Stephen Greenhalgh was the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and has also served as Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
“I was the future once!” said a recent former Prime Minister. I know that feeling. I am a former Conservative council leader in a borough that has been traditionally Labour since 1965 – and a former Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime who worked for the only Conservative Mayor of London so far.
Ruth Davidson is a political phenomenon. She has been at the heart of the turnaround in our party’s fortunes in Scotland. So I read her article in the Evening Standard eager to learn something. Could London Conservatives learn from her electoral success in Scotland? She writes fluently and does not push the comparison between London and Scotland too far – although noting that both voted REMAIN in last year’s EU referendum.
Her advice to London Conservatives is threefold: Develop a distinct Conservative identity for London which is noticeably different from our national one, unveil a London manifesto for the London Borough elections next year and ensure that our council candidates represent London by selecting younger and more ethnically diverse candidates.
I agree with the need for Conservatives in London to develop their own identity. In fact I would argue that a local identity is more important than one that is London wide. London is a world in a city and London’s 32 boroughs vary enormously. It is ridiculous to presume that an identity that resonates with Shepherd’s Bush is going to work for Kingston.
Housing remains the number one issue in London and I remember getting London’s council leaders to draw the typical home in their borough. The Kingston council leader drew a suburban semi and Daniel Moylan drew a flat on a Kensington Garden Square. A patchwork quilt of a city needs local Conservatives to have the confidence to fight a local campaign.
I do not see the need for a London manifesto for the council elections next year. Local elections matter but they are not fought on London wide issues.
Very often they are not fought on borough wide issues either. Much more important is to develop a mission that resonates with local people. Back in 2006 it was council tax in Hammersmith and Fulham that mattered: it was twice the level of Conservative Wandsworth – and crime which was too high even for a typical inner London Borough. Our prescription was to lower council tax, reduce council waste and improve council-run services.
We called for zero tolerance policing rather than hugging a hoodie or even a husky… Our third priority was to make the borough cleaner and greener. The streets were scruffy and the parks were in a pitiful state. As a result we won nearly 50 per cent of the popular vote because we had a vision to improve things locally. Next year we need a new mission founded on a clear headed local vision of what matters to local people and how a Conservative-run Council will make a difference to people’s lives.
Finally I worry at the number of leading Conservative politicians including Davidson who believe in the leftist concept of representation. The idea that you need to be a certain skin colour, gender, age, or sexual orientation to represent the community. What balls!
Conservatives should be meritocrats who are passionate about opportunity for all. We believe in the hand up. It is the left who believe in the hand out. Our candidates need to be local people who want to serve their local areas rather than themselves and who want to make a difference. We should reject the idea that politics is about representation or that you need the young to attract the youth vote. Jeremy Corbyn has showed us that for goodness sake. Nor do I think we will beat Sadiq Khan by matching him up against another son of a Muslim bus driver who happens to be Conservative. London’s voters are more savvy than that.