Stephen Greenhalgh is the Deputy Mayor for Policing in London and a former leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council
Last night I was a guest speaker at the annual dinner of the Hammersmith Conservatives. It brought back so many fond memories and a conversation with a Livingstone acolyte in 2007 at my first London Government dinner as council leader: “Don’t assume what is good for Hammersmith is good for London!”.
I remembered those words as William Hague reminded us of his debut performance at Party Conference and his message of the need to roll back the frontiers of the state. It reminded me that the Prime Minister has recently extolled his vision of a land of opportunity.
It was those words that I remembered when I was asked to say a few words to my friends.
Hammersmith & Fulham has been a big blue beacon of opportunity and is recognised as a citadel of Conservatism. But it wasn’t always that way. I sat opposite Matthew Carrington who battled for Fulham in the 1980s and 1990s. He started the fight back and is now in the House of Lords. I sat next to my best friend who took the Hammersmith & Fulham seat in 2005 with a 5000 majority – the first Conservative MP to represent Hammersmith in decades. He took us within striking distance of the town hall. And I sat next to Cllr Nick Botterill, the current council leader who has continued to cut council tax and pay down debt.
But I had the honour of taking down the Red Flag in 2006. Decades of socialism had almost bankrupted the council and mired it in debt. Many council services were poor and residents were paying twice the level of council tax as those in Wandsworth under the benign leadership of Eddie Lister.
We stood as tax cutting Conservatives and we governed as tax cutting Conservatives. Council tax is now the third lowest in the country and the debt has almost been wiped out. This is just plain good housekeeping.
We stood for a cleaner, greener borough where the streets were swept after the rubbish was collected and not before. We created a council department with a mission to transform our parks and green spaces. We now have more green flags than Greenland. In 2006 we had none. We promised zero tolerance policing and no more plea bargaining with criminals. We paid millions for round the clock beat policing and crime has continued to fall.
Finally we took on the inner city challenge of giving our residents the chance to get on in life. We opened academies under Adonis and free schools under Gove. Schools are the engines of social mobility and the pathway out of poverty. Now most parents choose to send their kids to local schools. Before, the vast majority would look to state schools outside the borough. We launched the H&F Homebuy with the late Sandy Bruce-Lockhart and helped 1000s of residents to buy their own home, and Cllr Andy Johnson is unveiling the right to buy part of your home imminently. Finally we recognised that the borough had to grow in order to prosper and so we went for growth along the West London line with a mission to regenerate the most deprived parts of the borough.
Conservatives believe in opportunity and the hand up rather than the hand out. We understand that parent power is more important than the NUT in schools. We champion the right to own a stake in your own home and the need to break up the public housing monolith. We know that you have to work with the market to regenerate areas that are uncompetitive to drive jobs and growth. As William Hague lavished the council with compliments, I felt we had delivered for our residents and that this was a record to be proud of. Perhaps what is good for Hammersmith is good for London and the nation after all.