Andrew Snowden is a council candidate in Chorley.
There will have been initial sighs of relief from candidates and campaigners in marginal council seats across the country after the budget. For local election candidates, fighting hard to win seats this May, the 2016 budget had history even before the Chancellor placed it in the red box.
Many councillors, candidates and campaigners have not forgiven their national party colleagues for the 2012 local elections disaster – when, to summarise, we got pasted by the infamous pasty-tax. The 2016 budget was being delivered four years after the so-called ‘omni-shambles’ budget of 2012, the seats we are contesting in a month faced a tidal wave of bad will and unfavourable press coverage when last fought, and many were lost.
Here in Chorley we lost a seat that had only ever been Conservative in its entire history, along with a raft of others. Up until the 2012 budget, candidates and canvassers report that they had had a positive response on the door step about Chorley Conservatives’ prudent management of local services, which evaporated as the 2012 budget unraveled in a media storm.
Now in 2016, just as it felt ‘safe’, the budget began to unravel, primarily thanks to the former Work and Pension Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith. Polling has Corbyn ahead of Cameron on popularity ratings and Labour overtaking the Conservatives..
Time to press the panic buttons? As a local election candidate in a target seat, I am certainly not.
The polling is an immediate knee-jerk reaction to the political fallout of egos at play, not to the budget as a whole. In fact, I have found the budget has given me a lot to talk about on the doorstep. Primarily my favorite topic: the state getting smaller and taxes getting lower.
Ask yourself: seriously, does anyone think that at the point of walking into a voting booth the majority of mainstream voters will think Corbyn and Labour would be better for the country than Cameron and the Conservatives?
The local elections are always partly shadowed by the budget due to their proximity in the calendar, but the local elections are about far more than that. In 2012, and also in 2014, Labour took control of a number of councils (28 in total). This election will be as much about the record they are defending locally, as it will any national picture.
In Chorley, which fell to Labour control in 2012, they have a record of waste and debt to defend. The council’s debt was £9 million under the Conservatives at the point we left office; it’s now predicted to rise to £55 million. They spent £123,000 on a flower show and only got £32,000 in ticket sales. Three Labour politicians took seven guests to RHS Chelsea, in the corporate hospitality section provided by Fortnum and Mason, at a cost to the taxpayer of £4,550 excluding VAT.
On the doorstep these are powerful messages, and resonate far more than whether IDS went because of PIP payment cuts, Europe or a dislike of George Osborne! Not once has anyone said to me that they will not vote Conservative as a result of the budget and the resignation. I have, however, had a lot of people saying ‘well how you can vote for the other lot with Corbyn in charge, they’re a joke’. It’s strange, I haven’t seen Corbyn’s picture on any literature or campaign material to date from the local Labour party…
So, how do I feel about re-taking lost ground from 2012?
Free of the Lib Dems, not a pasty-tax in sight, Labour nationally and locally with no economic credibility, and a budget giving hard working people the tax break they deserve, we stand well placed to take back those 2012 seats, completing the final step of condemning the ‘omni-shambles’ budget to the archives of history.