Mario Creatura: We must use the Lib Dems’ tactics against them

28 Jul

Cllr Mario Creatura is a councillor in Croydon and was the Conservative candidate for Croydon Central.

This past weekend the Liberal Democrats descended on Staffordshire for a supposed ‘secret’ strategy briefing from party officials. Their topic: Operation ‘Tory Takedown’ – a plan to unseat Conservative MPs in Blue Wall seats.

More than 100 activists, MPs, candidates and staffers met to receive their orders. They’ll focus on issues like rising energy bills, the NHS, allegations of corruption and the potency of dodgy bar charts. But their campaign’s final plank is what we Conservative grassroots campaigners should be most exercised about.

poll of 2019 Conservative voters showed that 49 per cent agreed with the statement the Conservative MPs and local councillors are “taking people in the Blue Wall for granted” . It’s this flawed perception that the Liberal Democrats intend to repeat ad nauseum.

This is not a fresh electoral innovation – it’s in their DNA. Contained within the late Paddy Ashdown’s autobiography, ‘A Fortunate Life’, is a chapter entitled ‘The Winning of Yeovil’. It details his seven year effort to turn a constituency that had been Tory since 1918 into a Lib Dem gain at the 1983 General Election.

In the book, Ashdown says of Labour:

“The Labour organisation, though much stronger than ours and with a substantial vote on the ground, was complacent. It took its support in the poorer areas of the Constituency for granted and was based too much on the trades unions and too little on community activism… there was a reservoir of votes to be tapped into here, if we were prepared to work at it.” 

And on the Conservatives:

“The Conservatives, too, though outwardly all-powerful and monolithic, had actually become rather tired politically. They overwhelmingly controlled all the local Councils, had a branch in almost every village, could outspend us many tens of times over… but they had become much more a social organisation than a political one, were used, at the Council level, to being elected without opposition, especially in rural seats and also generally took their vote very much for granted.” 

That theme of taking voters for granted is old hat, but it’s foundational to the ‘community politics’ playbook used by the ‘yellow peril’ ever since.

It is incumbent on us all to better understand how we are to be attacked so that we can better prepare our defences. Thankfully, Ashdown lists the eight commandments that formed the basis for his strategy:

  • Patience, as it takes time to take a seat: ‘adopt a three-election strategy and plan on the basis that I would probably not be in a position to mount a genuine challenge for the seat until my third attempt’.
  • Laser-like focus on your ultimate objective: ‘[I] could not afford to get distracted by anything other than the single task of winning Yeovil’.
  • Identify your real opponent: ‘Our immediate aim at the next election was not to beat the Tories, but to beat Labour. Once we were the clear challengers for the seat, we would be able to squeeze the Labour vote.’
  • Understand your demography, deploy resources efficiently: ‘Our effort… should not be in the rural areas, where we had traditionally concentrated, but in the towns – and especially in the Yeovil Council estates, where Labour’s traditional vote was based.’
  • Start small, then build electoral momentum to take the constituency: ‘We need to build up our base from the bottom, concentrating first on local government elections’.
  • Build your own way to get messages to your voters: ‘We could not rely on any newspapers, either locally or nationally. So we would have to find other means to communicate directly with our electorate if we were to succeed in getting our messages across.’
  • Use what platforms exist locally to your advantage: ‘Aim to get at least one story, with genuine news appeal and about a local issue, into the local Press every week.’
  • Emphasise your local track record first and foremost: ‘The national Party’s standing was not very high, so our key messages should be about local services not national politics.’

If you have faced them, this won’t be surprising. It is critical we learn from it.

It doesn’t matter who your opponent is. We must use this summer, and any honeymoon period under a new Prime Minister, to brace ourselves for these localised incursions. In many historically Conservative-voting areas the Lib Dems and Greens are already nibbling away at our wards. By understanding their approach we can strengthen our incumbency, and advance in wards held by the opposition.

There are many inspiring examples of this work already happening up and down the country. Despite the challenging national context, Conservatives have been successfully gaining seats. Take Ross Playle, for example. In 2021 he was successfully elected the County Councillor for Witham Northern, in Essex. Crucially that year he was the only Conservative candidate anywhere in the country to successfully take a seat off the Green Party. How did he do it?

Like Ashdown, Ross had a plan. 10 months, mapped out, including a regular literature programme, surveys, and canvassing. He was everywhere, engaged in hyper-local issues, and tapped into core community groups to demonstrate repeatedly that he had the ideas and the commitment to earn their trust and so their votes. Meticulously worked, with data informed by common sense, he increased his share of the vote from 38.5% to 42.55% – beating the Green incumbent by just 39 crucial votes.

Victor Lewanski, the newest Conservative borough councillor for Reigate ward in Surrey, is another role model. This year he was able to gain his seat from an independent that had built up more than a decade of incumbency. Every election cycle he visits all of the roughly 9,000 properties in his ward, distributing regular letters on local issues of interest and subtly promoting his effectiveness and track record of delivery. Victor now has a well-earned 522 vote majority.

My home Association is Croydon, and in May we took control of our Council after being in opposition for 8 long years. A month later we retained a marginal council ward in a by-election with an increased majority, despite the challenging national picture. Local factors were at play, but we’d also spent a decade diligently building a campaigning machine, supported by dedicated activists, proactively listening and acting on the needs of our community.

These are just a few of the doubtless many stories of electoral success supposedly against the odds.

We must never be complacent. The safest seats, the bluest Councils, can turn with fierce speed. But there is clearly hope: we can repel their advances, boost our incumbency and still take wards held by opposition parties, irrespective of what’s happening nationally.

Ashdown built a formidable campaign machine that slowly and consistently delivered significant gains for the Liberal Democrats – and we have their blueprint for how they did it. We know their historic campaign approach, we know their current messaging strategy, we can turn this against them by using their methods to boost our marginal campaigns and our incumbency.

Sun Tzu’s Art of War tells us “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Wise words when first written in the 5th Century BC, and still applicable to all Conservative campaigners today. The question is: what will we do next?

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Tony Riordan: Why Labour is struggling in Stockton-on-Tees

21 Jul

Cllr Tony Riordan is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Is the end of a Labour-led Council in Stockton-on-Tees on the horizon?

Stockton-on-Tees, or just Stockton as we call it locally has been under Labour control for the last 11 years. However, the political landscape is changing locally, and has been since 2019.

Following that election, the Conservative Group made a net gain of one seat taking their tally to 14, from the 56 seats available. Pleasingly, Labour lost overall control of the Council, losing 8 seats and leaving them with 24 seats.

The rest of the seats were taken up by a mixture of some ‘true’ Independents and a great deal of ‘Labour supporters’ masquerading as Independents but propping up the Labour led Council.

Although the gain in seats by the Conservative Group was small, the voting by the electorate was more significant and gave a greater insight into the direction the voters in Stockton were going and thinking.

29,335 people voted for the 24 Labour candidates, or 32.6 per cent of the total votes cast. Compared to 29,864 people voted for the 14 Conservative candidates, or 33.2 per cent of the total votes cast.

Putting it another way, each of the 14 Conservative candidates, on average received 74 per cent more votes than the 24 Labour candidates.

Keeping this momentum going forward was incredibly important. In May 2021 the Conservative Group ‘smashed’ the by-election, taking all five seats. Labour was nowhere to be seen.

Although, Labour still held control of the Council, the Conservative group gained an additional net of two seats, taking them to 16. Over the five wards the Conservative Group amassed 7,602 votes compared to Labours 2,441, or 211 per cent more votes.

The Conservative message during the campaign was strong and clear: “The Labour Council take your Council-Tax and waste it on vanity projects.” Dr Ben Lamb, a Research Lecturer/Senior lecturer in Media at Teesside University, one of the defeated Labour candidates, wrote a post campaign article, complimenting the Conservative campaign message.

An example of one of the vanity projects is the near £30 million they have squandered on a Local Theatre they do not own, paying an annual lease to the property owner, in addition to paying the company that runs it more than £300,000 a year to promote the acts. A further example is the £17 million Hotel they have built, promising to the local taxpayer that it would make £250,000 a year to put back into local services. So far it hasn’t made one penny and had to ‘gift’ the Council Company running it £465,000 last year.

Over the last two years Stockton has been the subject of a protracted, but welcome Ward Review by the Local Government Boundary Commission, covering two separate and lengthy consultation periods.

Why two separate consultation periods?

It would be fair to say that Labour and their Independent supporters didn’t like the initial recommendations of the Commission and objected loudly when they wrote,

The Conservative Group’s borough-wide scheme provided a mixed warding pattern of one-, two- and three-councillor wards for Stockton-on-Tees. We carefully considered the proposals received and were of the view that the proposed patterns of wards provided for good electoral equality in some areas of the borough, broadly used clear boundaries, and in some cases provided evidence of community identity. Consequently, we have generally based our draft recommendations on the proposals from the Conservative Group and requested a further consultation period.

The Commission, following the further period of consultation, wrote:

“The Conservative Group’s borough-wide scheme provided a mixed warding pattern of one-, two- and three-councillor wards for Stockton-on-Tees. We carefully considered the proposals received and were of the view that the proposed patterns of wards provided for good electoral equality in some areas of the borough, broadly used clear boundaries, and in some cases provided evidence of community identity.”

In short, the Labour Group and their Independent supporters, known locally to residents as ‘Labour in disguise’ are not happy with the Final Recommendations and the order laid before Parliament.

One ‘Independent’ councillor (Labour supporter) has recently written to all members and Officers expressing his views:

“Obviously, the LGBCE is not independent and merely a gerrymandering arm of government. The whole outrageous pretence of honest restructuring was so blatantly cut and dried and those who supported the outcome simply willing accomplices.”

Politics is a serious game, and if you engage with change, for the benefit of all of our people in the Borough, rather than a parochial mindset focusing on the needs of your group, you gain their trust and their vote.

The review undertaken by the Commission was an excellent piece of work that rebalances the Wards, and possibly the make up of the Council in next year’s elections.

The last 3 three years has shown that our electorate are gaining confidence in our messaging, our vision, and our commitment to change for the better. We need to ensure the trust that they are showing in us is rewarded with a majority Conservative controlled Council.

I know as a Group Leader of highly motivated and hardworking Councillors that nothing can be taken for granted in politics. We will go into next year’s election with the aim of winning control of the Council.

Our message to the electorate will focus on them and their families, putting them first, spending their hard-earned money on them, and the services they desperately need. Our message will include a cast iron promise of prudent financial management practices, focusing on reducing the debt the Labour Led Council have amassed on vanity projects. We will invite private investment into our six towns of the Borough. Finally, we will lobby Government to invest in our Borough and our people.

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Andrew Stephenson: I’ve been an Association Chairman, a councillor, an area officer – and a Conservative since I was 16. Here are my priorities as Party Chairman.

18 Jul

Andrew Stephenson is Chairman of the Conservative Party, and is MP for Pendle.

As a party, we have a shared belief in equality of opportunity and aspiration, that everyone should have the chance to succeed no matter their background, wherever you live or work in our country.

During the coming weeks, you will hear more about that shared belief by those seeking to be our party’s next leader and  Prime Minister. While many will seek to frame the current leadership contest as a moment of division for the party, I am proud that we can show off the best our party has to offer.

And nothing shows our commitment to our values than the show of diversity and talent on display among our exceptional leadership candidates. It provides hope for the years ahead, and I congratulate all our contenders for their energy and positivity in approaching this contest.

Sadly, we have seen so-called ‘liberals’ reveal their bigotry in trying to discredit candidates from minority backgrounds in this competition simply for being Conservatives. The colour of your skin does not determine your political views, and the diversity at the top of our party is a testament to that. I am proud to chair a party that judges individuals on the strength of their abilities and their vision for the country. This party represents the true diversity of Modern Britain.

Undoubtedly, my appointment as Conservative Party Chairman comes at a challenging time in politics. But I’m honoured to have been given this opportunity to build on the incredible work of my predecessor Oliver Dowden, support the Prime Minister over the next few months and help the team at CCHQ continue their fantastic work.

We’ve got Campaign 2023 to prepare for. And, two years from now, we’ve got a general election to win.

And what an election it will be. Labour and the Lib Dems are already making pacts all over the UK, recognising that the only route to Downing Street is to form a Frankenstein coalition. In the 2022 Local Elections, Labour stood candidates in only 61 per cent of seats in the South West, compared to 97 per cent in 2018. They know they can’t beat us on their own, so they have chosen to deny many electors the chance to vote for them—an affront to democracy.

And in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon will be pressing ahead with her plans for a second divisive independence referendum instead of focusing on Scotland’s recovery and fixing its public services because the SNP have nothing to offer the people of Scotland except division. We are Unionists, and we must stand firmly against separatism, offering the people of Scotland a positive vision for their future within our fantastic United Kingdom.

So, in the face of all that, let me reassure you. As your Chairman, I will relentlessly champion our values and ensure our campaign machine is battle-ready to help us win that historic fifth election.

Campaigning is in my blood; it’s what I know and what I’m passionate about. I have increased my vote share in every election fought in Pendle since I was first elected in 2010 and helped to coordinate the historic by-election campaign win in Copeland in 2016.

I joined the party when I was 16, was first elected a councillor at 22 and then won a marginal Parliamentary seat from Labour when I was 29. And before entering Parliament, I served our party as a volunteer and activist, as an Association Chairman, as an Area Officer and a Deputy Chairman of our party’s youth wing.

I’ve put in the hours campaigning in marginal seats across the country, making thousands of calls from the party’s call centre, and even getting dressed up as a butler to follow defector Shaun Woodward round with a tray of drinks! I know the time our volunteers put in and that it is they who are the lifeblood of our party.

And I can guarantee that under my Chairmanship, members will be front and centre of the leadership contest. Over the coming weeks, you will get the chance to question our candidates, have your voice heard and help shape the future of our country. It’s an enormous privilege and responsibility for every one of us, but I know it is one we will fulfil with the seriousness it deserves.

Because who wins the leadership election will be the person standing between Nicola Sturgeon and the breakup of the Union, the Lib Dems and their Re-Join agenda and the only person who can stop Sir Keir Starmer from entering Downing Street. It will be our job to stand with them.

So this is my message to all the candidates and their supporters. Let’s have an energetic contest, have some spirited debates – and then let’s unite as we always do and take the fight to Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to lead the most extraordinary campaign machine in British politics. And I know that with the support of members and ConservativeHome readers, we’ll do what we do best: win elections.

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Lynne Doherty: In West Berkshire, we are not distracted by national events

15 Jul

Cllr Lynn Doherty is the Leader of West Berkshire Council

As local elections approach for many of us in May 2023 I have been giving some consideration to what this may mean for Conservative-controlled West Berkshire Council, a small unitary authority set in the South East and held by the Conservatives since 2005.

Successive Conservative administrations have built on one another’s successes, resulting in a well-run, solidly good (according to the Local Government Association) financially responsible council that has consistently delivered for residents here in West Berkshire. We know this is a great place to live, work, and learn, not just because of our data but because week after week our residents tell us so.

However, given the current leadership contest, combined with the global economic crisis and war in Ukraine, the future is uncertain.

While the world of Twitter may have its obscure views on all this, I take my soundings direct from those who have elected me. I, along with my fellow Conservative Councillors, regularly knock on doors and speak directly with those outside of the Westminster bubble.

Yes, I heard some dismay over the leadership of our party, but this was not anywhere near the discontent I heard in 2019 over Brexit. In 2019 we found that as a ‘remain’ constituency there was frustration all around; inertia had led to exasperation from both those wishing to leave the EU – and those wishing to remain. We were in no man’s land – and our voters simply stayed at home resulting in a decrease in our majority.

When the topic of Boris Johnson came up on the doorstep, and it was not often, I found that people had strong views in both directions. One thing for sure is the response was never dull, boring or indifferent – all words residents use when talking about opposition parties.

So as I look at our offer to voters in May 2023 I am not going to be distracted by Westminster. I, and the Conservative team here, will focus on the local offer and how we can best respond to the concerns being raised with us. The main concern that we are currently picking up on the doorsteps is the cost of living crisis and how this impacts on family life.

With this in mind, we will look to provide some financial relief to those most in need as we have been able to do through Government-funded initiatives such as the Household Support Grant, Holiday and Food Activities in schools, and a reduction in Council Tax for some. Caring for our residents will remain a primary driver even as needs change – we want to ensure those most in need get our help.

To underpin this we will ensure West Berkshire remains open for business through attracting inward investment into the area and supporting existing businesses to grow and thrive. A strong local economy is the foundation to success, something our opposition fails to grasp.

The other big issue on the doorstep in 2019 was of course the environment and how we protect it for future generations. I am proud of the work we can now demonstrate to our residents in 2023. We have developed an Environment Strategy and Delivery plan that takes us on our journey to net zero, from encouraging people to leave their cars behind, to initiatives to increase recycling rates, we can demonstrate the commitment of this Conservative administration.

So as voters go to the polls next May, here in West Berkshire they will do so knowing that it was a Conservative administration that has controlled the Council for 17 years. The evidence is clear everywhere they look: new flood alleviation schemes, new sports facilities, digital connectivity, free bus travel over seasonal weekends, 95 per cent of schools rated Good or Outstanding. Children’s Services rated Good, new Primary Schools, High Street footfall back to pre Covid levels. There is no reason to vote anything other than Conservative if you like your local area.

Yes, I am an optimist, and I believe that the fundamental values of conservatism still appeal to the majority; individual freedom and responsibility, fiscal responsibility, small state, compassion and fairness to name a few. A week may be a long time in politics, as we have seen just recently, but I am still confident that the vast majority of residents here in West Berkshire connect with those values. People come and go but it is the Party that delivers – and that Party has delivered well for the residents here.

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Margaret Parker: Labour’s dire record in Cheshire West & Chester has managed to combine higher tax and spending with worsening services

8 Jul

Cllr Margaret Parker is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Cheshire West & Chester Council.

Since losing control of Cheshire West & Chester in 2015, it has been painful to watch the Labour Administration undo and squander the progress and opportunity we achieved for our residents.

Focus has shifted from a balanced approach across the Borough, to a centric approach on Labour strongholds, shrouded by a declaration of crisis after crisis and the constant fixation on ‘Government bashing’, rather than getting on the with the job in hand.

The net result is an increasingly disengaged, sceptical and distrusting electorate, experiencing basic services deteriorating, at increased cost – and some strong Officers leaving the Council team. More and more the Council has become officer-run, with little cohesive support and direction from the Administration which, despite Officers’ best efforts, ultimately delivers less for our residents.

Of course, we have had the pandemic to navigate, and this has required huge efforts from the team in CWaC. However, again, the narrative from the Administration was preoccupied with political point-scoring, rather than simply grasping the unprecedented support from Government with both hands and driving forward with a coordinated plan.

Our residents deserve better. Outside the new Council Offices that have just been completed (even though most of the team are now working remotely), our Borough looks neglected. Funds are found for external consultants to ‘buy-in’ new thinking, but highways, verges, rural communities, and high streets lack maintenance or the innovation to reinvent our public spaces. More innovation and tangible impact is seeded from our Community Groups and local residents, who consistently come together to realise events, local improvement initiatives, and campaigns with a notable lack of support from the Council Administration.

With record Council Tax (an increase of over 30 per cent in the last seven years), reduced waste services, stealth taxes on Green Waste and disposal of DIY Waste, and Policy that regularly contradicts the day-to-day decisions and priorities portrayed by the Administration, it has become impossible to even start to rationalise, let alone defend.

Constant selective publication of changing budget structures to engender the ‘Budget Cuts’ narrative, is outweighed by the fact that the Council is sitting on record reserves; underspends each year (even during the pandemic); and plans to spend £50m more this year than when the Administration took control in 2015. Despite this, progress is woeful and not aligned to our residents’ priorities.

This is not good for our residents, is pure political posturing, and is a smoke-screen to obscure a lack of ideas and poor performance. Although embraced by our communities, it is also telling that the Administration has now turned to ‘crowd-funding’ to help fund community groups and organisations supporting our own residents. This is a further stealth tax on the good nature and generosity of our residents.

With elections just around the corner and our residents more and more enraged by the Administration’s failings, being continually behind the curve on the basics, never mind having a strong hand on long-term projects like HS2 mitigations, thankfully they are running out of time. Their lacklustre response signals a realisation that these problems may not be theirs for long, and an expectation to leave it for the Conservative Group to deal with.

Our residents have a simple choice next year, another four years of fantasy socialist experimentation, political posturing, poor financial stewardship, and diminishing core services, or a new Conservative Administration, focused on creating a Borough to be proud of, supporting and facilitating our communities to make local improvements, with cohesive policies, supported by our MPs, which offer tangible value for money for all our residents.

Our Manifesto is well underway, with ‘Team Away Days’ and policy working groups deciding where our focus should be and mapping out priorities from Day 1. There is a lot to fix and granted some of that is not attractive to voters, so we need clear, achievable pledges and policies to gain support across the Borough. Challenges are wide and diverse, but underlying themes regarding the state of our Borough, cost of living, wellbeing, housing, support services all manifest themselves in different ways across our urban and rural communities, so there needs to be agility in our plans to adapt to these.

A strong manifesto starts with a lot of listening, and our focus is just that at present. Canvassing residents, surveys, and getting out into the communities to hear genuine accounts, not extrapolated statistics is invaluable. This feedback will shape our approach and priorities to be published in the Autumn. This provides enough time for our communities to reflect on our plans but avoids the Labour Administration capitalising on our ‘on the ground’ insights to their own gain.

National politics is an issue on the doorstep, as we have seen in recent by-elections. There is always a challenge to separate it from potholes, bin collections, school transport, clean streets, housing, and support for our business communities. We hope that the national narrative will be more positive by 2023 to support our message for Cheshire West and Chester and avoid our plans for positive change being drowned out by any antics across the chamber in Westminster.

Selection is almost complete for all our candidates. We have a number of experienced councillors making way for some new blood in 2023, broadening the diversity in our group and harnessing new skills and experience. The experience of retiring Councillors will be essential between now and May, to not only introduce new candidates into our communities, but also prepare them for the task ahead, including them in our Group Caucus and debates from the point of selection.

Support from our five Conservative Associations will also be key. We need to ensure a consistent message to the electorate.

Looking ahead to May 2023, it does feel a little like Westminster in 2010. We are not sure what we may inherit next year – much of the family silver has been sold, so budgeting to get back on track will be a challenge. However, with a strong capable team and clear priorities we will face the challenge head on and make the right decisions for our residents and Council colleagues.

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Tom Tugendhat: CCHQ has been damaged. Here’s how to repair it.

27 Jun

Tom Tugendhat is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tonbridge and Malling.

Every election sends a message. This one is clear – the Conservative Party needs to change and the shortcomings exposed in the party organisation need to be fixed to be ready for the coming battles.

As Omar Bradley, the US General, famously said: “Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” My former boss, General the Lord Richards, used to add one more: “generals talk leadership”. He is right – battle isn’t just about game plans, or kit, it’s about inspiration and delegation, and that can only happen if the right people are in place.

Oliver Dowden’s shocking resignation as Tory Party chairman is a good moment to take stock and ask ourselves—what should we change?

Headquarters matter. They allow you to plan, to recruit and to prepare. But over recent years, CCHQ has become a shadow of its former self. It all started years ago when the party operation merged with the highly-respected research unit and CCHQ was successfully turned into a money-making machine, at the cost of its skills.

Paid agents, the backbone of many associations, gave way to temporary hires. We’re feeling the consequences. That strong local connection has been turned into a money-making venture for the centre. That’s the wrong way round.

The strength of our party is in our people and our connection to every community. Our values come from being able to champion the whole nation. That’s what active localism means.

The Northern Research Group conference in Doncaster showed it. People from across the north of England met to discuss conservatism. There was no desire for Labour-lite, or the gimmicks of handouts, only the delivery of policies that promote industry. Levelling up is about equalising opportunity not turning businesses onto benefits.

Our challenge isn’t that the HQ is in London – we all know that Westminster is the political capital of our United Kingdom – it’s that the centre is too powerful. Our grassroots are the foundation of our party, and though donors help, the activists are essential. The next general election will not be a campaign focused around one slogan. It’ll be fought on local issues and strong incumbent MPs and councillors with good local track records of delivery.

That’s why the local party is the driving force of our politics. Elections may cost millions, but our currency is ideas and recruiting those who serve. If it was just about cash, we wouldn’t have just lost—twice.

As we go into the most turbulent time this country has known in generations, we need to make sure that connection is strong. We are all taking decisions that will either embed Conservative values into our councils and country for a generation or see them whither. We need their decisions to align with the interests of the British people, not a narrow ideology. And we need them to remember that we work best when we work together as one, united, kingdom.

That’s what we need our party structure to reflect.

Political parties are the recruiting sergeants of public life. We need to be reaching out to attract the best and investing in them at local and national level.

We need to update our technology to connect the doorstep to the council or minister responsible, enabling activist to pass ideas straight through to those who can action them – including our own enhanced Policy Forum. It would give power to associations to feed directly into the centre of the party and transform our activists from un-thanked foot soldiers in ground operations across the UK, into what we need – the eyes and ears of a dynamic organisation working to serve the British people.

That would make everyone better and the party stronger. But it requires leadership.

We need an empowered political leader as chairman because CCHQ is the department for the future of our party and shaping our country. Choosing candidates, training them and developing the talents so that we can win around the country is a key role to seeing our ideas and those of the British people succeed.

CCHQ staff have too often been made to feel like second-class extras as the leadership are scared to invest in people who will then simply take their talents elsewhere. We need to hire the best, train and retain them where possible, and see those who go not as a loss but as envoys who will bring their talents to whichever local association is lucky to have them.

Consultants matter. We need them to help at general elections to help hone a message. But without the groundwork done by a strong, well paid, and professional CCHQ, we’re asking them to fatten a pig on market day.

We need to invest in Britain’s future by investing in the organisation that can do most to shape it – the Conservative Party.

We have time to grip this and prepare for the coming battles. A new chairman in command of a professional organisation with a clear hierarchy connecting them directly to the Party Leader would bring the essential clarity of command and the confidence to listen to constituency parties.

We talk about giving power back to people in our country. We’re right. Now we need to do it in our party too. But moving to Leeds won’t help our outreach if the party stays centralised. Only by giving power back can we harness the energy our country can generate. That means starting with ourselves. It’s the one department we can actually fully control.

The next Chairman has a crucial task – to turn around the organisation that should recruit tomorrow’s local and national leaders. They can only do it if they draw on the foundations of our party and build from the ground up. These two elections show why it matters. The economy and threats we face show that conservative ideas are key to securing our future as a nation. The role of CCHQ has never mattered more.

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Grant MacMaster: Parking charges – not partygate – is the reason the Conservatives lost in Havering

23 Jun

Grant MacMaster is a Young Conservative in Romford, having recently graduated from university. He grew up in Havering and has run in the local elections. He studied politics and economics, and was the first in his family to go to university.

Having faced the biggest defeat in Havering for eight years, the Conservatives remain the largest party on the council. However, the Havering Residents Association (HRA) just sold out the borough to the far-left socialists of the local Labour Party for a coalition agreement.

During May’s local elections, I ran as an independent candidate in my local ward, which is Havering’s most deprived ward on the council estate of Harold Hill. Growing up here, I felt my connection with local people could forge a better future for them, representing their interests at the Town Hall as opposed to Labour’s usual message of ‘vote for us then go away’.

I’m 21 years old and I’ve just finished my degree, being the first of my family to go to university. My peers and I see socialism and the far-left first hand everyday: it isn’t pretty. It’s rotting our schools, universities, and educational establishments, united under one common goal, a distain for sensible, pragmatic politics. Now it has come to the formerly safe Conservative borough I call home.

Having lost in my ward to the Labour Party, I have realised the vehicle for change in Havering isn’t independent or Resident Association councillors, it’s the local Conservative Party.

Some ask ‘How do you come to this conclusion?’ Here’s how.

Having done a great deal of door-knocking across Havering, I can safely say that Boris Johnson and partygate came up just a handful of times. What came up much more was the Conservative Leader of the Council’s (now opposition leader) handling of rising local parking costs (which were reversed, eventually) and increasing his cabinet by 2 members. Yes, its insanity.

But for all local people’s faults of focusing on an issue so small as parking charges increasing by a pound, it spoke to the heart of how the HRA and Labour won – they sold that the Conservatives cared more about themselves than helping locals.

We need to change this, sowing the seeds of a better Conservative Group on the council, fit to govern again.

How? Our message needs to go back to basics. Take it from me, I first voted aged 18 at the 2019 General Election. What attracted me to vote Conservatives most was the message of “Getting Brexit Done” – investing in our schools, hospitals and police.

Let’s re-ignite the same fire in the bellies of local people, that the Conservative Party is the vehicle to get us to better times and a better place.

This means truly lower taxes, instead of increasing taxes at the same time as increasing the Council Cabinet. It means providing high-quality performance-measured services, instead of focusing on building new leisure centre’s which Havering does not need. We need to be scrutinising the Labour Group’s control of Havering’s mayoralty and Cabinet position for Housing also.

This package should be rooted in the best traditions of our local communities and how we can improve them. This doesn’t mean flying the Union Jack every now and then. It means upholding the values of our country and exhibiting them at the Town Hall and beyond.

Havering’s founding motto is ‘liberty’, derived from our days as a Royal Liberty from 1465 to 1892. The HRA and Labour will stop at nothing to demean our communities, our local heritage, and our country. We must be the reminder to them that decency, tolerance and our individual liberty must always be protected.

Whilst they offer Labour councillors housing posts on the cabinet, they attack the very tradition that residents want cherished. We should shamelessly contest their plans to filibuster housing and planning decisions, resulting in increases in multi-story sites across the borough, increasing pressure on local services, and taking more of our green space.

The message on housing from local people is clear: we want affordable homes, but not sky-scraper sites. The HRA/Labour coalition will increase multi-story buildings; we must offer the credible alternative of being pragmatic with our space, and attract the right investment in our towns. Build quality homes which act as a gateway to future home ownership.

The pathway to winning also cites the organic society we live in as a key component to our policy programme. Life isn’t always fair, but we can work to provide opportunity for local people.

Opportunities do not appear out of thin air; they have to be carefully planned out and costed. Over the next four years, we need to find a role for everyone in our community, from those who create jobs to the way local roads are paved, using our pitch as a type of functionalism of local people.

A local off licence owner recently impressed upon me, ‘the butchers, the bakers, the candlestick makers are just as important as the Lawyers, the Doctors and the entrepreneurs’. He is right. A Conservative party that recognises this, is on the side of the middle of our communities. We need them to win, otherwise they’ll sway to the HRA and Labour coalition out of confusion from our message.

We must work out a programme that engages local people, inspires new voters to support the Conservatives as I did in 2019, whilst keeping our core supporters onboard. This is do-able. It was Edmund Burke that said a ‘state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation’.

I’m a Conservative now more than ever because our beliefs and values are under attack from an administration willing to sell out decency to the far-left. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

It’s time to change locally, returning to our fundamental values – for the revival of the Conservatives in Havering.

The post Grant MacMaster: Parking charges – not partygate – is the reason the Conservatives lost in Havering first appeared on Conservative Home.

Russell Perrin: Bucking the trend in Harlow

23 May

Cllr Russell Perrin is the Leader of Harlow District Council.

Terry Wogan once quipped, by way of an introduction, “Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? Actually I do, I’ve seen the rehearsals.” As the latest bout of Eurovision fever dies away, I am prone to draw similar comparisons between the UK’s inevitable ‘nil poi’ performances over the decade and our own 10 year long run of off-key local election performances here in sunny Harlow. Just like previous hardworking and seemingly talented UK entrants, we failed to chime with the most demanding of spectators, the electorate.

Having sat through many a rehearsal we would await the result on election night with false cheer, blistered feet, and aching backs, knowing all too well the hellish future that lay ahead, another inexplicable Labour victory.

Apart from four years between 2008 and 2012, Harlow has largely been red since its creation in 1973. Then two years ago, after a decade in the wilderness, we swept the board winning 10 out of the 11 available seats, finally showing Labour the red card. And this year we gained a further two seats from Labour, bucking the national trend.

So how did we go from being Engelbert Humperdinck to Sam Ryder? I think the easiest way to describe the change in our electoral fortunes is in four steps:

Change in mindset

The mentality of a doomed sailor cast adrift at sea loomed large. Hold on. Be strong. Just cling to the wreckage. It will all be over soon. We entered most local’s admitting defeat before the contest had begun, fighting only four ‘target’ seats, largely ignoring the remaining seven. People would say “if we can hold on to our target seats it will be a good result.” Remaining in opposition with a seven-seat Labour majority is a good result?

I know why people said it; lack of resources and manpower. But as Einstein once remarked “The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.” We therefore ditched the target seat approach, fine for national elections, and fought every seat as if our lives depended on it – no seat was unwinnable.

Appealing to Hearts not Minds

Churchill was right when he said “campaign in poetry, govern in prose’. We had forgotten to sing the words, content only to read them out in a dull monotone. Our policies, while read in isolation were rational and appealed to the head; they did not hang together as a clear inspiring narrative that energised people to overthrow the status quo. We weren’t listening to the beat either, that beat was civic pride.

Harlow’s decline in several areas vexed many residents. Our town centre was run down, our roads and estates tired, our green environment dishevelled and gone to seed. I met countless civic-minded people who have experienced ‘Putinesk’ threats and levels of resistance from the Council when trying to do the right thing.

One man who cleared dumped rubbish from the field at the back of his house and trimmed the brambles that sprawled over his garden fence received an enforcement letter from the council telling him he had ‘encroached on and was interfering with Council land’. What a charming thank you note from a failing council. And he wasn’t alone; so many have had similar defeating encounters. The computer wasn’t just saying no, it was out of control and firing live rounds – we needed to pull the plug and fast.

But how to defeat Skynet? The answer came when a friend and I sat nursing a cup of tea in my allotment around the glowing embers of a fire discussing the problem. The solution: let the people sing instead! So we set about creating this short film. And boy did the people sing, over 40,000 tuned in to watch.

Using a Pile Driver

To quote the great war time leader again “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.” All too aware that many people do not engage with social media or online news and with no local printed paper, we wrote our own paper followed by multiple leaflet rounds and numerous personalised letters. Over 5-months we delivered almost 500,000 pieces of literature to 39,000 homes. We canvassed all our core vote and around 50 per cent of our unknown recurrent voters. We didn’t just use a pile driver – we engaged The Mighty Octo Kong!

Make it Local, Make it Visible, and Deliver

So how did we repeat the success of 2021 this year, despite the screeching white noise of the national tune? We made sure that we delivered on our previous election pledges. People were tired of Council Tax going up every year for 10 years, only to pay for the same shambles and waste, so we gave them the money back. We delivered the largest Council Tax cut of any authority in the UK and we explained to people how we did it. We focussed on improving the local environment because it was the most visual way we could exemplify demonstrable change – people see the overgrown weeds outside their home when they step out for work, they don’t see your prudent use of council reserves when they return every day.

Finally, we repeated all four steps with a slight change in pitch. In 2021 the election was one of change, in 2022 we made it one of choice. The choice: you can vote us out and the same national tune will play, while letting the bunch who ran our great town down for 10 years back in – or you can stick with us and continue on the exciting journey of renewal you started a year ago. The people of Harlow chose wisely and are now singing with us (for now) on the path to glory, douze poi!

 

Susan Hall: Labour councils are badly run and that’s why we won in Harrow

20 May

Susan Hall is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly and a councillor for Hatch End Ward in Harrow.

On learning of our victory in Harrow my (non-political) friend called exclaiming ‘What luck!’

My response?

It’s anything but luck.

Instead, a prime example of a community actually taking local politics seriously.

Harrow, previously branded the ‘officer led’ council, has been plagued with Labour in-fighting and rampant money wasting, squandering the opportunity their party had a few years ago. It should not take an administration in shambles and an angry electorate voting to change what has failed them, for local voters to vote for local issues.

This is not to lay the blame at the door of the millions of voters up and down this nation voting for the reasons they decide to. It is to challenge the long history of media discourse around local elections and how they present the locals as primarily a mirror, reflecting and providing insight into national politics.

So much talk around local politics is in relation to whichever dominant political party finds themselves with the top job and most MPs, which does a disservice to the thousands of hard-working councillors tirelessly serving their respective communities. Branding local politics as ‘lesser’ and only in relation to the ‘major league’ of MP Politics creates a top-heavy system, where ‘moving up’ in politics can become a powerful driving ambition. Colouring decision making, rather than working to tackle the job at hand and serve the communities that put them there. Again, a Conservative chosen as the first directly elected Mayor of Croydon is a cause for celebration, but we must find a way to get here without the upheaval and anguish that came before that electoral decision.

So let’s look at Harrow and why we did win; under Labour, services have been dreadful and Harrow taxpayers pay the third highest council tax in London. The unpopular ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhood’ and costly cycle schemes that had to be reversed at further expense are but one example of Labour’s woeful mismanagement.

These have however brought us fabulous new activists who have been crucial to our campaign and hopefully next time round will be standing for us in the Council. New high rises have wrecked the look and feel of our borough and getting any response from council officers is harder than getting Keir Starmer to realise that he is a total hypocrite, thus a change was both required and inevitable.

My friend, not understanding my Starmer gripe, other than what has already made headlines, emphasises the problem. In a saturated world, we need to cut through in new and innovative ways to get our message across to those outside of the political bubble. All too few take any interest in politics and don’t fully understand that national and local politics are very different.

MPs and councillors are responsible for completely different things. Residents in Wandsworth and Westminster pay low Council tax and have great services, they have not lived under a Labour controlled council in years and thus are unaware of the harm done by hideously run councils, I hope for their sake they aren’t about to find out, but I won’t be betting on it.

However, in areas where people see their hard-earned money being wasted by badly run Labour Councils, they understand that things must change. Harrow and Croydon are testament to that. With the scandals over Croydon’s mismanagement of finances and the latest news of two million fraud being investigated by Police in Harrow it’s not a surprise that residents want a change.

Sadiq Khan is another Labour Politician who doesn’t seem to understand that money does not come from the Labour money tree, it’s hard earnt taxpayers’ money. Wasting so much of his £19bn budget and then pleading poverty to the Government he so frequently scorns. Like a child talking back to a parent, then demanding their pocket money, Khan so often bites the hand that feeds him.

One of Khan’s ridiculous ideas of charging motorists for driving in and out of London has worried many in outer London. This would damage businesses and be a massive burden to everyone but particularly those of us in the outer Boroughs so frequently disregarded by this Mayor. The silver lining of current cause and effect electoral results potentially predicts that Khan’s mismanagement of London will be his loss in a few years’ time. Despite the loss of fantastic councillors and flagship Councils I really do not believe that we Conservatives have lost London as some, especially in the media, are happy to say. We have got so many strong activists and dedicated councillors ready to take London politics forward in the years to come.

In Harrow we must thank our wonderful diverse communities, Bob Blackman is a fantastic constituency MP and people trust him, over time this has made a real difference to us electorally. We have new Tamil Councillors who will ingratiate us into their culture and provide essential diversity of thought and perspective in Harrow and indeed further across London. We are the party for the workers and entrepreneurs who do not want their hard-earned money wasted. These days, especially in London, one must be wealthy to afford Labour’s expensive mistakes and woke virtue signalling. I have every confidence that Westminster, Wandsworth, and Barnet will be returned to Conservative control, I just hope we won’t have to spend years repairing the devastation I fear will be wrought by Labour’s poor leadership and unwise spendthrifts.

We must celebrate our wins, but we must also reflect on how we can better serve and persuade voters to make informed decisions. Perhaps through our own dedicated storytelling we can fly the flag for why local politics is not simply a stop along the way, nor a way to protest the direction of the MPs and National Governance, but instead a chance to pick the leaders of each community who make a real and tangible impact on each and every life.

Anthony Browne: What is the point of the Liberal Democrats, other than to offer a refuge to protest voters?

16 May

Anthony Browne is MP for South Cambridgeshire and a former Europe Editor of the Times.

And the winner is…the Liberal Democrats.  At the recent local elections, Britain’s fourth party (remember the SNP) gained more council seats than any other. And judging by their reaction, they clearly missed the lessons about being magnanimous in victory. 

They declared they were on course to take many Conservative marginal constituencies, including those of Dominic Raab, Alex Chalk and my own. They recently won Owen Paterson’s previously safe Tory seat of North Shropshire in a by-election, and are determined to repeat the trick in the upcoming by-election in Tiverton and Honiton.

So the Lib Dems back? Many voters didn’t forgive them for going into coalition with Conservatives in 2010 in the wave of Cleggmania, and they were wiped out as a national force in 2015. One of the key political questions now is whether they are on the brink of a national resurgence. Will the Conservatives shoring up the Red Wall in the North lead to the crumbling of a blue wall in the South?

To understand the threat, one needs to understand how the Lib Dems work – and they are not like the two main political parties. Few political commentators realise how different they are. Their performance at local elections is strong for a party that is, let’s be honest, invisible nationally.

did not have many surprises entering Parliament in 2019, but one of them was the total irrelevance of the Lib Dems at a national level. There are just too few of them to have any impact. They don’t sit on many committees (for example, I am on the Treasury Select Committee, which has no Lib Dem member), they don’t pass any amendments, they don’t lead many debates. On good days, their leader will be allowed to ask a question.

However, the Lib Dems are rampant in quite a few Conservative constituencies. Local Tories often wonder why people support the Lib Dems. There is no identifiable belief system (at least not any more). People who support free enterprise will generally be Conservative, and those who support socialism will tend to support LabourBut what is Lib Demmery?

Traditionally the answer to why people support the Lib Dems is that they provid a protest vote. They are the “none of the above” party, defined by what they aren’t rather than what they are. That works wonders in by-elections after a scandal, such as in North Shropshire.

It is true that they facilitate a protest vote but, like other Conservatibe MPs involved in daily street-by-street battles with the Lib Dems, I know there is more than that.

In South Cambridgeshire, as in some other areas, they are in power in local government, and so locally they are not a protest voteRather than being the local representatives of national parties, they position themselves as valiant local champions serving their communities.

Their voluminous election literature positions them as “local campaigners”, while their opponents are just interested in national glory and “don’t care” about local voters who they “take for granted. The irony is that the Lib Dem message of how they are just local champions is actually used nationally – their leaflets are verbatim copies in their battlegrounds across the country.

The main reason that people become activists for the Lib Dems is simple: they are asked. Lots of Lib Dem activists admit privately they are actually instinctively conservatives, but got drawn into Lib Dem campaigning. Most Lib Dem activists aren’t actually members of the party, but rather people who have been asked and agreed to help out to do something “for their community.

In many places, they have huge delivery networks of activists, enabling them to put out leaflets with wonderous frequency. Astonishingly, national Tory strategists have discovered that some of those people who deliver Lib Dem leaflets are actually Conservative Party members.

In contrast to other parties, the Lib Dems have an election strategy which they write down in books and publish in pamphlets, and aim to replicate constituency by constituency. Their strategy is to engage community campaigners, and start with hyper-local campaigning, on almost street by street issues.

Infiltrate parish councils, and politicise them. Establish your name and stand for district councils, the county council – and then Parliament. They don’t fight in the air wars of the media waves, but rely instead on their almost limitless ground troops to fight house to house. It is bottom up, rather than top down.

Being the political underdog at a national level gives them an often rather distinct self-rightousness, which leads them to believing the end justifies the means. Their election literature is by far the most negative of any party. Their canvassers spread slander (during the general election, they openly spread false stories about me). A Labour MP said to me last week: “aren’t the Lib Dems just foul?”.

that The fact they have no real policy beliefs – do they like higher taxes or not? – and think the ends justify the means, leads to astoundingly hypocritical campaigns that are bewildering to their opponents. Labour and Conservatives try hard to have coherent local messages in local elections. The Lib Dems often end up campaigning against themselves in different parts of a district – basically telling voters whatever they want to hear. In the southern part of my constituency they campaigned to push a trainline to the North, and in the northern part they campaigned to push it to the south. They campaign against something, get elected, and then quickly change position.

Because they are essentially a party of protest, opposing what anyone in a position of responsibility does, they often struggle with actually running local government. Being in power involves making difficult decisions, and justifying them. For the Lib Dems, the tactic is to deny responsibility for their own decisions, and take credit for anything that is good, even if they have nothing to do with it.

In South Cambridgeshire, they have decided to build far more houses than the national government thinks is necessary, but rather than defend it they try to blame their unpopular decision on national government. They Conservative Government has decided to build a very popular Cambridge South station, which the Lib Dems take credit for.

So what is the actual point of the Lib Dems as a political party? Many of their opponents see them as politically parasitical opportunists. Saying anything to get into power, taking no responsibility for what they actually do, and taking credit for the work of others. But they at least inject competition into local politics.

The only way the Conservatives will beat the Lib Dems is not to defeat them in the TV studios or policy discussions or in newspaper columns. As we have shown in those areas of the country where we have beaten them back, we have to recruit our own ground troops to campaign on the doors and in the village halls. We need our own local champions campaigning on local issues. We need to out Lib Dem the Lib Dems. As the Lib Dem campaign strategy says: you win where you work.