One of Labour’s targets is to secure an overall majority in Merton – it already has a minority administration there. It is a modest enough ambition on paper – especially as the Conservatives have been hit by defections to UKIP.
Labour has made little secret of its hope that UKIP will do the work for them – by taking enough Conservative support to split the vote and allow a clear Labour victory. However UKIP has not managed a full slate of candidates and the town hall machinations of defections has not resonated on the doorstep.
I am hearing that the Conservatives still have a sporting chance. Their local manifesto offers a strong, clear pledge to cut the Council Tax by 10 per cent over four years.
We will improve services whilst reducing your Council Tax by 10% over our first four year term of office.
We will end Labour’s annual £12.5 million Council Tax overcharge, drive out waste and inefficiency, review all contracts to deliver better value for money, invest in technology and scrap bureaucracy to deliver a lean and efficient council for the long term, allowing us to reduce the average Band D Council Tax bill by £110 per year. We will do all of this whilst improving the services that you receive.
The Conservatives would reduce the number of bus lanes to improve traffic flow. They would encourage the establishment of new free schools. They would maintain a weekly bin collection. They would ease parking charges to help boost small businesses. Libraries would all be kept open and the parks improved.
Volunteering will be encouraged. There will be a Business Rates “holiday” for new businesses starting up.
Planning policies would encourage attractive new homes rather than modernist “bland boxes” and blocks which “scar the landscape.” Home ownership would be promoted and priority given on the housing waiting list to those who have served in the armed forces.
This amounts to an attractive vision for the future of Merton. By contrast Labour have resorted to scaremongering. They have suggested cutting the Council Tax would be impossible without slashing services – a difficult message to sustain given that Wandsworth is a neighbouring borough.
Also Labour council candidates have been asking for votes to “Save St Helier Hospital”. However the hospital is not closing – and, in any case, its future is a matter for the NHS rather than Merton Council.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has been to visit – winning the pop star euphoria that quite rightly is a customary feature of his visits around the capital.
This will be a close battle. To gain power the Conservatives may rely on winning a couple of seats from the Lib Dems in West Barnes. A minority Conservative administration would also need the acquiescence of the Merton Park Ward independents. Naturally the Conservatives would also need to win the seats they held last time – including those now occupied by UKIP defectors.
Then there would still need to be one or two Conservative gains from Labour. That is a challenging list but by no means impossible.
In any event should the Conservatives beat the odds and triumph in Merton it will mean more than just a few seconds flashing up on the TV screens during the results programmes. The Conservatives have serious plans to make a positive difference to their community.