Stephen Greenhalgh is Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime in London and a former leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council
Even after the Bank Holiday weekend I still feel numb with shock of the Conservative defeat in Hammersmith & Fulham. I also feel extremely guilty as I did not see this coming and spent almost all of my time campaigning outside of thebborough that I led for six years. It was heart breaking to see eleven of my former close colleagues lose their seats.
Labour had taken back the town hall that they had occupied for the best part of 40 years. These socialists who flew the Red Flag for twenty years may have the mandate again but I expect them to be clueless in office. Conservatives will be back.
We will return because H&F residents will not forget what we achieved in just eight short years: We lowered council tax by 20 per cent and more than halved the council’s debt in just eight years. We always tried to put our residents first by delivering cleaner streets and improving our parks which now have 13 green flags as a mark of excellence.
Crime has fallen by a quarter since 2006. This Conservative council introduced round- the-clock beat policing in our three town centres. We always worked closely with the police to fight crime rather than plea bargain with criminals.
Hammersmith & Fulham has now been transformed into a borough of opportunity with 6 new free schools opening, 1000 new affordable homes to buy and an ambitious mission to regenerate some of the most deprived parts of the borough.
However elections are all about the future. It is never enough to run on your record.
Winston Churchill saved this country and the whole of western civilisation from tyranny but he still lost the 1945 election to Clement Atlee.
My time campaigning outside H&F confirmed my view that crime in the capital is falling like a stone. You may not believe the recorded crime statistics or even the independent crime survey which shows an 11 per cent crime drop in London last year. But you should believe the local politicians who were all trying to attract the votes of their residents.
The fact is that crime and public safety has dropped down the priority list of Londoners. Cutting crime by adopting zero tolerance policing was our top council pledge in 2006 ahead of our pledge to cut council tax. By 2014 the H&F crime record was about bullet point number five on the campaign literature.
The other insight from the campaign is that the politics of crime is local. Crime is falling in Redbridge but there are local issues that still cause a running sore such as on-street prostitution in Loxford ward. Redbridge also showed me how important it is to focus the police, local businesses and the public on preventing crime from happening in the first place.
Cllr Keith Prince has been a truly brilliant council leader. He showed me how alley-gating prevents burglaries and how Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) can work alongside the council to design out crime
The collaboration between Redbridge Conservatives on the Council, the police and the Hainault Business Park BID has transformed a crime hotspot into a virtually crime free zone. I was staggered at the innovative use of automatic number plate recognition cameras and CCTV technology which have helped to turn a near derelict business park – once full of tumbleweed and burnt out cars – into an enterprise hub which is now home to 150 businesses. And my old friend, Alan Weinberg, and his Clayhall Conservative colleagues pointed out to me the need to improve access and review traffic light phasing at Redbridge roundabout in order to reduce the number of serious accidents on the road involving buses, cars and cyclists.
Campaigning with Cllr Jonathan Glanz in Soho in Westminster, where crime is ten times higher than many other wards, confirmed to me that Ken Livingstone’s “one size fits all” approach to neighbourhood policing was simply barmy and we were right to support the Met Police’s introduction of a new local policing model.
My visit to Croydon to help Cllr and Assembly Member Steve O’Connell on election day was immense fun. We were trying to get out the vote in a key marginal and bumped into his opposite number doing the same for Labour. Then an ex-offender approached us and wanted to know what the parties had to offer him. The young Labour councillor stayed silent – he was so young that he had never voted before.
Steve talked about the importance of resettlement brokers in helping offenders back into the world of work, because as Conservatives we believe in the hand up rather than the hand out. Nonetheless I feel really sorry for the former Council Leader Mike Fisher who is a dogged street fighter after my own heart. Happily both Jonathan and Steve were re-elected for their respective wards.
Kingston was a bright spot for us as the Lib Dem vote collapsed. I was sad not to see my friend Howard Jones who is the Conservative Group Leader and an ex-Met copper. Kingston is one of the safest boroughs in London but it has a problem in policing the town centre which has become the Leicester Square of the suburbs piled full of clubs and bars with lots of young people attending Kingston University. Howard adopted the H&F idea of paying for extra cops to police the town centre in order to reduce anti-social behaviour. This was a major pledge to their electorate and I am so pleased that they won back the council from the Lib Dems.
However this approach is no silver bullet as Cllr Oonagh Moulton made the same pledge for more cops to police Wimbledon town centre and sadly, Merton Conservative lost despite a valiant campaign.
On election day itself I also headed up to Barnet where Richard Cornelius has managed spectacularly to cling on with a one council seat majority. Campaigning briefly under the leadership of ‘Generalissimo ‘ Mike Freer MP I saw how many residents have turned their homes into fortresses in order to stop the burglary epidemic, which thankfully has now abated.
Crime and fear of crime always came up on the doorstep when levels of street violence and acquisitive crime were higher. Conservatives always had a natural advantage with our outlook on crime that closely matched the public’s. But crime has fallen since 2010 and considerably in London since 2012 and we may now be victims of our own success. Public safety dropping down the priority list makes it all the more important that Conservatives campaigning in our cities have clear pledges on the other key issues that matter to their electorate.