Amidst the excitement of the 2010 General election four years ago there were was disappointment for the Conservatives in the Lambeth Council elections. The number of Conservative seats fell from seven to three. So on day when Labour won 29 per cent of the vote in the General Election – their lowest share since 1983 – they still managed to tighten their grip on Lambeth Council. Thus the expectation must be for Labour to do at least as well next week as they did in 2010 – in Lambeth along with the rest of the country.
Yet the Lambeth Conservatives are fighting a vigorous campaign. Predictions are rather tricky. There are currently 15 Lib Dem councillors. How many will survive? Where will their votes go? Then we have the Green Party, with an almost full slate of candidates, proclaiming that Labour is not left wing enough. The same message is being put forward by the 13 Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidates. Will they have any impact?
Anyway, rather than just relying on the Left to tear themselves apart the Conservatives have put forward a bold and distinctive prospectus to local residents. The Conservative manifesto in Lambeth stresses that a Conservative council’s top priority would be:
Reducing Council Tax as in Hammersmith & Fulham, not just freezing it
Sensibly they identify reduction of debt (and thus the interest bill) as one means of achieving this:
Lambeth has £38 million in uncollected Council Tax arrears and a debt of £460 million – equivalent to £3,000 per resident.
They would also “make savings from improved efficiency through new business processes, shared services with other councils and more use of collaboration technology.” Also “ensure better procurement of goods and services that will also produce savings.”
They would “scrap Labour’s plan to spend £50 million and rising on a new town hall and use existing council properties more effectively”
Another theme is backing small businesses including high street shops:
Take full advantage of Conservative Government powers nationally to give local authorities a new discretionary power to levy business rate discounts, allowing them to help local shops and services such as post offices.
To encourage home ownership action will be taken to stop excessive charges on Council leaseholders – Labour’s way of punishing those with aspiration who exercised their right to buy. The Conservatives back a tough approach to anti-social behaviour – in contrast to Labour Lambeth’s refusal to evict rioters.
Lambeth Council has let down local residents. My colleague Mark Wallace, who is one of the Conservative candidate in Streatham Hill ward, has highlighted the council’s hypocrisy on spending cuts. While Council Taxpayers’ money has been used for partisan propaganda there has been £38.4 million a year spent on the interest bill for the council’s debt mountain.
Lambeth has been beset by housing mismanagement. It has also been among the worst councils in the country for opposing parental choice. There was also the Council’s disgraceful behaviour in driving out a successful headmaster, James Walker.
The Conservative approach could hardly be more different, the manifesto says:
We will support parent-promoted schools, academies, and free schools.
We will also support more faith-based schools and recognise the importance of their role in education in a diverse borough.
Lambeth may not be the easiest of territory for the Conservatives. But the complacent Labour council has done a rotten job – thus straining the loyalty of “natural” Labour supporters. The Conservative manifesto sets out a strong and credible alternative.