BURTON is in Labour’s sights as the party bids to reclaim power at the next General Election, scheduled for 2015.
The constituency is among 106 battleground seats the party is aiming to capture to achieve leader Ed Miliband’s target of a 60-seat majority.
To oust incumbent Conservative MP Andrew Griffiths, Labour’s Jon Wheale must achieve a swing of 6.3 per cent – one per cent above the figure it needs nationwide for a majority of 20.
The task ahead of the former British Army captain is tough.
Mr Griffiths has a high public profile, earned due to campaigns waged on issues such as the closure of Burton’s Margaret Stanhope Centre and beer tax.
But what is Mr Wheale offering voters which will make them turn their backs on the Conservatives and turn Burton red?
He says the constituency is ‘at the heart’ of the One Nation vision laid out by Mr Miliband last week and is inviting potential constituents to take a look.
“We need a new approach, one that will create prosperity by ensuring everyone plays their part in building our economy,” says Mr Wheale.
“As well as cancelling the millionaires’ tax cut and the slashing of working tax credits, Labour would introduce a mansion tax on homes worth more than £2 million and use the money to cut taxes for working people on low and middle incomes, benefiting Burton basic rate taxpayers.”
He said investment must also be made in the next generation to help the town compete.
“If we are serious about people wanting to remain living and working in Burton, we need to support both businesses and workers,” Mr Wheale says.
“This means setting business rates in a way that gives new companies every chance to succeed in difficult economic times.
“It’s also a call on businesses to pay a wage that will assist their employees with the ever-increasing cost of living.”
He says the economic culture needs to change so everyone knows they will be rewarded if they play their part.
This, argues Mr Wheale, means ‘tackling vested interests, improving vocational training and supporting businesses that create high-quality, sustainable, middle-income jobs’.
“These changes won’t happen under the Tory-led Government,” the Labour candidate says.
“Labour is the only part on the side of working people, and families in Burton will be among the millions to benefit from a new One Nation economy that works for working people.
“A One Nation approach is needed to kick-start jobs and economic growth in Burton and the surrounding area.
“I am so proud to be from Burton; that’s why in the next five years I want to see the town become a place where both workers’ prospects and businesses can grow and succeed – a One Nation approach to tap into and realise Burton’s full potential.”
Mr Griffiths, who is likely to be Mr Wheale’s main opponent at the next General Election, is less than impressed by his opponent’s plans.
“It’s clear that not only have Labour not realised why they got Britain into this (situation) in the first place, they now seem intent on repeating the same mistakes.
“Labour’s only answer is to spend more of your and in opposition has voted against every single measure proposed to get us out of its debt crisis.
“Labour voted against reforming benefits and the benefits cap and has voted against every single cut or saving proposed in the last two-and-a-half years.
“Suggesting a mansion tax without knowing how much money it would raise and offering the low paid the equivalent of 67p per week is no solution to getting people back into work, solving the benefits crisis and supporting Britain’s businesses.”
As Labour’s policy review, headed by Dagenham and Rainham MP John Cruddas, begins to bear fruit, Mr Wheale is sure to outline more policies he hopes will win votes.
But though there are more than two years left before his potential constituents go to the polls, his party is under increasing pressure to outline a greater number of concrete policies.
The media – and not just here in Burton – is eager to know what Labour would do for Britain and not merely why it thinks the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are on the wrong path.
Mr Wheale would surely be quick to admit that although Labour could rely on national events, particularly economic woes, to secure the downfall of Mr Griffiths and Co, it would be a dangerous policy.
For Labour needs to spell out not only why people shouldn’t vote for its opponents, but why they should back Labour.
Mr Wheale and his party have embarked on that task as judgement day moves inexorably closer.