Cllr Matt Hartley is Leader of the Conservative Group in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, and was Parliamentary Candidate for Eltham in 2017.
Just 18 months ago, here in Greenwich we gained our first council seat from the Labour Party in more than a decade. As I wrote for Conservative Home at the time, Conservatives were winning again in London. It felt like the turn of the tide.
One snap General Election later, and Conservatives in London are instead heading into May’s local elections surrounded by predictions of doom – of Conservative-run councils that could be lost, and of new record lows that could be set for our party in the capital.
These predictions are hugely overcooked, as anyone who has been out knocking on doors will tell you. Conservative councillors and candidates with strong track records in their wards are finding support holding up – and even new support being picked up, from moderate former Labour voters increasingly dismayed by the prospect of putting Corbyn any closer to No 10.
Nevertheless, there is an general truth to these predictions that holds – these are without doubt the most challenging set of elections for Conservatives in London in a generation.
In boroughs like Greenwich, with only small Conservative Groups at the Town Hall, the game has changed – and these elections have now taken on an even greater importance. The truth is we are no longer fighting just to defend and win seats for the Conservatives – but for the very existence of an Opposition in our area.
We are fighting for a functioning democracy. It’s a fight that Conservatives in Greenwich – where Labour thought nothing of wasting almost £600,000 a year on its infamous Greenwich Time propaganda newspaper – are all too familiar with.
Labour are aiming to win all 51 seats on Greenwich Council this year – up from their current 42 – but we are fighting hard. Backed up by their do-nothing Mayor of London, Labour councillors see their chance to extinguish the only Opposition voices left in the Council chamber, so they can continue their waste of taxpayers’ money, blame-shifting, and failure to listen to residents unchecked.
In our 2018 manifesto we are inviting residents to consider what an all-Labour Council would mean, in practice. 51 Labour councillors all following the Council’s line – representing the Town Hall in our communities, instead of the other way around. Our borough left without anyone to represent residents who disagree – and with no one left to hold Labour councillors to account.
As ever, though, opposing “the other lot” is not enough. Conservative councillors are also campaigning on a strong track record, both in our wards and across the borough.
Over the last four years, even from Opposition, we have secured real achievements – like support for our High Street businesses, a new Living Wage Incentive Scheme to tackle low pay, and funding for local environmental projects. Residents in our wards have seen the positive difference that Opposition Conservative councillors can make, and we are picking this up heavily on the doorstep.
We also benefit from a team of battle-hardened activists and supporters who have been throwing the kitchen sink at these elections – not just for the last three months, but for the last three years, when our local election campaign began.
Despite the polls, we are determined to emerge from these elections with a strong opposition able hold the Labour Council to account over the next four years – and to continue the fight for real democracy in our pocket of the capital.