Cllr John Holdich is the Leader of Peterborough City Council.
Peterborough City is unusual in that we are divided by two very different constituencies, North West Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. North West Cambs is not only one of the largest in the UK geographically and by population but also, apart from its City wards obviously, mainly rural in its demographic. Peterborough constituency however is generally urban, certainly very diverse in its ethnic make-up, and includes a number of quite deprived areas in the city centre. The council’s 60-strong membership mirrors this diversity, as the Peterborough City Council website shows.
Like councils across the country the Government’s funding reductions have hit us hard. We are a prudent Conservative-run unitary authority which, through strong leadership and an established and experienced Cabinet, prides itself on providing our council taxpayers with an efficient value for money approach to everything we do on their behalf. But the austerity programme has allowed opposition groups to focus on areas of service reduction we’ve been forced to implement over the last few years, and we all know opposition groups will promise voters the world and conveniently forget or renege on those and not deliver.
Our two Conservative Associations work well together, especially at election time, but it has to be said we viewed this May’s mid-term minority Conservative government local election with a fair degree of anticipation. Our new candidates were well briefed, and sitting councillors reminded, about the existing and potential issues within their respective wards as well as the myriad positive economic, social, housing and infrastructure improvements our administration has been able to make happen across the City.
As you might expect we campaigned and canvassed on a raft of positive local messages, the benefits of a Tory council administration continuing our good work thus far and the benefits to ward residents’ of front line service provision in voting for us. Unlike previous years we didn’t emphasise the national party too much in our literature, partly due to the City’s Conservative MP being defeated at last year’s snap General Election by a virtually unknown Labour candidate. That notwithstanding we were quite fortunate in having a fairly dysfunctional and split Labour Group who generally campaigned negatively against us without a particularly coherent message about themselves; other than a ‘vote for us because they’re rubbish’ mantra – which as we all know never really wins hearts and minds. The once strong local UKIP support has, in the wake of Brexit, weakened significantly.
On that Thursday we lost some, but we won more. Overall, we won back our majority on the council but lost, by quite some margins, two long-standing Conservative members in the process. This was through sustained targeting of their respective wards by the Greens in a traditionally Conservative ward (their first ever seat) and Labour, in a three-member City-centre ward with two Labour members already. Whilst very upsetting for our former members, we know there’s much to be learnt by these losses and we will now evaluate both ours and the opposition’ methodology and design future strategy, campaigning, data use and new media contact and marketing to much better effect.