Cllr Jonathan Glanz is a member of Westminster City Council
As the post-election dust settles and thoughts turn towards the London 2016 elections, we should take this opportunity to look at where we can improve our campaigning and ensure that come 5th May 2016 we truly bury the myth that London is a Labour city.
Lord Feldman’s root and branch review of the Conservative Party structure and operations is a welcome start to ensure a Party fit for the 21st Century that continues to win elections. This review is absolutely essential, perhaps nowhere more so than in London.
In the General Election, across the Capital we performed better than many expected, but still woefully underperformed against the national picture. The growing consensus among the political commentarial that London is a Labour city is one we can defeat, but to do so we should not be afraid to learn from our opponents.
The result on May 7th paints a mixed picture. Whilst across the UK as a whole we increased our vote share by 0.8 per cent, in London we managed just half that with our vote share rising from 34.5 per cent (2010) to 34.9 per cent (2015). Labour on the other hand increased their vote by 7.1 per cent. Compared with 2010 we added nearly 60,000 votes, but were eclipsed by Labour’s additional 300,000 meaning we lost four talented parliamentarians – Mary Macleod in Brentford & Isleworth, Angie Bray in Ealing Central & Acton, Nick de Bois in Enfield North and Lee Scott in Ilford North. A shortfall of just 2,414 votes in those seats cost us four London MPs.
So as we prepare to select our candidate for the London mayoral battle that is now just 334 days away, let us address the realities and weaknesses we face in London and adapt our party to meet those head on.
This is a weakness that is on the face of it surprising. We have all had conversations at Conference and with friends and colleagues across the rest of the UK about the London centric nature of the party, candidates and CCHQ. So why when we have the talent, the money and the capacity in our London ranks are we failing in our own back yard?
There is no simple answer, but learning from our opponents, part of the solution is surely better use of what we have got. We should not shy away from recognising the strength of Labour in London that delivered them a handful of gains in May. Their unified structure, deployment of financial and activist resource is better than ours. We do not have to just accept that – let’s change it.
Thinking of own experience as a Westminster city councillor I am lucky enough to have an active ward committee and membership that regularly organise the social events and fundraisers that keep the party funded and functional. They keep a well-oiled, election winning machine whirring in Westminster. But many, who give their money freely and generously, cannot afford to be so free with their time so campaigning and canvassing in my West End ward is more often than not the hard core of 4 or 5 on a wet Saturday morning or Tuesday evening.
For many years I fear we felt that was enough. In an age where the internet is at our finger tips and emails form “Boris Johnson” and “David Cameron” reach the inboxes of thousands on what sometimes felt like an hourly basis during the campaign, is the election really still won on the doorstep?
Yet many places we need to win across London are not blessed with either the manpower or the money. Ignoring the boundary changes for a moment, in the seats within our reach Hampstead & Kilburn (1,138), Westminster North (1,977) , Harrow West (2,208), Eltham (2,693 majority), Tooting (2,842), and the four seats we lost a concerted London-wide effort over the next four and a half years can deliver those gains.
During this election I had the opportunity to campaign across London – from Hampstead and Kilburn to Croydon Central, Westminster North to Ilford North – in the fight to win the 23 seats needed to deliver the majority we thankfully now have. Taking Lindsey Hall’s campaign in Westminster North, here we increased the Conservative vote and cut Labour’s majority, but there was very little help from outside the seat. Had 50 more activists pounded the streets in the weeks before the election we could, just maybe, have converted the 989 votes from Labour to Conservative needed to gain the seat?
So where were they? There is something inherently local about politics that drives and inspires us to get involved. While we all want to see a Conservative government and Prime Minister in No 10, we naturally feel more comfortable campaigning at home, where we know the people and the issues and we feel a sense of belonging. Localism is a buzz word, but it is one with meaning.
The question Lord Feldman’s review must answer is how we best motivate and mobilise our financial resources and manpower to win across London. We need our activists to feel a sense of belonging to a London wide Conservative network in order to share from where there are many to where there are few. On structure, funding, manpower and data we can campaign stronger by working together.
So with 2016 fast approaching and elections where every vote truly counts, let’s campaign as a single London party and keep our city, the greatest city in the world, a Conservative city.