Cllr Christine Hobson is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Middlesbrough Council.
Middlesbrough Council have all out elections in 2019, which should be very interesting. Our Council has been Labour dominated for over 60 years. Over the past few years, Middlesbrough Labour have had problems by selling off assets cheaply, building houses on green spaces when we have lots of brownfield sites available, and putting council tax up by the top limit without sparking a referendum.
I doubt that Middlesbrough will ever be a Conservative Council – we only have five Conservative Councillors. However, I do pride myself in the fact that I got the most votes of anyone in the council at the last elections, and my husband got the second highest.
However, we are seeing a change. A lot of former Labour voters are now vowing that they will never vote Labour again. I really hope that this is so when they do get to the ballot box.
One problem we have is a stupid new rule being imposed on us regarding candidate selections.
The ‘Middlesbrough Erimus Branch’ was set up so that we could choose our own candidates, and for the past eight years have done so for all elections – general and local. This has worked well, as no one knows the areas better than the councillors and the troops on the ground who help choose Parliamentary candidates. We know that in some wards, it would work better putting only one candidate in various wards rather than two or three. This way, we would gain a seat rather than lose all of our seats because we have tried to go up against a sitting councillor who we know will not be beaten, and therefore splitting the vote, as they vote for the one sitting councillor and maybe one of the other Conservatives. Rather than the sitting councillor and one Conservative.
We also know how the selections should take place. We have a rigorous set up with excellent questions and a good team of people.
Unfortunately, we are now being told that this can no longer happen, and that everyone has to go to our Association Office in Guisborough. However, the Conservatives in Guisborough know very little about Middlesbrough, and visa versa. So, how are they qualified to make a decision about wards that they have probably never even heard of, let alone visited?
We are expected to have three interviews, firstly to check that we are good enough to stand as a councillor, even though some have been councillors for a number of years. Secondly, for an interview, and thirdly, to be told which ward we may be allowed to stand in.
To be dictated to by head office on how we have to work is nonsense, as they have no idea about the north of England and the struggles that we have to even find candidates, let alone get them to go for three interviews to a place they have probably never been and with people they do not know. We are even being told that we have to get our paper candidates to attend these meetings. Are you really going to get loads of paper candidates wanting to take up this opportunity? I think not.
The Conservatives are working to change Middlesbrough to be a better place to live. We have now got an elected Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, who I know would work with us to try and change our town into a thriving centre.
Labour have no idea about working for the residents. They do not understand that borrowing money to demolish buildings and building new ones just for the sake of it is not good practice. We have an area where some houses were demolished some 20 years ago and have not yet been rebuilt. Residents have lived on promises for all this time.
Conservatives would make sure that this area is rebuilt with landscaping to make it an attractive place to live.
At present, our Council has an elected Mayor and a Chief Executive costing the taxpayers an excessive amount of money. With the Conservatives, we would only have an elected Mayor making a saving.
We would pay off debt which is costing the taxpayer a fortune in interest payments.
We have always voted for a freeze in Council Tax and would continue to do so.
Our policy is to build on brownfield sites before touching green spaces.
We would not pay councillors extra to chair meetings, as it should be a privilege to chair a meeting. We would also drastically reduce the amount of money Executive Members get.
So we would make Middlesbrough great again whilst keeping Council Tax to a minimum. The Conservatives would certainly demand value for money when selling off any assets. We would be quite a rich council by now, had Labour not given away land and sold assets off cheaply.