Cllr Kevin Davis is the Leader of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.
I do not believe a manifesto wins an election. I know some will feel that our 2017 manifesto lost us an election but, looking back, I think my ‘law’ still stands. My view is it was not so much our manifesto that lost the election but it was the Labour manifesto that brought out a populist vote for something that was simply a wish list. A manifesto that offers all things to all people will unsurprisingly get a lot of airtime and positivity.
A local election manifesto does though have to offer some direction to the Borough the other side of the election. In Kingston we have a whole range of detailed policies and for those who are really interested in the detail, a copy can be seen here.
Our five key pledges include keeping tax low but also giving something back to residents so we will introduce discounts for parking and leisure facilities and also give Council Tax discounts to carers and care leavers. We are going to introduce a new Burglary Protection Network diverting Council staff to crime prevention where the Mayor seems incapable of directing resources. We will invest more in parks, playgrounds, roads and pavements and replant the more than 2,000 trees the Lib Dems unbelievably cut down and did not replace. But we will also be making further investments in building more swimming pools and care homes, helping to keep our residents healthier and increasing the quality of life for people who live here. We have also committed to building more homes but the deal has to be that we only do this with investment from the Mayor and Government.
What has been most interesting in our Conservative-Lib Dem marginal is the lack of discussion or campaigning on Brexit. The Lib Dems promised a Brexit campaign but it is rarely discussed on the doorstep. In fact when it is, the cry is usually from Remainers and Brexiteers alike to “Just get on with it”. The Lib Dems have made a great play on how they would campaign on this issue but their leaflets hardly ever mention it. EU nationals I speak to have said they have not heard a whisper from them. Instead we have the usual diatribe of personal and negative literature with terrible pictures and a promise to never do anything. One Lib Dem leaflet amusingly urged voters to vote for me, due to a misplaced comma, so perhap it has not quite all been negative?
This is a local election being fought on local issues, as it should be, but equally it is an election fought against a backdrop of three years of unpredictable election results and so we all need to be cautious about some of the more extreme vote predictions based on extrapolated 2017 General Election results.
That said, I know I speak on behalf of all London’s Conservative leaders when I say that the biggest vote swing issue will be what happens in Parliament, not in the boroughs. As Leaders, our prayers every night are that our central government colleagues have a peaceful and quiet day, without radical policy proposals or predictable storms sweeping us away. At the moment our Government competes with the opposition for headlines swinging from Windrush to anti-semitism and back. In a Brexit-dominated Parliament nothing much cuts through to people and they have generally switched off, but this makes it more dangerous for us on the doorsteps as sudden changes in mood can easily be picked up by reactive social media driven voters.
I sense that there might not be much change of control across London in quite the way some imagine. There is a good chance Labour votes will pile up in places they already control. In Lib Dem areas there is a sense that some Labour voters have awoken to the view that Corbyn and 2017 have taught them that “Labour can win here” and of course they can, but how many are ready to commit? In Kingston, Labour are fighting the most energetic campaign in my borough in living memory.
For us in politics, the most interesting issue after the elections is what happens to the Labour boroughs, all of whom will get some kind of Momentum influx. What will happen to the more moderate Labour borough leaders and what direction will those councils now take? For our Party, we need to work through the results and find what more we can do to organise better in London (this has been better organised than many expected), start the process of selecting a Mayoral candidate and work through a strategy for unseating a popular but underperforming Mayor.