Cllr Murad Gassanly represents Churchill Ward on Westminster City Council.
I joined the Conservatives because I believe we are the party of the democratic centre-ground in British politics. I was elected to Westminster City Council in 2014 as a Labour councillor for Churchill Ward, Pimlico, a stone’s throw away from Victoria Station. But my disillusionment with the direction Labour was taking nationally and locally led to my resignation in 2016.
It was not just because ‘Corbyn’s Bolsheviks’ colonised and destroyed Labour. I realised that rather than serving residents, the local Westminster Labour Party are only interested in ‘opposition for opposition’s sake’.
I was appalled at Labour’s consistent undermining of Westminster Council’s housing projects, which I see as a betrayal of the very people who need affordable homes the most. In 2017, I crossed the floor of Westminster City Council and took the Tory whip. As Labour councillors took to addressing each other as ‘comrades’, I could not help reflecting on my life story – I know from my parents, born in the former USSR, the dangers of state socialism and authoritarianism. Corbyn’s Regime represents real danger in equal measure to the liberty and prosperity of our country. It must be resisted, and the Conservatives are the Party to meet this challenge.
It is my family’s experience of life in Britain that shaped my understanding of conservatism and led me on the journey to join the Conservative Party. My parents are first generation immigrants from Azerbaijan who worked hard to provide for me and my brother, and taught us the values of self-reliance, thrift, enterprise, and aspiration. Their relentless focus on education formed my understanding and expectation of success.
I attended North Westminster Community School – an ordinary, inner-city comprehensive. Having graduated from LSE, I embarked on postgraduate study at Cardiff University, gaining a PhD in energy politics in the Caspian region. Yet I consider being a Westminster City councillor my greatest personal achievement – a testament to the freedoms and opportunities that Britain offers and a unique chance to fulfil my civic duty to give back to our country – I believe that citizenship is earned, not simply acquired.
Many were surprised when I re-won my council seat as a Conservative in May 2018, with a 7.5 per cent swing and a higher popular vote share than I got in 2014. Labour targeted Westminster, throwing the kitchen sink at the effort to “unseat” Conservatives. Corbyn and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, visited my ward and launched their demagogic housing policy in a PR stunt on the Churchill Gardens estate, where I live.
Unlike Labour’s (middle) class-warriors, I live in council house and know what people around here really think. As the Prime Minister put it in her Observer article back in October:
“The British people are not bound by ideology and there has never been a time when party labels have counted for less”.
She couldn’t have been more right. Regardless of the debates around Brexit, Tories are now the party of the democratic centre-ground.
Our party is changing, and it is exciting to be part of this transformation. The Conservatives can be the party not for the few, not even for the many, but for everyone in our country who works hard and plays by the rules. Here in Westminster, our Council leader, Cllr Nickie Aiken, set out a practical vision of how this is to be achieved – we call it City for All.
We are keeping council tax as low as possible whilst inviting those who can to make an additional voluntary contribution to the Council’s budget. We are building more social housing, but also increasing supply of affordable accommodation for those on middle-incomes who don’t qualify for social rent. We operate twice-weekly bin collections and keep our roads and pavements impeccably clean and well-maintained. We ensure that all our projects are fiscally viable and that we act responsibly with public finances – it is not the Council’s money, but the taxpayers’ money.
The Conservative Party is the natural political home for those who want to see fairness and prosperity, who want to preserve what works and improve what can be, who value national identity and are open to the world, who believe in Britain’s future as an independent global trading nation where opportunity is shared equally by all, and where everyone’s protected by the safety net of the welfare state but is free to rise high above it and achieve their full potential. We must remember that it is not Brexit that poses greatest threat to our security and prosperity – it’s the Corbyn regime.
Let’s fulfil our duty.