The main differences about campaigning in a rural area are firstly the thinly spread population over large geographical areas, and secondly the type of issues and their often very local nature.

The first is obvious and requires different types of campaigning. The long distances (it takes almost an hour and a half to drive across the North Norfolk constituency) mean making better use of telephone canvassing, particularly during the winter months, as well as doorstep work.

We also focus our campaigning on the main centres of population with high profile events, street stalls, local campaigns, newsletters and public meetings.

Allied to this is effective media work using all the channels from free local magazines to paid for newspapers, from broadcast to social media.

In North Norfolk local radio has good audiences and readership of the local newspapers has been increasing.

Our current campaigning also focuses on high visibility activity with banners and car stickers promoting the ‘Make it work with Denise Burke’ slogan. These raise both a smile and an eyebrow in areas where Labour has not had a high profile for some time.

The second main difference is finding the right campaign issues that resonate with as many people as possible.

Given the geographical spread, issues at one end of the constituency can be very different to the other end, and very different in towns compared to small rural villages. And because the population is often fragmented, it can sometimes be difficult building common fronts and finding allies/partners.

Our most successful recent campaign has been about cuts to the ambulance service in North Norfolk. You never know when you might need an ambulance and with local hospitals up to an hour away, it is an issue that unites everyone.

The ‘Act on Ambulances’ campaign reflects the value placed on the NHS as a universal service and the public desire to maintain and improve this public service. As a result of our campaigning, the local clinical commissioning group has increased funding for ambulances and staffing.

We are now looking at other health issues from access to GPs to mental health services.

Other local campaigns reflecting rural and coastal issues have ranged from car park fees to Cromer crab production, flood defences to verge cutting. Like other parts of the country, our seaside towns need substantial investment and economic regeneration.

But let us not forget that national campaign issues also resonate in rural areas. Labour’s drive on the cost-of-living is particularly pertinent given the low and seasonal wages in rural and coastal areas and the high living costs from transport and petrol to energy – which for many is oil or liquid petroleum gas and therefore even more expensive than the ‘big six’ suppliers. Also in North Norfolk house prices are at least twelve times the average income with many second home buyers inflating prices, while affordable housing is limited in some areas and planning opportunities restricted.

Having worked and campaigned in Peterborough and London for most of my life until moving to North Norfolk in 2010, much of the above feels different but also very familiar. It requires a good team, organisation, hard work, inspiration, patience, determination and of course Contact Creator.

Building a reputation as effective campaigners who make a difference takes time wherever you are!


Denise Burke is Labour’s parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk