My application to the Labour Party for consideration for inclusion on the local selection of the Parliamentary candidate for Stroud constituency, submitted on 1 June.
In no more than 500 words please state why you should be the candidate for the seat in question:
I have been a community leader in the constituency for over twenty years and have led the district council since 2018. I have a high local profile and popularity, as evidenced in the local press once I announced my decision to stand for selection: https://stroudtimes.com/diona-cornell-lays-down-the-gauntlet-to-siobhan-baillie/
I have the support of Labour members, voters, trade unions and community leaders that would form the basis of a powerful winning team, and I have years of campaign experience winning for Labour locally.
Under my leadership the council has gained local respect and national accolades, with resident and business satisfaction remaining well above the national average. The Local Government Association’s independent review this year stated “the council should be proud of what has been achieved over the last three years.” I led the district through the pandemic, ensuring residents and businesses were supported. We have brought in millions of pounds of investment for regeneration, retrofit and to fight fuel poverty; and under my leadership we’ve brought services inhouse, managed council finances well, built new council homes, and above all, directed support to the most vulnerable in our community, laying the foundations to help us cope now with the cost of living crisis. I have demonstrated positively to voters what Labour can do when it is in power.
I consistently hold the Tories to account and am seen as our Tory MP’s main challenger on her voting record, as well as her failure to condemn shocking local cases of pandemic cronyism.
In contrast, I have always stood up for what is right. I have consistently spoken out condemning hate crime; under my leadership the council adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the APPG definition of Islamophobia. I responded to the challenge of Black Lives Matter to do more to put anti-racism, equality and diversity at the heart of the council’s work.
I also have a strong environmental record and can minimise the Green vote through my years of working in the local climate action network. The council was recognised nationally in 2021 for “outstanding leadership in responding to the climate emergency.”
My experience in local government and community work mean I have expertise in key issues that will be of great importance to local voters at the next general election: the transition to a green and sustainable economy, meeting the housing crisis, and building community resilience and reducing inequality.
I have campaigned alongside trade unions on key issues, and led the council’s adoption of Unite’s Construction Charter, the TUC’s Dying to Work Charter and the Modern Slavery Charter. I have strong support from the trade union movement, and have endorsements from Aslef, CWU, FBU, GMB, TSSA, Unite the Union and USDAW.
My years of working for the community and the Labour Party in this constituency have built an influential and trusted network on which I can draw for support. Voters tell me on the doorstep they have voted, and will vote Labour again, for a candidate like myself, that they know and trust.
In no more than 500 words please state what we need to do to win this election:
Ours is a politically diverse constituency where Labour has no safe local wards, and yet we have held the parliamentary seat for 15 out of the last 25 years, and led the district council since 2012. We have achieved this by building up trust amongst voters for local Labour politicians which, if combined with a strong showing for Labour nationally, enables us to win.
In order to win, therefore, above all we need a trusted local candidate, who can win votes on their track record and understanding of the key issues in every part of our constituency, every village, rural community and market town. ‘Stroud’ constituency is much more than the town of Stroud; there are thousands of Labour voters spread out across the area. We need a forensic data-led canvassing plan to take us from now through to the next general election. As well as focussing in areas where we have Labour councillors, we must spend time in those areas less frequently canvassed, and also the newer housing developments. For these latter, demographics may favour Labour as many families have recently moved to the area from London, Bristol, Gloucester and Cheltenham. High contact rates on the doorstep must form the core of the winning campaign.
As CLP Campaigns VC I have supported branches to begin regular canvassing sessions again.
Our reception on the doorstep is noticeably more positive than it was when we last canvassed in 2019 before the pandemic.
We are now building on the foundations of the 2021 local elections, when we began to build back our campaigning strength after the demoralisation of the 2019 result. I brought together and led a united campaign team of candidates and volunteers to run a successful local campaign for district and county seats which saw us buck the national trend, winning in places Labour has never won before.
As well as the candidate and an effective campaign strategy, the other element needed to win is to run a campaign using clear messages based on Labour’s manifesto pledges and policies, especially those which are relevant to local voters’ concerns.
Other factors which will help us win include – maximising postal votes, as early voting can increase Labour turnout and help mitigate the possible damage done to Labour by the new voter ID rules. A push for voter registration, especially for first time voters, is also important. Proper attention needs to be given to fundraising from both small and large donations and events. This would also enable the CLP to fund a paid organiser, to assist with coordination of canvassing, data and managing and supporting volunteers. I would also draw on my support from across the trade union movement who have already committed, if I am selected, to help support my campaign with funds and other resources.
In no more than 500 words please talk about your Labour Party experience
I joined the Labour party in 2010, in despair at Labour losing the general election. I had always been a Labour supporter, but now I vowed to play my part in fighting the Tories, as I could see they might be in power for some years to come and I couldn’t bear to return to the grim days of cuts and inequality we had known in the 1980s and 90s. When I got involved with my local Labour Party branch I knew little of elected politics, but found a welcoming local party and was persuaded to stand as a candidate for Dursley in the 2012 district elections, beating the Tory incumbent.
I was re-elected with an increased vote in 2016 and 2021. Since 2018 I have been Leader of Stroud District Labour Group.
I have played a full role in my local branch and Stroud CLP as I have built up my experience.
I’ve been branch and group secretary, branch EC representative and conference delegate. From July 2017 – January 2018 I was Chair of Stroud CLP and July 2021 – present CLP Campaigns Vice Chair. I co-wrote with 2 Council leaders our manifesto for 2015 and 2016 and led an inclusive process with members to create our 2021 manifesto, now turned into a council plan.
I was a conference delegate in 2015 and spoke at conference on behalf of those we were leaving behind who were attracted by UKIP: https://youtu.be/tIC8s4hRV5U
In 2017 I was shortlisted in the Gloucester PPC selection, and in 2020 I chaired the Labour Party Leadership hustings which took place in Bristol. I am a member of Unite the Union, and I laid the wreath on behalf of the Labour Party at the 2021 Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival.
I have been actively involved at the national level through my membership of the Local Government Association Labour group, participating in leadership roundtables to inform the Labour shadow cabinet on key issues for example on climate change and rural issues, and helping the lobbying of government and influencing policy through my membership of the District Council Network board. I am also a LGA member peer, supporting Labour groups across England, and a member of the LGA People and Places Board which represents the non-metropolitan local government areas.
I am an active member of the Co-operative Party which I joined in 2015, and in 2018 received the Co-operative Party Recognition Award. I was invited to join the Cooperative Party Unlock the High Streets task force launching a national campaign to support our high streets after the pandemic.
In no more than 500 words please explain what makes you a great campaigner
I’ve never been afraid to speak out and to stand up for what is right in our constituency: in the council chamber, at rallies and in the local, regional and national press, I have consistently spoken up for local people and challenged the Tories.
I have led on local campaigns over the years, mobilising local councillors and activists on issues such as fighting cuts to health services, forced academisations and cuts to the Universal Credit uplift. I have consistently campaigned against racism and discrimination and this month launched with local campaigners a new political campaign, Stroud District Together With Refugees, to raise support for local asylum seekers and campaign against the government’s hostile environment.
As a regular contributor to BBC Sunday Politics West, I have spoken out for Labour policies and against Conservative failures, especially the personal record of our Tory MP.
During the pandemic I challenged the government’s failure to trust local systems to help keep people safe, as well as calling out our MP for failing to speak out against the PPE profiteering of one of her local supporters. I responded to community concerns and called for an investigation into the failure of the Immensa covid testing laboratory which resulted in higher cases in Stroud District, as reported in The Guardian and on BBC Points West.
I have proven campaigning election experience, winning my seat three times against Tory, Lib Dem and Green candidates. I have worked on every local and national election since 2010. I was the EU referendum champion for Stroud CLP and led the successful campaign for Stroud district to remain in the EU.
I understand how to run an effective election campaign. For the 2021 local election I spent two years leading on all aspects of the campaign: setting the overall strategy, encouraging candidates, creating the manifesto and quality printed and online communications. I understand the importance of keeping up team morale and arranged regular check-ins, inviting Shadow Cabinet members to come and speak to members and candidates.
Our 2021 campaign was recognised for its success in winning for Labour and our
Labour district group was invited to be a founding member of the Local Labour Government Campaigns Cooperative. This has been an invaluable peer support network, bringing together Labour groups with strong track records in campaigning and winning. I have spent time with Labour leaders from Hammersmith, Exeter and Trafford learning how Labour wins in areas not always Labour: a year round plan for canvassing, forensic attention to voter data, and effective capturing of early voting. On the basis of our own election campaign success, I was invited to help lead a training weekend for local opposition Labour groups on the cusp of winning power. I worked with leading Labour councillors across England including Barnet, Worthing and Southampton who have now taken control of their councils. We have continued to share best practice, most recently in a leaders’ roundtable sharing lessons learnt from 2022 election successes.
In no more than 500 words please talk about other experiences in either work or study that you think are relevant to your application
Starting out as a young mum volunteering with my local playgroup, over the years I have gained experience in many roles as a local volunteer. I was school governor for 6 years and am a town councillor. l am chair of GL11 community hub, one of Gloucestershire’s leading community organisations, that led the local covid community support response, and worked with GPs to provide volunteers for one of the UK’s most successful covid vaccination programmes. I am honoured to be part of the GL11 team, as years ago, as a young mum newly moved to the area and feeling isolated, they helped me with training and support. I was the sole breadwinner as my two children grew up, and there were times when our family had to survive on part-time work. My children are adults now but they recall the stigma schools unwittingly create by treating children on free school meals differently. As the cost of living crisis pushes more families into poverty, I know what it means to worry about every bill and the cost of school uniforms.
I’m an excellent communicator and experienced public speaker, speaking in the council chamber, at political rallies, conferences and fringe events. I’m a published author, winning the 1998 London Arts Board short story competition with my story Does the Sun Rise over Dagenham? which is still a set text on some university courses, and my childhood memoir Child of the Sea, was published by Bloomsbury in 2012. I’m a founding member of Dursley After Hours, running free music events to help the town bounce back from covid, and launching the inaugural “Much Ado About Dursley” theatre festival in spring 2022.
I’ve worked a range of jobs including as a primary school teacher and I have a business background having worked for the family business for much of my working life. Our company has over thirty years experience of organising international sailing events and publishing best-selling reference books across the world. One of our events sailed to those parts of the world most vulnerable to climate change and in partnership with UNESCO I ran an educational, community and science programme which included deployments of scientific instruments in remote ocean locations and carried out eye tests in isolated Pacific communities. With my own children I sailed to the Arctic and Pacific where I met the Tuvaluan Prime Minister, a contact that enabled me to raise awareness back in the UK of the grave threat faced by these small island nations. This has informed my environmental campaigning, aligning closely with the high priority voters in Stroud constituency place on climate justice.
My experience running a small business selling to Europe gives me an important insight as a Labour politician into the private sector and the lack of support given to businesses by this government, with the high tax burden, and increased red tape due to Brexit. Stroud constituency has the highest number of SMEs in Gloucestershire, and I understand the difficulties our local businesses face.
In no more than 500 words please give some examples of your teamwork & liaison skills
Teamwork is essential to my work as a councillor. I have been leader of the Labour and Cooperative group at the district council since 2018. As well as organising and informing the group on local issues, and helping deliver on our manifesto pledges for our residents, I spend time supporting individual councillors.
We are a no overall control council so I work closely with our group whip to ensure attendance at meetings, and I understand the importance of discipline in getting crucial votes passed in the chamber. I lead a multi-party alliance with the Greens and Liberal Democrats, so I invest a great deal of time in building consensus. I liaise closely with senior officers to ensure our political programme is delivered, and we work effectively with key stakeholders and partners, such as town and parish councils, local businesses and government agencies. The Local Government Association’s peer review in March 2022, noted “the strong relationship between the Leader and Chief Executive which embodies the characteristics of strong and purposeful leadership. This means they both, working within their own political and managerial leadership remits, work effectively across the range of political groups – no mean feat.”
I liaise closely with our CLP, in my previous role as CLP Chair, and since 2021 as VC Campaigns, working to ensure Labour members feel included in decision making, and that we remain active as a local party, campaigning all year round. I work closely with the Labour volunteers who run CLP communications, as well as the council communications team, to ensure we get positive stories out, defusing negative stories about the council or Labour, and maximise our content in the media.
From 2012-16 I was secretary and then Chair of the South of Stroud Youth Partnership, set up by four parish and town councils to provide youth services decimated by Tory cuts. It required hours of negotiation to arrive at a common position, but succeeded in providing services to our most vulnerable young people and was cited as a pioneering case study of parish and town councils’ successful partnership.
I have ten years of casework experience, in my own ward, and across the district, advocating on local residents’ behalf on a range of issues, especially housing and planning. As council leader I liaise with the two MPs that cover our district, bringing key concerns to their attention so they can lobby government.
We have a strong local culture of partnership working, across the public, private and community sectors. I sit on the board of Gfirst LEP and work closely with the leaders of the other five district councils on shared issues, on key investment decisions for Gloucestershire, and concerns around the government’s levelling up agenda and lack of devolution down to the local level. I represent Stroud district and speak up for the interests of local residents on Leadership Gloucestershire and the Gloucestershire Joint Economic Growth Committee, working with districts, county, LEP and NHS on decisions for the benefit of our local residents.