Jason Perry is the newly-elected Executive Mayor of Croydon.
As many of the results from the local elections were announced on the next morning, those watching BBC London News would be forgiven for thinking that the picture for the Conservative Party in London was almost entirely negative. But over the next four days, fantastic gains were announced, including in Enfield, in Harrow, and eventually, in Croydon.
I am so proud to have been elected Mayor of this great Borough, ending eight years of Labour administration. Not only that, but we made historic gains on the Council, including taking three seats out of four in New Addington – previously a Labour stronghold.
This election was personal to me. Croydon is my home, it’s the place where my parents raised me, and the place where my wife and I chose to raise our own children. This Borough has given me so many opportunities throughout my life. I was born on a Council estate and went to a great local school. My parents’ Council home in Hamsey Green enabled them to set up a small family business, which I ran myself prior to becoming Mayor.
Anybody who has followed local politics over the last couple of years will know about the monumental failures of Croydon’s Labour-run Council:
- £1.6 billion pounds of debt;
- £200m lent to their own property developer which went bust;
- £76 million spent on the botched refurbishment of a concert hall;
- Buying a hotel for £30 million and selling it for a £5 million loss;
- Council tenants – like I used to be – living in “slum housing”;
- Vast swathes of cuts like never before to our public services, including cutting up to £1,500 from people’s Council Tax Support.
These failures naturally drew some traditional supporters away from Labour. But campaigning on a message of negativity is not enough. Labour campaigned hard on their message of taking Croydon in a “New Direction,” with an experienced Mayoral candidate in Val Shawcross.
In order to win over previous Labour voters, and take those vital second-preference votes from people voting Green, Lib Dem, or Independent, we had to prove that the local Conservatives were the right team to lead the Borough forwards. Our campaign of hope did just that.
We showed that we would focus on residents’ priorities by pledging to restore the Graffiti Removal Team which Labour axed. We proved to residents that a Conservative Council would listen to local people by promising to reform our planning system. And – echoing a similar Conservative campaign in Kidsgrove – I pledged to re-open a Leisure Centre in Purley that the previous Labour administration shut. I am delighted to say that during my first week as Mayor, I have hit the ground running, and taken tangible action to deliver on all three of these things.
The message of hope also meant that our supporters and volunteers had a positive message to get excited about. Every leaflet that a deliverer put through a letterbox was like a brick towards the building of a better Croydon. Canvassers were able to talk about our plans to provide mentors for young people excluded from school. Or to adopt a Tenants’ Charter that will meaningfully improve housing conditions for council tenants. The campaign was a positive and optimistic one, and winning by just under 600 votes (out of the 95,000 cast) was a testament to the hard work put in by so many. Our message resonated across the Borough, with swings in some wards of over 12 per cent towards the Conservatives.
Over the next four years, I will work collaboratively with local councillors of all parties to restore real hope and pride in our Borough. Our biggest challenges lie ahead – including sorting out the Council’s debt and delivering a large-scale regeneration of our neglected Town Centre. But Croydon has overcome large challenges before, and I know that our best days still lie ahead.