supportive and encouraging.
Before we had surfaced from the local elections we found ourselves in a General Election campaign, with Elizabeth Hughes our appointed candidate (the short notice left no time for a local selection process). Elizabeth and campaign volunteers worked hard across our geographically-spread constituency to get Labour’s message out. We joined with Suffolk Coastal CLP to run a really successful fundraising ‘afternoon tea’ in Brandeston Village Hall, attended by Elizabeth and the by the Suffolk Coastal candidate Cameron Matthews.
The hard work paid off – Labour’s share of the vote in CSNI was up from just under 20% in 2015 to almost 30%. And CSNI members didn’t only work hard in our constituency – many were also out campaigning in Ipswich, where Labour’s Sandy Martin won the seat from the incumbent Conservative.
That all seems a long while ago. The election was quickly followed by the ghastly – and avoidable – disaster of Grenfell Tower which shone a light on the inequities of ‘austerity Britain’ . For a moment that too seemed to signal a shift in public attitudes. Yet despite the general election outcome seriously undermining Theresa May’s position – and strengthening Jeremy Corbyn’s – the Conservatives have dug their fingernails ever more determinedly into power, with the DUP’s help.
The more recent outrage over the treatment of the Windrush generation – a consequence of Theresa May’s callous legacy in the Home Office – and ongoing Brexit divisions may yet destabilise the government. We need to keep promoting Labour’s alternative policies on how to run the economy and public services for everyone’s benefit.
Locally, we supported the campaign against County Council plans to make cuts to school transport. We also probed plans to merge Ipswich and Colchester hospitals as we are concerned about the impact on access to treatment for those in rural communities who have no, or limited, transport.
We campaigned for CSNI members standing as Council candidates in the Ipswich Borough Council elections on May 3rd. Christine Shaw was elected in Whitton and Colin Wright in Whitehouse.
We will be facing District Council elections across the rest of the Constituency next spring, with newly formed Districts and wards.
The geography of the constituency continues to make it a challenge for CSNI members to get together to discuss political issues and practical campaign matters. We have run all-member meetings in the north, south east, and west of the constituency to discuss mandating our Conference Delegate. We try to keep members and supporters informed by email newsletters, and via our website, Twitter and Facebook. We would welcome input from anyone who can help us improve communications between members.
None of this year’s achievements would have happened without commitment from fellow executive members and I want to thank all of them. I will single out Lesley Bensley, who has been our Treasurer for a number of years and who is standing down from the role at this AGM. She has taken on the essential role of election agent as well Treasurer. Her quiet efficiency, and her determined campaign and fundraising presence will be missed.
My thanks also go to all those CSNI members who stood as candidates in County or Borough elections, and to their fellow members who came out knocking on doors and handing out leaflets in support of them. I know this can feel a rather thankless task in rural Central Suffolk – but I remain convinced that it matters to keep promoting Labour’s alternative analysis of problems and their solutions across the country, not just in safe or marginal seats. I hope we can continue to do so in the coming year.