Cllr David Simmonds is the Deputy Leader of Hillingdon Council
Hillingdon is one of the outer London ‘doughnut’ boroughs that are an often-overlooked part of the contest for the London mayoralty. With large populations relative to the inner London boroughs and some traditionally strong Conservative territory in prosperous suburbs, the votes delivered in areas like Hillingdon have been key to electing Conservative mayoral and GLA candidates. Zac Goldsmith is making a point of being visible to our residents, helped by familiarity with local issues that comes from being a sitting London suburban MP and a supporter of joint campaigns against proposals for a third runway at Heathrow. With our GLA candidate, Hillingdon councillor Dominic Gilham, Zac has made a point of personal politics, taking time to sit with residents affected by the airport and share ideas for the future, and this approachable style clearly goes down well.
Politically, Hillingdon had been contested territory between Labour and the Conservatives for many decades prior to 1998, when a Conservative minority Council built modest successes into landslide majorities at subsequent elections which have held despite decisive swings against us in neighbouring boroughs. However, the politics are divided between a strongly Conservative north, a more marginal central belt, and a Labour-favouring south. At the last elections in the borough, the 2015 general election, two of the parliamentary constituencies saw swings to Labour, with only rock-solid Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner seeing a swing our way, and in an election where turnout among strong supporters matters most, engaging with residents affected by HS2 has been another key priority.
With more than a hundred people regularly attending action days, Zac and Dominic have emphasised the local Conservative reputation for putting residents first even when this brings some degree of conflict with national policy. There is very positive feedback about the unity of purpose that local voters see among their Conservative candidates. On these two big local issues of the third runway and HS2, Zac is clearly streets ahead with a clear message of support that residents recognise.
The other theme that runs throughout the mayoral campaign is how we deal with a growing city, and again Zac has delivered messages that resonate with Hillingdon residents. House prices are the fastest-rising in London from a relatively affordable base and as Hillingdon council delivers the largest school-building programme in the capital, parents are asking where the future homes for the extra children will be. Zac’s ideas for releasing government-owned brownfield sites sit well in a borough known for zealous protection of its green belt, and ideas about expanding the transport network to improve north-south capacity go down well.
As we look towards election day, the conspicuous absence of any campaigning by Labour makes us all a little nervous. The Ealing-Hillingdon GLA constituency was gained by Labour last time and is the top target in the capital for our party to regain, but we also need our voters to turn out in large numbers to retain a Conservative mayor who will work for the benefit of local residents. Zac is clearly well-liked and respected among Hillingdon’s Conservative voters and our main task ahead is ensuring that in an election which looks set to be won or lost by a modest margin, and which traditionally sees a lowish turnout, we see our supporters flocking to the polls to send Zac, and Dominic, to City Hall.