A week ago Neil Pearce missed being elected a Conservative councillor in Newham by just 15 votes. Here he reflects on the campaign.

Freshly recovered from the intense battle for the Royal Docks ward in the London Borough of Newham, our detractors would have us believe we should be licking our wounds and feeling down and out. On the contrary. Our brush with victory by just 15 votes was the closest we have been to returning to Newham Council for 18 years.

Having lived in Royal Docks for a number of years and actively campaigned on a whole host of pressing community matters, we ran a solid and localised campaign. Thanks to the creative skills of my agent Billy Taylor, we designed effective literature which won plaudits from residents, opponents and party workers alike.

Without divulging too much of our strategy – and now we have identified the faults, we are in a position to develop a template model for hard-to-win seats – it was about breaking down perceptions and ensuring people felt safe voting for a Conservative. Putting all the literature and canvassing aside, the key to coming so close was the broadness of our appeal to the different peoples of Royal Docks.

On election day Labour resorted to their ‘default strategy’ – as they
always do –  by going to every identifiable BME household on the
register and trying to ‘persuade’ those who had not voted to do so and keep out the Tories. It is cynical but was employed in Seven Sisters and Chadwell Heath by-elections.

Despite the fact that we had ministers of the crown campaigning down
here and the entire might of Newham Labour Party was thrown into the
seat – and it is considerable – the local Conservative team, which two
years ago consisted of nobody, can be very pleased about the result
they obtained.

It is also worth remembering that some commentators mistakenly compare
Royal Docks to the Isle of Dogs. This ignores the demographics of the
area – of which some 30% of residents are African. There is no
large-scale gentrification. There are some new build developments in
Britannia Village, by the riverside and in Galleons Lock, but these
include social housing and a strong private rental market which has attracted an influx of European nationals. The bulk of the ward is made
up of Silvertown and North Woolwich with 1960s-1970s estates and
high-rise flats – there are 400 alone in Woodman Street and Pier Road.

As the polls closed Labour was predicting a comfortable win with a
majority of over 100, but thanks to the analysis of John Moss and Peter
Golds, we had worked out from our data that it was too close to call.

In the end, sadly, we were 15 votes away from success. My Labour
opponent said the result was a ‘kick in the teeth for the
Conservatives’. Not quite my friend. The result was more like a wake-up
call to him and his colleagues.

Not everything is so swell down here in the Docks and the campaign for 2010 began the day after the night before!

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