“Diabolical”, “mean” and “nasty” are all terms being awarded to the recent by-election campaign in Crewe and Nantwich, with even Stephen Ladyman, a former Labour minister, deeming it “a little crude”. In view of the Conservative party’s victory, winning by a 17.6% swing, the strategy backfired.
The death of Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody sparked one of the most dramatic by-elections battles of recent years, with Dunwoody’s daughter, Tamsin having allegedly been ‘parachuted’ in to fill the seat. Her campaign played on class, race and personal circumstances in an attempt to secure what has previously been a safe seat for the Labour party.
The Labour campaign had been highly controversial in its blatant use of class in an attempt to win votes, branding the Conservative candidate Edward Timpson “a Tory boy toff” and seeking to present him as out of touch with the traditionally working class Labour voting constituency. Much emphasis has been placed on his wealthy background (his family own the key cutting and shoe repair chain Timpsons), his public school education and his job as a barrister.
Labour election material has featured photos of Timpson with a superimposed top hat, pictures of his “mansion” home and Labour activists dressed in top hats and tails followed the Conservative leader David Cameron around on his visit to the constituency. . Slightly more sinister than top hats is one leaflet from Labour that produces a mock Tory application form supposedly filled in by Timpson. One question asks, “do you oppose foreign nationals carrying ID cards?” the answer to which is ticked as “yes”
Adam Lewis, Regional Organiser of the campaign in Crewe and founder of Liverpool Labour Students said, “ I doubt our campaign tactics lost us the election, and indeed I’m not sure there was much we could have done to win regardless of what we put on our leaflets.” Dunwoody called it “a very visual campaign” whilst senior Labourites attempted to shrug off the tactics as simply part of the by-election package.
Labour clearly believed that the electorate of Crewe could have been swayed by appealing to notions of class. Arguably insulting and unfair to voters, the issues that affect local people were removed from the top of the agenda and replaced with personal attacks. Rather than displaying one’s ability to engage with local people’s needs, personal background seemed to be the criteria by which a candidate was judged. This is something the Labour party seemed to forget as they slammed Timpson’s wealth and promoted their candidate in the light of her popular mother, but in the end to no avail.