Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly.
I am delighted to have been given the chance to represent Londoners as a Conservative Londonwide Assembly Member at City Hall. Following the disappointing Mayoral election result, it is critically important to dust ourselves down, move on and plan for how we can turn London blue again in 2020.
In 2008 and 2012, Boris out-performed the Conservative Party in London to win the mayoralty. It is now up to us, the London party, to create a platform to help the party to win in London without the need for such a big personality.
There are many things that we as a party could do in London, but two actions jump out to me as having particular importance:
1. We need to better connect with the London electorate:
Nationally, the picture provides plenty of room for optimism. Having gained the first Conservative majority government since 1992, our message is clearly resonating across the country. However, our party appears to be regressing in London. The recent set of London Assembly election results show that our overall vote share has decreased by 8.5 per cent since Boris first took office in 2008.
In order to reverse this trend and spread the Conservative message in London, we need to tackle the perception people still have about us being the ‘nasty party’. In not adequately doing so over recent years (despite our many social achievements in government), we have allowed the Labour Party to portray themselves as being the only party that cares about people.
Londoners have a wide set of priorities that they want politicians to address, but one you often find at the top end of opinion polling is the issue of health, in particular health inequalities. As it stands, there is a strong correlation between Labour-run boroughs and high levels of health inequalities.
If we are to win over voters in these boroughs (and we need to if we are to secure another mayoralty in the Capital), we must address this issue. It is unacceptable that those in the wealthier boroughs are likely to live four years longer than those in the poorest ones, and we as Conservatives should care deeply about this.
It should be doubly alarming for us that health is one of the policy areas that we as a party are least trusted on. We should pro-actively present our vision for health in a way that puts us on the front foot. We should regularly remind voters that you help struggling communities by creating a strong economy, and that work is a route to better health outcomes.
But we also need to do more than this and go beyond national party messages when reaching out to London’s voters. As Health Spokesman for the GLA Conservatives, I will be exploring and developing messages for the London party on issues such as: healthy eating, air pollution, integrated care, and sports funding. These are just some of the issues we will need to explore if we are to demonstrate that we care for communities just as much as the opposition do. In no way should we let Labour ‘own’ the health debate.
2. We need to support and empower the London party:
The party’s activists possess a vast amount of knowledge, expertise and ideas, yet the party in London is often not that effective when it comes to tapping this resource. We need to be engaging with our members in new and alternative ways: we should be looking to engage our activists beyond the handing out of leaflets.
In practice, this means giving them a greater say in how we generate policy. The London party could do this by holding both London-wide and regional policy forums on the issues most pressing to Londoners – engaging with party members, academics, and think tanks in the process. As an Assembly Member, I know I would find this extremely valuable, although I think this is something that would require a new, pan-London Conservative body.
Such a body does not yet exist, but it could potentially have semi-devolved status like the Welsh Conservatives, as befits the devolved nature of London Government, and it could also provide a co-ordinating role for the many associations in London. In terms of focusing strategy and determining policy, a London Conservatives body could be a strong brand and would be critical to developing a bespoke Conservative message for the Capital.
Through such a forum, our activists should then be encouraged to vocalise the London Conservative message to the wider public. Also, by developing a Conservative brand and message that is unique to the Capital, we would help to convince Londoners that our party is the right fit for them.
In short, we need to both develop a London-focused policy platform and empower our activists to build a connection with swing voters from day one. As a London Assembly Member, I will be fighting hard to achieve this.