Cllr Paul Canal is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Redbridge Council.
The pollsters’ eminence grise, Lord Hayward, is revered by many, but the ruminations from him and other less distinguished and self styled psephologists seem too gloomy by those of us “on the knocker” in Redbridge.
A brief analysis of their predictions shows crude extrapolation and a lack of qualitative methodology. Even the most swish bar charts are no replacement for hard data. Extrapolating without factoring in the higher General Election turnout in 2010 and the UKIP surge in 2014 is – well, Sir Humphrey would perhaps have called it “brave”.
There is the whiff of expectation management about the recent rash of projections. It is the oxymoron of elections that everyone strives for success whilst in public wearing sackcloth and ashes. A friend is convinced he saw Lord Hayward shuffling down Whitehall towards Matthew Parker Street with a placard saying “We’re all doomed”. I demurred.
The danger with this negative psephology is that it can become catching. An impressive moniker attached to a report makes it seem plausible, a bit like a PWC audit of Carillion. The truth is often different, often less gloomy.
On the ground in Redbridge, we are picking up signs of ennui with Corbyn, and that’s before you factor in the “Jewdas” scandal amongst our significant Jewish community. There is also a growing recognition that our Labour Council (we carelessly lost control in 2014) are outdoing Mr Brown with a spend and borrow policy that is both bizarre and unaffordable. I will not dwell on their attempts to recruit a “Chief Entrepreneur” on a salary of £136,000. Luckily it failed. Their plans to borrow £100m of Council Taxpayers’ money to gamble on commercial property remain on the table, and residents are horrified.
Labour promised thousands of new homes in 2014. They have only built six new social homes a year. Labour haven’t just lost the gloss in Redbridge, they are down to bare rusty metal. The most relevant election for us is 2006, the last time we had a stand alone election in the London Boroughs.
High turnout in the 2010 General Election severely hurt us. The inexplicable decision by Sir Eric Pickles (we did warn him!) to hold the European Elections on the same day as the locals in 2014 led to several good councillors being swept away in the UKIP surge. (Note to Downing Street: Labour would never have done that. They always put winning first!)
As the first stand alone election for 12 years, we think there is still all to play for in Redbridge. Momentum have seeped across the border from Waltham Forest and deselected one of Wes Streeting’s employees (who coincidentally is Jewish. As is the deselected Labour candidate from Goodmayes Ward).
We are also benefiting from real support from CCHQ, with an excellent Borough Campaigner and a number of initiatives to more effectively target voters.
Our vote held up remarkably well in 2017 – the number of Conservative voters has stayed fairly stable. It was the late surge that surprised us and also surprised Labour.
We are expecting a return to normal voting patterns in May. A turnout of 32 per cent to 38 per cent, an electoral register based on IER, shock at a five per cent Council Tax increase with more to come, all could conspire to confound the doomsayers.
We are currently on 24 out of 63, though a gerrymandered ward boundary review effectively cuts that by one. New ward boundaries make a firm prediction hard, but I expect gains in at least three wards, hopefully more.
This is our best local election campaign in 20 years. We have the youngest and most diverse team in our history. If Labour, locally and nationally, did hit high water in 2017, it is possible the receding tide could wash away a few smug smiles. I have the Champagne on ice for such an eventuality. Come and give us a hand – firstname.lastname@example.org