Chris Wilford was the Conservative candidate in the 2014 Tower Hamlets mayoral election.
Recent events highlight the emergence of a new UKIP of the Left and the need to reform the current template for directly elected mayors.
The latest salvo in the ongoing Tower Hamlets controversy concerns undue spiritual influence purportedly exerted in the recent elections. Spirits are certainly low amongst many in the borough as it continues to appear in the press for all the wrong reasons. Over 7,000 residents backed my long term plan for a better borough and our hard working Conservative Group under the sterling leadership of Cllr Peter Golds OBE continue to battle on their behalf.
Looking beyond the present, I believe there are two main long-term implications of the result for British politics. First, it reveals in stark detail the flaws inherent in the concept of a directly elected mayor as it stands at present. Second, it highlights the emergence of a new force on the Left that will become increasingly influential in British politics in the years ahead.
My campaign and the subsequent election have convinced me that the current template for directly elected mayors is not fit for purpose. Policy Exchange has recently called on the government to put rocket boosters under the idea of directly elected mayors to promote local areas, secure investment for tech clusters and ensure regions such as the north of England can share in the proceeds of the digital renaissance. They argue that independent figures with devolved powers will provide much needed localised leadership.
This casts the role of a directly elected mayor as some kind of magic panacea for a variety of problems our regions face. Such arguments ignore that we already have local champions: they are called councillors.
Whilst I agree with having a Mayor for London, a virtual city state with a population larger than many EU Member States, for smaller areas such a figure can actually serve to take power away from local people. People already vote for their representation at ward level but an executive mayor with huge powers subsequently overshadows the power of councillors.
Where the role exists Conservatives must of course fight to win but we must take a long, hard look at current systems and accountability mechanisms. We need to reform existing structures and tackle bigger issues such as our unbalanced economy rather than add another layer to an already complex and bewildering democratic landscape.
Now let’s turn to the second strand of my thoughts regarding the implications of recent events in Tower Hamlets: the emergence of a new force in British politics. Our complex and bewildering democratic landscape is turning voters off in droves. In an era of declining civic participation, those who can mobilise a small but motivated support base will be the real winners at the ballot box.
Tower Hamlets First has built an incredibly effective political machine. They anticipated the herculean task ahead of them and knew that to defend their position they would need to secure victory on a high turn out. With a turn out of 47.58 per cent for the Mayoral election, one of the highest rates in London, they certainly did that.
The scrutiny continues but this was undoubtedly a political strategy years in the making, with dedicated phone banks, canvassing teams and a coordinated media campaign all serving to get out the vote. Shadwell, Stepney and St Dunstan’s were heaving on polling day. Labour were outflanked as areas they had traditionally relied on were stripped away.
Tower Hamlets First demonstrated that they did not need the Labour Party machine to win. In this exhibition of force, they have taken the tactics of George Galloway to the next level and demonstrated that independent social democrats with a motivated community support base can go it alone. Labour strategists will be worried about a whole host of parliamentary seats as a sort of UKIP of the Left emerges; one not envisaged but nevertheless a force that could well transform British politics in the years ahead.