Cllr Sean Anstee is the Leader of Trafford Council
Over the last week, as the ballot boxes have been put away for another year and the results analysed, the election result achieved here in Trafford is one of which we can all be proud.
Against all expectations from media commentators and analysts, Trafford, an urban metropolitan authority, remains the only Conservative-controlled Council in the North of England. The significance of this result cannot be underestimated. We have provided clear evidence that the goal of winning in the North can become reality.
Since 2004, Trafford has remained the spot of blue surrounded by an ocean of red on the electoral map of Greater Manchester. It does so today despite being subject to an intense and co-ordinated campaign by the Labour Party as its number one target council in the North-West.
We held our own to come out of this election with a majority that means no coalition is required, that the Labour Party has been left to lick their wounds and, most importantly of all, we have a council that will continue to work hard for our residents to repay their support as we overcome the momentous challenges ahead.
This wasn’t easy – and we fought for every vote through devising our key messages and repeating them.
The people of Trafford knew this was a local election that would determine the future destination of the council. They had a clear choice; an unproven spendthrift Labour Party which adopted a disastrous strategy of trying to hoodwink the electorate by hiding its actual views, or a Conservative Council able to stand by its record of achievement and success for our borough. UKIP too sought to destabilise our campaign by fielding a candidate in each of our marginal wards.
We were able to counter these attacks by citing our record of the lowest council tax in the North West frozen for four years, the lowest car parking charges in Greater Manchester and a strong defence of our outstanding selective secondary system of grammar and high schools – a lesson for the party nationally?
We also threw into the mix a detailed manifesto to cover radical public service reform and a team of dedicated and committed councillors, activists and candidates.
We knew we had everything to play for.
From the moment I stood to lead our Party in Trafford, I committed myself to make us a campaigning force that would not lie down and accept predicted outcomes. We worked particularly hard in our identified target seats, speaking to residents, obtaining their voting intention and then ensuring that they voted. We were also careful to not take our eye off the ball in the other seats we were defending, and they too had an active campaign.
This was helped with the incredible support of the voluntary party and senior officers of the three constituencies that cover Trafford. Our campaign activity would regularly be circulated to our members, often previously disconnected from campaigning by a simple lack of communication, so that everybody who had an interest in helping to keep Trafford Conservative knew where to be, who to contact and when to meet.
My elections committee would meet on a weekly basis and discuss two specific themes; what we achieved during the previous week and what do we need to achieve this week. Recognising that elections are won on the doorstep and not in an office, no more than an hour was spent at these meetings, but they helped considerably to ensure our nominations were in, literature was produced and strategy kept to.
During the months prior to the election, we flooded Trafford with over a quarter of a million pieces of literature, from pledge letters to leaflets, and a wrap around the local newspaper in the week before polling day which was delivered to 65,000 households.
We used Twitter and online advertising to reach out to new audiences and held street stalls in our town centres. The number of times we mentioned UKIP? Not once. Their final vote in Trafford was one of the lowest in the North West.
All of this complemented the hard graft of knocking on doors, street after street, to secure our pledge base and ensure their vote. It worked, and here in Trafford we didn’t just keep the council, but won the popular vote, a feat we failed to achieve in the last local election. Having been entrusted with the support of the electorate, we now have a real responsibility to repay that faith and continue delivering for our community.
The coming year presents a significant challenge to local Conservatives to deliver on our pledges and to reshape the council so that it is prepared for the further unprecedented financial mountain yet to climb. As our resources continue to dwindle, and the environment we operate in remains unstable, it is our number one priority to support our residents and workforce through the significant reshaping that is required if the Council is to protect jobs and sustain services.
Labour councils do not cope well with austerity, being ideologically wedded to the notion that simply throwing money at an issue makes it better. We can show that Trafford is not defined by austerity and that whilst recognising the very difficult and uncharted journey we must embark upon, we can show the value of a Conservative controlled metropolitan council, here in the North.