Having the choice of 4 candidates to choose from for a council by-election in Gateshead is the stuff of dreams. Arm twisting is a regular form of selection. So to have 4 candidates expressing an interest in Dunston and Teams ward for the by-election expected next month is a bit of a shock to the system. We'll have to dust off the rule book about selection contests!
The sudden resignation of one of the Labour councillor for the ward last month, only 10 weeks after being re-elected, has not exactly stimulated Labour to any degree of activity in the ward. This is one of those wards that has always been safely Labour but where the Labour organisation has rotted away. We heard rumours that they had to pay to have their one and only election leaflet delivered earlier this year.
It is not a ward we have campaigned hard in before. We get 2nd place as a matter of course in the ward. It is bordered however by a Lib Dem marginal, and another ward which was safe Labour in the past but where we slashed the majority this year from 900 to 92. And bizarrely, just before the resignation of the Labour councillor, we were thinking of doing some missionary work in the ward.
But the lack of past political engagement by any party in the ward must be one of the reasons for the difficulty in getting people to respond to our own outreach work. On Saturday I was out delivering and collecting surveys. On something like that in wards we are targetting elsewhere, even in the early days, I would expect a minimum response rate of about 20% and on a good day a response rate of 40-50%. So 6% from the 39% of the ward we have done so far is, well less than I hoped for.
Perhaps people have given up on political parties there because of the lack of engagement in the past. But is does give us an opening. If we can build up our profile and level of engagement, there are many there ripe for the taking.
We are starting from a low base in the ward, but we should be able to make good progress, especially with Labour dead in the water. And do the work we must, for if we don't, and we know Labour either won't bother or are incapable of doing it, the vaccuum could be filled by another party. And the BNP are sniffing around in the ward.