The golden rule of local politics has been proved, yet again, by Windsor Conservatives. If you cut taxes, you get re-elected. But that alone that doesn’t explain the almost total wipe-out of Lib Dem councillors in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.
Nationally, the LibDems have been keen to blame beastly Tories for the drubbing they have received both in the referendum and the local elections. However, my experience in what was previously the most marginal ward in the borough, Castle Without, suggests that the LibDem wounds are largely self-inflicted. Messrs Huhne and Cable may want to rethink their rhetoric.
In Windsor, the Conservatives campaigned positively and soberly (as we have governed). We highlighted that we had delivered all 53 of our manifesto promises, that we recognised residents’ challenges in daily life over things like parking and congestion and we incessantly reminded them that we had cut council tax.
The Liberals took the opposite approach. They campaigned negatively and invented scare stories, such as selling off libraries and day centres. They even stole my idea for a park and ride and new railway, without attribution, and then claimed that the Conservatives wanted to make congestion worse by building office blocks in front of the castle.
They had conceded that cutting Council Tax was popular and so pledged to freeze it but they undermined their message by simultaneously headlining their leaflets with STOP TORY CUTS! The result was that they came across as screaming, lacking credibility and with nothing positive to say.
What the LibDems don’t seem to realise is that far from attracting voters to them, these attacks on the Conservatives simply drive them away. Locally, in Windsor, the LibDems would have done less badly if they had spent less time criticising us and more setting out their own agenda. Similarly nationally, if they had invested less effort generating headlines by being rude to their cabinet colleagues or whinging about tactics (without a trace of irony) and more time defining what the LibDem priorities are, they may have been better rewarded for their efforts in government.
Most Conservatives are not overjoyed at being part of a coalition. However, Cameron and Osborne don’t feel the need to define themselves by belittling their partners. They take responsibility for the coalition as a whole and trumpet its achievements; they focus on the positive. The LibDems, by contrast, are being negative –emphasising what they have stopped the evil Tories doing, not what the Coalition has achieved with their help – and the voters don’t like it.
My most treasured memory from the campaign was knocking on the door of an old lady who looked as if she was about to jump for joy when I mentioned I was a Conservative. She explained that although the Council Tax cuts only amounted to a few pounds per week, because she was on a fixed income that made a huge difference to her. She made the weeks that followed, the thousands of doors that I have personally knocked on and the aching legs, all worth it.
Lest this be seen as claiming any credit, I should emphasise that I am a mere foot soldier. The thanks belong to David Burbage and his fellow councillors for cutting tax and leading the best run council in the country, to the Windsor Association Chairman, David Hilton, for his tireless and positive campaign and to my fellow candidates and helpers.