Vic Pritchard: The “ring of steel” imposed by the Lib Dems in Bath is unjustified

28 Jun

Cllr Vic Pritchard is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council

“When you’re going through hell, keep going.” This famous aphorism from Churchill comes perilously close to describing how the past few years have felt in Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) under a Liberal Democrat administration.

But change is just around the corner. With local elections scheduled to take place next May, we Conservatives must stick to Churchill’s advice and keep going.

We lost control of the council in 2019 and have since been faced with a Lib Dem majority of between 11 and 15 councillors. With 10 members, we are a small but strong opposition force on the council. We have used our influence to help reverse a number of disastrous policies the administration has been intent on delivering. These include the introduction of car parking charges in one of our towns, attempts to charge people to recycle certain materials (dubbed the ‘Tip Tax’), and plans to completely exclude people with disabilities from accessing Bath city centre. We have also continued to be strong ward champions, helping our residents with any issues, however small they may be.

But we didn’t become councillors in order to sit on the opposition benches. If we want to do positive things for the community, things we know we have the capabilities to achieve, we must do all we can to ensure we win next year.

Over the past few years, the Lib Dem policy agenda for BANES has mirrored that of other authorities across the country also under their control. In York, for example, the Lib Dem administration recently made national news by completely restricting access to the city centre. Likewise in Bath, the council has this year implemented city centre access restrictions known locally as the ‘Ring of Steel’. In short, the policy involves completely restricting access to Bath city centre through the liberal use of reinforced steel barriers. The plans have been vociferously opposed by people in Bath who have disabilities, and much unnecessary stress and anxiety has been caused by the insensitive way in which the Lib Dems have driven the policy forward.

While we recognise the importance of keeping members of the public safe from potential terrorist attacks, we don’t think the Ring of Steel is a fair or proportional response. That’s why, ahead of next May’s elections, we will commit to reviewing the scheme and amending it where it is sensible to do so.

Here in BANES, we live in a part of the country that is replete with natural beauty and rich in cultural history. Situated at the southern end of the Cotswolds, on the edge of the Mendips and which includes Salisbury Plain and the UNESCO World City of Bath, plus countless historic towns and villages, we occupy a corner of the country that is of special interest. To put it another way, it is a part of the country that ought to be placed under the trusty stewardship of the Conservatives.

While the finer details of next year’s campaign are still to be agreed, already we can identify some broad themes. These include a renewed focus on ‘hyper local’ issues that matter most to residents, the need to inject a sense of pride and place back into our district, and efforts to improve relations between residents and the local authority, which too often under the Lib Dems has ridden roughshod over peoples’ views, giving the impression that it knows better that they do.

We want to help tackle the Climate Emergency in a way that makes residents feel included, rather than the present administration’s tendency to control peoples’ behaviour in an authoritarian manner. For example, instead of introducing a plethora of Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) across the whole of Bath as a quick-fix to reducing vehicle emissions, we would be more mindful of Bath’s unique topography and only take schemes forward that have strong justifications.

While we are confident that, in the face of the Lib Dems’ myriad failures since 2019, the local electorate will put their faith in us next year and return a Conservative majority to the Guildhall, we know it will not be an easy campaign. Our opponents are well organised and routinely ply residents with endless streams of party literature. But as Conservatives, we undoubtedly have a winning message.

Our colleagues in the Bath Conservative Association recently announced the new Parliamentary Spokesman for the City, the person hoping to unseat Lib Dem MP, Wera Hobhouse, at the next General Election. Matthew Heappey beat some excellent candidates in a tough selection process, and it will be a privilege to work with him during the next campaign. In North East Somerset, Jacob Rees-Mogg continues to be a popular local MP and enjoys the strong support of councillors, activists, and party members.

If your local authority area has elections next year, the BANES Conservatives will be with you in spirit, cheering you on as we hope you too will be cheering us on. And if at times it may feel an impossible task, remember Churchill’s words – just keep going.

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Lucy Stephenson: There is no magic money tree in Rutland. Fundamental reform is needed.

27 Jun

Cllr Lucy Stephenson is the Leader of Rutland County Council.

May 2023, for Rutland, will be the four yearly performance review, aka the Local Government elections. To some extent, what is happening in Westminster, over which, as a Councillor, you have no meaningful power aside from barracking from the sidelines and forming good lines of communication with your MP, will have a significant impact on the ballot box at a local level. This is embedded by political commentators using Local Government election results as a KPI for Central Government. Irksome in many ways: to know that regardless of what you have achieved or not locally will pale into insignificance compared to what your Party has done or not nationally.

The average turnout for Local Government elections is shockingly low at around the 37 per cent mark, meaning that an average of 63 per cent of any given local population has shown no interest whatsoever. Local Government is the workhorse of any Government of the day. It is the bin collections, the pothole fillers, the Council Tax demanders, the Adult Social Care deliverers, and the child protectors. It manages buses, libraries, housing development, our daily lives in its broad hands. It is the less glamorous magician which turns theory into practice. It is also the barometer of where we have got to as a society. Demand for service far outstrips budget. The result: tighter thresholds for services, universal services trimmed, and persistent increases in Council Tax all against a backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis. 80 per cent of Rutland’s revenue budget comes from Council Tax; the national average 60 per cent. This equates to £331 less central government funding per Rutland household.

I will not explore the amenity disparity resulting from unfair funding between a rural area such as Rutland and that of its urban counterparts – it is an incredibly valid argument, but it is a smokescreen for an uncomfortable truth: Local Government in its entirety is creaking at the seams. Levelling Up is a start to redressing geographical disparity, harnessing local knowledge and understanding to make long-term plans to enable crucial investment in infrastructure that will help local economies flourish for the greater good of the wider community. It resonates with me as a Conservative, but it is a start only. Local Government requires something more fundamental.

Rutland, like every other Council, faces a bleak outlook: a medium-term financial plan that indicates gloomy deficits. Medium term, living within our means feels to be no more than a laudable aspiration – there are no laurels to rest on here, the magic money tree far away despite rigorous and persistent efforts to reconfigure and transform; ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ the buzz words of the day. It confirms my assertion that there must be fundamental reform.

This is the backdrop against which we prepare for the May ’23 elections. Rutland has had a politically turbulent time since 2019. We started our new term with a healthy Conservative majority (19 out of 27 Councillors). We have since dropped to six; some have simply resigned prompting by-elections – which has resulted in the rise of the Independents, Lib Dems, Greens and for the first time in many years a Labour Councillor; others have jumped on the Independent bandwagon. I deliberately use a capital ‘I’: it is Political. People should not be hoodwinked into taking a literal meaning of the word ‘independent’ – it speaks to a ‘Politics has no place at a local level’ view. However, if a group of people align, form a group, have a leader and agree voting positions ahead of a meeting then the duck is most certainly quacking! I am new in post, as of May this year, a visible culmination of the aforementioned turbulence. In effect, I have a 10-month mandate to turn things around.

The big personality model for a leader has many things to recommend it; it does, however, carry with it the significant risk of being a single point of failure. It also runs the risk of diluting any Party’s fundamental philosophical approach because the focus becomes personality, not principle. A group that pins its fortunes on any one individual will need to weigh up this risk. A leader that acts with clarity, measure, and vision will help no end, but this does not eliminate the need for a strong team that is united by a commonality of purpose with a drive to deliver for the residents they serve. Decent candidate selection, is therefore crucial.

An effective election campaign necessitates thorough community engagement, not just to identify key support or indeed to get soundbite tag lines across. It is about residents understanding the not terribly sexy topic of Local Government. It is about understanding what is important to people who wish to live their best lives.

With deepened understanding, there is a chance of a bigger election turnout, whilst demonstrating clear principles that shows an honest, solution-focussed, and long term approach with deliverable actions. Democracy is great but it is vulnerable to fickle promises, opinion presented as fact, soundbite temptations that miss the nuance of policy development. Our electorate must be equipped to make informed choices – and that starts with a clear manifesto that people can see will improve their lives if delivered.

 

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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.

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Jonathan Owen: In East Riding, we will build on the great community spirit shown throughout the pandemic

21 Jun

Cllr Jonathan Owen is the Leader of East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Prior to the 2019 local elections I submitted a piece to Conservative Home which outlined our positivity at East Riding of Yorkshire Council around the elections by our approach of concerning ourselves with local issues. At a time when national expectation was one of gloom for Conservative councils, we were one of the very few that increased our number of seats with a healthy majority. We enjoyed an influx of new councillors, who have integrated into the local government world.

With elections again in May 2023, will we be in the same position?

Never in my 22 years as a Councillor, most spent in a deputy Leader and Cabinet role, and now Leader, have I been more uncertain of the next election results.

Austerity, Brexit, Covid, Cost of Living, Inflation, now all are stacked against any Party with no clear vision of a route to tackle the issues – and the public are restless and many suffering.

Levelling up and devolution are the current way forward, but using the principle of universal proportionalism (understood by those in Public Health circles under the principles of Sir Michael Marmot) which advocates a proportional use of intervention across the whole – not just targeted at the areas of most need – we must ensure that everyone has that proportionate share of levelling up funding, for the long term, not short term politics.

‘Place’ is the new mantra – ensuring we are acting across our ‘place’, usually our upper tier local government boundaries shared between a couple of authorities.

Why are we in local government?.

My view is simple, we are here to protect the vulnerable and improve the quality of life for everyone else. To achieve this we need three simple things, originally put to me by Duncan Selbie, former head of Public Health England: to give people a job, a roof over their heads, and a friend, – and then you are supporting your residents for the best chances in life.

To achieve this? We use our non statutory, but essential role, to promote economic development across the spectrum, from multi-national companies, where we can assure the supply of land through our local plans and pressing for enterprise zones etc. We work with our MP’s to support local large businesses and our plethora of SME’s (Small and Medium Enterprises) through ensuring the planning system is geared up to get things moving – and continuing to invest in our start up business units with accompanying wrap-around support and advice.

We will accelerate our provision of affordable housing.

We will build on the great community spirit shown throughout the pandemic.

We are, again, entering a new world of change to the NHS with the introduction of the new Integrated Care Systems in July. The cynical ones among us who have experienced the constant top-down restructuring of the NHS and countless attempts to get away from the fact that the NHS has really become a National Hospital Service, not Health Service, can now involve ourselves in pushing for total system integration. This is through the new, local government weighted, Integrated Care Partnerships, working alongside and feeding into the Integrated Care Boards, to deliver on the intent of the NHS to involve itself in health prevention and tackling inequalities. We are pushing for this opportunity to claim funding from, and co-produced working with, the NHS to invest in our ‘place’ to tackle those inequalities the NHS is now to involve itself in: including economic development and working with local authorities who have influence in all those areas that affect our health and wellbeing, e.g. Early years, Education, Transport, Housing, Economic Development, Leisure, Culture and Arts, Streetscene, Public Health and Inequalities, Open spaces, Adult and Childrens Social Care etc.

We have the opportunity for integration post-Covid, where joint working, carried out through necessity, can be built on for new working relationships moving ahead. The pandemic has spotlighted the huge potential of the voluntary and community sector, which we in the East Riding do not want to lose. We have introduced a new priority in our council plan of ‘Empowering Communities’ where we ensure that the value of asset-based community development, building on the strengths already inherent in the community through community groups, societies, etc, can be used to support and invest our limited resources in what’s already there and working – to shift from a position where we think we know best to supporting what is actually proven to work and owned by the communities we support.

Our role in local government is to put the wishes of our residents first, in our ‘place’, to our leaders in national government, not just be the delivery arm of national policy.

I remind all new candidates entering politics that in an ideal scenario where you may have a 60 per cent turnout in an election (six in ten vote) and you have a wonderful result of over 50 per cent voting for you (three of the six) then seven out of ten did not actually vote for you (70 per cent).

You represent all of them and the slightest shift in opinion through a local or national issue can sway all those that don’t vote.

We cannot ever be complacent. But we’ll be fighting on the local issues.

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Wendy Thompson: Next year will offer a chance to punish Labour for its mismanagement in Wolverhampton

20 Jun

Cllr Wendy Thompson is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Wolverhampton City Council.

Wolverhampton faces all-out elections in May next year. So what you may ask? Ordinarily, all-outs are nothing special. However, here in the Black Country’s only city, because of boundary changes, it represents a near once in a generation opportunity to break, in one fell swoop, Labour’s grip on the levers of power.

Normally, the city elects by thirds, and with Labour’s solid majority in place, it would take years of nothing but smooth sailing, without the ebbs and flows of national politics bleeding over, and yes, local challenges, to whittle away control from Labour.

We have a golden opportunity to take control and end the years of misrule that the residents of Wolverhampton have had to endure.

Much of the criticism I wrote of the administration on this site last year, sadly, still holds true:

  • The £4.4 billion of investment that they say is onsite currently, or in the next 12 months, in the city is still missing in action. In fact, if it wasn’t for Government funding I’m not sure anything would be progressing in the city centre (except for the years late, and four-times over budget, Civic Halls project).
  • The Green Belt is still under pressure as Labour refuses to proactively go out and hunt down the brownfield sites we know are there, so much so that they even voted against a motion calling on them to do just this, because they couldn’t stomach publicly following our lead nor could they cook up an amendment that was even in order.
  • Front-line services are continuing to let people down, with phone calls to Council officers going unanswered (in some cases for over 40 minutes), even when people are trying to give the Council money to pay for services they should receive as part of their council tax, like garden waste bins.

Perhaps worst of all for residents though is that as sure as spring follows winter, Labour, despite our attempts to stop them, puts up council tax as much as possible without fail. And in the latest cabinet reports, it’s reported that the Council is to post an underspend of over £2 million on top of the £4 million bunged into reserves earlier in the year, which would have more than covered the extra cash raised from Labour’s latest squeeze.

Residents are being let down by Wolverhampton and, as such, we will be doing all we can to take control of the Council in one go and do better for our poorly treated citizens (or ‘customers’ as the Council insists on calling them).

Preparation has already begun for the monumental task ahead and whilst this years’ manifesto formulation is in its infancy, we know the challenges the city faces and are fizzing with ideas to solve them.

As believers in low tax, we think that now more than ever the Council should be doing all it can to reduce the ask on hard-pressed Council Taxpayers. We know that there are savings the Council can make to limit or even freeze council tax increases. We also want to scrap the garden tax and stop charging people to have their garden waste collected – at a time when we want to boost recycling why are we penalising people for doing the right thing?

By far the best thing we can do to help many households (and the Council Tax base through the associated reduced council tax discounts) is to help more people into work and off out of work benefits. Wolverhampton has a chronic unemployment problem regularly being in the top ten nationally for out of work claimants. Whilst the Labour Council has slowly adopted two of our ideas to counter unemployment for those at the beginning and towards the end of their careers, we want to go further. Wolverhampton has a proud entrepreneurial spirit, and we want to see additional support for those who have a vision to turn ideas into reality.

One of the city’s most sacred resources are its green spaces – with just 11 per cent Green Belt, one of the lowest in the West Midlands – we owe it not just to current residents but to future ones too to see as much as of it as possible protected from development. We want to find and bring forward the brownfield sites out there so that the greenbelt fields can be removed from the draft Black Country Plan – fortunately for us and Wolverhampton, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street is already working on doing just that.

For too long Wolverhampton has been let down by Labour with the current administration seemingly content to manage decline and showing more concern for holding on to their Cabinet positions. Whilst the world has moved on, in Wolverhampton Labour want to refight past battles rather than look to the future, whether that is ending the unemployment crisis that has dogged the city since de-industrialisation or complaining about a lack of resource. Our city lags our Black Country siblings with the key difference being that in the two more successful ones it is Conservatives in charge.

So come May when all seats are up for election, we will be ready. With support from our two excellent local Conservative MPs Stuart Anderson and Jane Stevenson, the indominatable Andy Street, and the hundreds of Conservative Supporters across the city, we will be doing all we can to take control and deliver the positive change that Wolverhampton has so sadly been missing all these years.

 

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Kris Wilson: We won in Nuneaton and Bedworth by not letting our opponents distract us

17 Jun

Cllr Kris Wilson is the Leader of Nuneaton and Bedworth Council.

Last year, we took control of Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council for only the second time since our creation in 1974. Conservatives had only been in control for two years in the history of our council. When I first became leader of our group in 2014, I only had three out of 34 councillors on our benches. At the end of Election Night 2021 we reached our historic best of 24 councillors.

During the course of our year in control, we were also faced with a by-election in November in Barpool – a red-wall council seat that had only turned our way in 2021. Following a hard-fought campaign, we won that by-election and brought our total to 25 councillors.

So, entering the elections this May we had 25 councillors. The national picture was not as buoyant as 12 months’ prior. Where would we end up by the end of the evening?

We ended up on 27 councillors in defiance of the Westminster Bubble wisdom.

No love for Labour

Contrary to the expectations of many, in the seats Labour needs to stand a realistic chance of government at the next general election, there was no great “Labour surge”. In Nuneaton and Bedworth, Labour were in control for 45 out of 47 years. The residents of our Borough have not forgotten the state they left our towns in after their decades in control. People are not ready to trust Labour again.

The election results nationally would also seem to back up this analysis – certainly in England. Having knocked on literally hundreds of doors during this election campaign, voters have not been flocking back to Labour. They are unhappy about a number of issues, but the trust gap between voters and Labour is as large as ever.

No substitute for knocking on doors

During an election, we all face many challenges. But the worst challenge a councillor, candidate, or campaigner faces is complacency. Just because a seat has always been Conservative it does not mean that it will remain Conservative. We cannot only emerge from the proverbial electoral hibernation every 4 years. The only way to get our message across and actually find out what a voter thinks is to get out there and speak to them – knock on as many doors as you can.

In Nuneaton and Bedworth, we got out there and knocked on the doors. We heard from the voters that whilst they aren’t necessarily happy with the national picture, locally they still didn’t trust Labour, but they could also see the progress we have made in our first year in control. Over our years in opposition, our policies for control were formulated after listening to residents and they are now seeing us work to implement them.

Another factor in our success is that as residents could actually see us knocking on doors, they respected the fact that we weren’t “hiding in our Ivory Towers” but actually seeking to get out there and speak to them and listen to what they have to say. This has been in stark contrast to Labour who were virtually nowhere to be seen during the election.

Update residents on your progress

Part of this is easier if you are in control of your council. Since taking control we have been working closely with our comms team to ensure that more press releases go out that highlight the policies and projects that we have put in place. We have re-enforced that this is a member-led authority and that as cabinet members it is us who approve the press and what is put out in our name. If we are unhappy with it, then we amend it.

Don’t be frightened of doing the radio rounds. Wherever possible in our first year in control we have taken up every opportunity to discuss local issues on local radio. Compared to our Labour predecessors, we have been getting out there and selling our messages and our achievements.

As part of our election campaign, we put together an updating magazine to highlight all that we have achieved in our first year in control. Over 30,000 magazines have gone out to show that we have delivered on our promises that we made in 2021 and how we want to take this forward in 2022 and beyond.

Maintaining Discipline

During an election campaign it is easy to get distracted from attacks from our opponents. No matter how cuddly the Greens may look, they are amongst some of the most vicious and dishonest campaigners you will ever meet. Whatever Labour don’t know or like, they will simply make up.

The temptation to get distracted and respond to these dirty tactics can sometimes be overwhelming, especially to newer candidates. It falls to those of us who are experienced campaigners to be the wiser heads in our teams and advise caution.

Don’t bother trying to correct a falsehood. Those who believe it are often those who will never believe Conservatives anyway. It also detracts from your message and stops you talking about what you want to talk about – the difference a Conservative council can make for our local residents.

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Keith Best: A flawed system means a sense of fair play is missing in local elections

13 Jun

Keith Best is the Chairman of Conservative Action for Electoral Reform and a former Conservative MP.

The 2022 local elections were tougher than expected. While recent political events certainly shoulder some of the blame, the ineffective electoral system further dented Conservative representation across the country. Since 2019, 29 councils outside of London have failed to correctly represent the Conservative vote. In these boroughs, Conservative councillors who had popular support have been denied seats. London is even worse.

Some of the worst offenders are quite shocking. In 2019, in the small borough of Oadby and Wigston in Leicestershire, the Lib Dems took 92 per cent of the seats with 60 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives came second with just under half of the votes the LibDems polled, but won only two seats out of 28. The Conservatives gained seven per cent of the seats despite polling 25 per cent of the overall vote.

Manchester is a more recent example. Manchester is often perceived as a deep red Labour heartland. While there is no doubt that Labour is dominant in the city, it is not actually Labour only. In the 2022 elections, Labour won 94 per cent of the seats with only 66 per cent of the vote.

Cheltenham tells a similar story, the Lib-Dems secured 18 seats while the Conservatives only managed to secure one, despite gaining over 9,000 votes to the Liberal Democrats 19,000. The Conservatives should have secured between six and nine seats if the electoral process had been fair.

A sense of fair play is missing in local elections. Bright upcoming councillors are missing out on opportunities to support their local communities because of a failing local electoral system. Engaging in fair play is critical to the success of democracy and one of Britain’s great values.

Single party councils also shame the British sense of democracy. The London borough elections produced two all Labour councils, Lewisham – and Barking and Dagenham. 11 per cent of Lewisham’s residents voted Conservative; at least five Conservative councillors should sit in Lewisham making a stand against Labour’s mismanagement. In 2018 over 40 per cent of Lewisham secondary school pupils did not go to a good or outstanding school and Lewisham had the slowest broadband speed in South East London. A 2016 report showed Lewisham is in the bottom three local authorities nationally for its recycling rate with only 17.1 per cent of household waste being recycled. In Lewisham in 2022, Labour gained 100 per cent of the seats with only 55 per cent of the vote.

Barking and Dagenham produced an even less representative result. The Conservatives almost secured 20 per cent of the vote but were denied even a single seat. In 2018 the Conservatives had 23 per cent and still no councillor to represent the thousands of Conservative voters in the borough.

While the debate rages on as to whether Labour councils are less tax-efficient than Conservative councils, one party councils are, as a matter of fact, less tax-efficient. These London Labour one party councils would seriously benefit from opposition voices.

The biggest risk is that as more councils become unfairly dominated by a single party, engagement on the whole decreases. People are less likely to bother turning up to vote for the Conservatives in an election if they perceive their vote as a waste of time. Whereas if the electoral system was adjusted allowing for more proportional representation, Labour-dominated areas would be broken up and more people would feel included in the electoral process. More people would get out and vote Conservative. A greater freedom of choice could help drive up the Conservative vote in local elections.

Freedom of choice and competition bring out the best in humans. Safe Labour councils are much less likely to listen and respond to the needs of local residents in turn producing lower quality elections. More competition is needed to drive up England’s democratic standards.

Every newly created elected body in the UK has avoided using the First Past the Post system; this is true for both local and national parliaments. English local elections and Westminster are becoming increasingly anomalous. It is time to embrace the Conservative values of fair play and freedom of choice, and agree that local elections in England should be placed under review. The Conservatives owe it to the many unrepresented and left behind Conservative voters.

Please find below the 29 most rotten elections where the Conservatives lost seats unfairly to Labour and the Lib Dems. (Not including London.)

  • Bassetlaw: In 2019, Labour took 77 per cent of the seats with 45 per cent of the vote.
  • Cambridge: In 2022, Labour took 75 per cent of the seats with 45 per cent of the votes. LibDems and Greens polled as many votes as Labour but won only a third of the seats.
  • Chelmsford: In 2019, the Liberal Democrats took 54 per cent of the seats with 37 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives were a mere 30 votes behind the LibDems but won 10 fewer seats.
  • Cheltenham: In 2022, the Liberal Democrats took 86 per cent of the seats with 55 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives had only one seat to show for a vote total half that of the LibDems.
  • Gedling: In 2019, Labour took 70 per cent of the seats with 46 per cent of the vote.
  • Halton: In 2022, Labour took 89 per cent of the seats with 64 per cent of the votes.
  • High Peak: In 2019, Labour took 51 per cent of the seats with 34 per cent of the vote.
  • Ipswich: In 2022, Labour took 82 per cent of the seats with 47 per cent of the vote.
  • Kirklees: In 2022, Labour took 61 per cent of the seats with 41 per cent of the votes.
  • Leeds: In 2022, Labour took 60 per cent of the seats with 44 per cent of the vote.
  • Lincoln: In 2022, Labour took 45 per cent of the seats with 28 per cent of the votes.
  • Liverpool: In 2021, Labour took 74 per cent of the seats with 50 per cent of the votes.
  • Manchester: In 2022, Labour took 94 per cent of the seats with 66 per cent of the vote.
  • Mansfield: In 2019, Labour took 42 per cent of the seats with 34 per cent of the vote.
  • Newcastle on Tyne: In 2022, Labour took 70 per cent of the seats with 44 per cent of the votes.
  • Norwich: In 2022, Labour took 61 per cent of the seats with 45 per cent of the vote.
  • Oadby and Wigston: In 2019, the LibDems took 92 per cent of the seats with 60 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives came second with half the votes the LibDems polled but won only two seats out of the 28.
  • Oxford: In 2022, Labour took 62 per cent of the seats with 44 per cent of the votes.
  • Salford: In 2022, Labour took 75 per cent of the seats with 54 per cent of the votes.
  • Sefton: In 2022, Labour took 77 per cent of the seats with 49 per cent of the votes.
  • Somerset West and Taunton: In 2019, the LibDems took 51 per cent of the seats with 39 per cent of the vote.
  • South Oxfordshire: In 2019, the Liberal Democrats took 33 per cent of the seats with 28 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives took few seats (28 per cent) even though they polled more votes (29 per cent).
  • South Somerset: In 2019, the Liberal Democrats took 68 per cent of the seats with 44 per cent of the vote.
  • Swindon: In 2022, Labour took 63 per cent of the seats with 46 per cent of the votes.
  • Tameside: In 2022, Labour took 79 per cent of the seats with 55 per cent of the votes.
  • Tunbridge Wells: In 2022, the LibDems took 37 per cent of the seats for 22 per cent of the vote.
  • Vale of White Horse: In 2019, the Liberal Democrats took 81 per cent of the seats with 55 per cent of the vote.
  • Wigan: In 2022, Labour took 85 per cent of the seats with 53 per cent of the votes.

The research behind this article was originally published by David Green and was since further analysed by Conservative Action for Electoral Reform.

The post Keith Best: A flawed system means a sense of fair play is missing in local elections first appeared on Conservative Home.

Tony Devenish: Councils must do more to cut their budgets and combat the cost of living crisis

9 Jun

Tony Devenish is a member of the London Assembly for West Central.

The local election results were presented as solely a referendum on the Government. From much of the media, there was no acknowledgement of demographic shift and other local nuances. Or the record low turnout – campaigning took place over Easter and a Bank Holiday Monday. One of the reasons that local government is not visible to much of the public is our collective failure to do more to address the big issues such as the cost of living crisis.

Rather than simply talk about what Government must do more (begging bowl politics), every single Council should recognise that they can locally do more themselves. A sense of urgency is needed.

Councils still moan about “austerity”, losing 65 pence in the pound of expenditure since Labour crashed the economy and Cameron and Osborne were elected in 2010. While it is true that Councils have had to make significant savings, the reality is that many (almost always) Conservative councils have absorbed these while continuing to deliver good local services. We should remember that councils still receive huge annual budgets, with nice-to-have additions for often-ringfenced services throughout the year. That means millions, tens of millions, and more of taxpayers’ money. Yes, the special interests of local government will cry, costs are going up steeply. And few people who aren’t in their late middle age can remember the threat that high single digit (or double digit) inflation can cause.

Nevertheless, the hard fact remains: Councils can, should, and must do more. So here’s how:

First, freeze Council tax completely for the next two years. Every year local government officers claim “we have reached the bone, councillor.” But every year since 2009 Councils have been “crying wolf”. Independent research has shown time and again that local people give their local council a better rating, year on year. It is not all about spending, it’s about effective spending. Yes, a few Councils – like Slough and Croydon – have gone bust, but that’s down to poor leadership and is not typical across the vast majority of Councils.

Secondly, freeze recruitment for all but specific frontline staff for two years – especially those with a salary of over £90,000 per annum. A myth has been perpetuated by unions that you save money by recruiting permanent staff on gold plated pensions rather than use temporary staff. As I saw as a member of my Council’s Pensions Superannuation Committee, the long-term cost of this gold-plated overhead will be ruinous for local taxpayers over the next 40 years. Public Health is, I am afraid, especially guilty. I was Westminster Council’s first Public Health Cabinet Member a decade ago. NHS pay, conditions, and pensions, were so generous as they transferred over to Councils that even council officers were envious. Little has changed. I’m still astonished how relatively basic functions are performed by senior staff rather than working level staff right across the public sector.

Thirdly, link future annual increases in budgets to specific progress in mirroring the policies of neighbouring, better-performing Councils. This is much easier said than done, but there are few things more guaranteed to make house builders tear their hair out than where Council A has user-friendly planning policies but a neighbouring authority’s Planning Department is slow, opaque or both. Likewise, residents notice when street cleanliness is fantastic in one Council and dreadful a few roads down in a neighbouring borough. I appreciate that EU Procurement – which is still in operation in all but name – and the length of contracts, has made progress slow in most (but I stress not all) councils. However far more benchmarking should be done in this way.

Furthermore, Adult and Children’s services for the most vulnerable (the largest budget area) are, most would agree, far too fragmented and the fact that private equity is investing with relish illustrates that value for money has a long way to go. Bi-Borough Services are possible as my two local Boroughs Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster have shown for a decade.

I have deliberately saved Council re-organisation until last. It is widely agreed that William Hague’s opportunist policy as Leader of the Party 20 years ago, opposing unitary authorities, was right to lapse. But the eradication of district and county councils must be driven locally with local consent. Indeed it already is. Top down re-organisation is almost always a failure, as Andrew Lansley proved with the NHS.

In defence of councils, Covid has, over the last two years, seen driving efficiencies slipping down the priority list. But now, with a cost of living crisis for so many, merely lobbying for the Chancellor to fill their begging bowls is not enough. All Councils must do what we can to play our fair part. Unfortunately, in London, councils must do this with one hand tied behind their backs as the Mayor of London continues after six years to do very little except put Council Tax up – 8.8 per cent this month alone.

We are at the start of a new four-year term in all 32 London Boroughs as well as many other Councils across the country. So, let us up the momentum – and really take the lead in dealing with the cost of living crisis facing so many.

The post Tony Devenish: Councils must do more to cut their budgets and combat the cost of living crisis first appeared on Conservative Home.

Jason Perry: In Croydon, hope was the key to our success

3 Jun

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.

Ameet Jogia: Let us replicate our success in Harrow across the country

31 May

Cllr Ameet Jogia has been a councillor in Harrow since 2014. He is also the Co-Chair of the Conservative Friends of India.

Overnight Harrow became the flagship council for the Conservatives in London – becoming the only Conservative gain across the country. Having been overlooked for years, the Party tended to look up to other London councils as beacons of inspiration which best reflected Tory values. However, the recent local elections changed the political landscape in London, with Harrow having one of the largest Conservative majorities in the capital.

This is therefore a pivotal time for the Party in London and across the country to understand how and why trends are changing, and what we can do to stay ahead of the game. The results in Harrow were not a pleasant coincidence or freak of nature. They were the result of a number of factors, which I am sure Harrow Conservatives would be happy to share to multiply similar success across the country.

Harrow is one of the country’s most diverse areas. Our victory in Harrow is a great success story for our Party, reflective of our engagement with diverse communities. A story which reflects our ability to champion our Conservative values which we are so proud of, and successfully convey our message to different faith and cultural groups.

Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party Chairman, has been pivotal in championing our approach to engaging with faith communities. This has been witnessed by members who have seen him engage with ethnic minorities up and down the country – including twice in Harrow during the campaign trail!

Having grown up in a diverse place such as Harrow, I have always been a believer that ethnic minority communities are naturally conservative communities. People who have come to this country for a better start in life, who aspire to get on, work hard and act as advocates for education, family, entrepreneurship, and law and order. These are Conservative shared values.

Engaging with ethnic minorities should not be divisive. Instead, the focus should be on uniting communities through shared values. In this case, shared Conservative values. The focus of the debate should therefore be on effectively communicating our message to all ethnic minority communities, as opposed to introducing different policies for different communities.

Naturally, our engagement with various communities is at different stages. The recent local election results reflected this, especially our success in Harrow, home to the largest British Indian community in the country. Support from the British Indian community has been growing considerably for the Conservatives in recent years, which has been spurred on by Labour’s increasing anti-India stance.

The key is therefore accessing communities and relaying our message successfully. Finding supportive voices and candidates within communities is therefore essential in accessing communities. In Harrow, having community leaders standing as candidates was extremely effective in getting our message across on mass to communities.

Visibility is essential. This means active engagement with communities, visiting churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues. High profile visits, such as Home Secretary Priti Patel’s recent visit to a local Temple was very effective in galvanising the local community.

Engagement and alignment is also needed on an international level. In Harrow, the Prime Minister’s recent visit to India was a great hit with the borough’s large British Indian community. The Prime Minister’s trip to the Indian state of Gujarat – the ancestral home of the largest proportion of British Indians – resonated particularly with Harrow’s Gujarat community – the largest in the UK.

Diversity also needs to be reflected nationally. Our engagement drive is shown on the top table where the highest offices of state are held by – Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel, Alok Sharma, Suella Braverman, and Kwasi Kwarteng. This is an incredible achievement and a dream come true for many Conservatives. This Cabinet table is more diverse than all Labour cabinets put together. This diversity and inclusiveness has played a key role in portraying that the Party is the natural home for ethnic minorities.

There is of course no substitute for hard work, and this has been demonstrated by our excellent MP Bob Blackman who pounds the streets of Harrow every single weekend meeting local residents. He is an excellent example to councillors and activists who he encourages to join in engaging with the local community.

Harrow’s victory is a template for good community engagement in other seats with large ethnic minorities such as Leicester East, Brent, Bedford, Coventry North West, Oldham East and Saddleworth and other key marginals.

For us, it is therefore no coincidence that the ethnic minorities in Harrow – particularly the British Indian community – are voting Conservative. It was destined to happen because of the shared values of the community and the Party. The Conservative vote share has seen a steady increase in recent years in both the national and Mayoral elections. This was due to Harrow Conservatives focusing on local messaging – not in response to national polling – but to play on our strengths, that only Conservative councils can deliver a cost-effective and highly deliverable council services.

Perhaps this is something which other councils felt too obvious to mention. However, in Harrow the local messaging was hammered that only Conservatives had a plan to budget effectively rather than raise taxes, and focus on everyday priorities which matter to people, such as street cleaning, combatting fly-tipping and filling potholes, rather than wasting money on pointless schemes such as Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) schemes.

It was therefore no surprise that Harrow buckled the national trend in the recent local elections. Harrow was a great success story locally with important lessons we can use nationally. Let us replicate Harrow’s success across the country in what we do best – standing up for conservative values. After all, this should always be our greatest strength.