I also expected this would be enough for us to retain control of the council we gained from Labour in 2006. This would have meant defying political gravity and, I’m afraid, we failed to manage it.
As the former council leader Stephen Greenhalgh says:
“This is a bitter blow for Councillor Nick Boterill and his team. H&F Conservatives have a record to be proud of. 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 also 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 six new free schools opening, 1000 new affordable homes to buy, and an ambitious mission to regenerate some of the most deprived parts of the capital.”
Labour did not try to fight us on our record. Their leaflets scarcely mentioned it. They were dominated by the (false) claim that Charing Cross Hospital is going to close and the (false) claim that the land would be sold for “luxury flats”, and the (false) claim that decisions about the NHS are a matter for the local council – and thus voting Labour would “save” the hospital.
I am proud of the vigorous and positive Conservative campaign but we should have done more to counter Labour’s claims on this.
So one reason we lost was that the national share of the vote has swung away from the Conservatives since 2010. Another reason was the effectiveness of Labour’s scaremongering over the hospital. A third is that – in London at least – many who previously voted Lib Dem were on the Left. So Labour picked up more of the Lib Dem vote that the Conservatives did. This may not apply so much elsewhere in the country. I’m not sure the Lib Dems in Cornwall are as likely to be public sector Guardianistas.
Anyway what will the Labour council do? The new council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan has said many times that our Council Tax cuts have not gone far enough and that he would go further. It is one of their five early pledges. He also felt that the revenue from parking charges was too high. Also that the number of police officers funded by the council would be increased. There was to be a fully costed manifesto setting out how this would be paid for – although the document was not published.
I will have to adapt to life as an opposition councillor. I hope I will be constructive and judge the new administration in my borough on their actions. For example, if they carry out their pledge to accelerate the reduction in Council Tax, this is something I would welcome.
Some of my colleagues are sceptical as to whether Labour will achieve this. Let us see. As that crooner Sting would put it:
Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you
On a personal note I am very sorry for those good friends and hard working councillors and candidates who lost. I congratulate all those who were elected yesterday. Of course the dishonest nature of Labour’s campaigning sours relations between our parties locally. But I am sure that most councillors of all parties in my borough and elsewhere are motivated by a desire to improve the communities they live in.
Particular congratulations to Cllr Caroline ffiske – she was elected as one of the Conservative councillors in Avonmore and Brook Green Ward yesterday and also happens to be my wife.