Bliss was it that dawn to be alive. Friday May 10th 1968. After the local elections in London the Conservatives found themselves taking charge in the town halls of Hackney and Haringey, of Lambeth and Lewisham. Islington became a Conservative bastion – 47 Tory councillors with just 10 for Labour. Outside the capital the Conservatives were also doing well. There was also Conservative-run Liverpool. Conservative-run Sheffield. I think in Glasgow we did some deal with the Progressive Party. I’m not sure if we were running the show in Manchester, Newcastle or Cardiff – but we were certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Anyway the general point is made. There is no inevitability about victory or defeat. If the political outcome were uncertain then they are all the more so now in this volatile anti establishment age with an electorate that shows little time for deference.
This week Tomas Thurogood–Hyde, Chairman of the Camberwell and Peckham Conservative Association reflected on the value of maintaining our efforts even in safe Labour seats. Matthew Glass of West Ham Conservatives has offered his perspective in a post for Conservative Way Forward. (Since you ask Labour narrowly hung on to Southwark in 1968 and comfortably in Newham.)
In an age of of Freedom of Information requests, spending transparency, Mayoral referendum petition triggers and the internet there are huge opportunities even for those who are not councillors to hold their local council to account. Messrs Thurogood-Hyde and Gloss have spotted this and they are not alone.
The question is what encouragement should the rest of us give them?
During a General Election campaign it is right and proper that resources are prioritised. The devotion to “target seats” in the Conservative campaign was largely vindicated. That will inevitably occur again for the 2020 General Election campaign. But what about the interim? If we are to have a Conservative Mayor of London elected next year the votes of those in Southwark and Newham are as good as anyone else’s. Conservatives in those areas helped defeat the proposal in the referendum for AV. Should the renegotiation in the EU prove deficient then the Conservatives in Sandwell, Knowsley and Merthyr Tydfil will join in delivering the crucial verdict that could lead to our restoration as a self governing nation.
Thus we have a chance for a Conservative breakthrough in Labour heartlands. We have the prospect of Conservative councillors in Chesterfield, Oxford and Bolsover. We could see a representation in Lewisham and Gateshead. This is not merely reliant on Jeremy Corbyn becoming the Labour leader in a week’s time – although obviously he can have a key role to play in the Conservative revival in the most unfertile of territory. Nor is just that the Liberal Democrats often had become embedded as the opposition to Labour in these areas, but the Lib Dems are reeling from an election drubbing and have chosen an uninspiring leader.
It is also that the Conservatives will increasingly be able to show that our reforms are starting to work and that they are beneficial to the poor as well as to the rich. The introduction of Universal Credit, the Troubled Families programme, the sponsored academies scheme for failing schools and the tax cuts for the low paid are examples.
So there is an opportunity. But Conservatives activists in Labour heartlands need help. It is harder to recruit members or put on events where there is no agent or constituency office. It is more of a challenge to gain a council seat when the the starting point is having no representatives at the town hall.
Perhaps the leadership of Mr Corbyn will not last long. Perhaps the Lib Dems will gradually revive. The Conservatives should take their chance to get firmly established as a one nation party while it is there.