Cllr Louise Calland is a councillor in Wandsworth and the London Assembly candidate for Merton and Wandsworth.
Watching the Mayor’s budget debate the other week, it was disappointing to see that the phrase he used most often was ‘central government cuts’. A message that is at least consistent, if also now very boring, for London Conservatives, and one that begs the question – if it isn’t down to the Mayor when things go wrong, can it really be down to him when things go right?
We are now just over a year out from the next Mayoral election, and despite what I would call a relatively underwhelming record as Mayor, Sadiq Khan has started the campaign to keep City Hall with a lead in the polls.
In the latest YouGov findings, some 47 per cent said Khan was doing well, while only 36 per cent thought he was doing badly.
This is despite the fact that, according to another YouGov poll, we have an overwhelming:
- 63 per cent who think crime has got worse over the past year
- 79 per cent who think knife crime has got worse
- Just over half who think NHS services and housing have gone downhill
- Four in 10 saying pollution is worse.
So despite many people thinking that the areas the Mayor is responsible for looking after are not doing well, opinion of him remains high. We are losing the fight in London. The Tory party in London has just 27 of the 73 London seats in the House of Commons, 8 of the 25 seats in the London Assembly, and it controls nine of the 32 London boroughs.
So how do we win it back? How do we counter-act the narrative that despite being in charge, Labour cannot be held accountable for rising crime rates, or the TFL £1bn deficit due to central government cuts? That if only they had more money, more power, and more time, then they would be able to do a better job?
As a councillor in Wandsworth, I think there is a something to learn from our results in the local elections last year. As the GLA candidate in Wandsworth and Merton, I want to set out my plan for starting the fight back. And like most good plans, it has three points.
- Be positive.
- Be relatable.
- Be local.
As Pam from Gavin and Stacey wisely said: “Today Mick, we are accentuating the positive.”
It is a natural human reaction to dislike a person who brings us bad news, regardless of whether or not they are responsible for it. We cannot be the party that just points the finger. We need to ensure we are taking more about what we want to do, than about what we dislike about what someone else did.
This adage applies more on social media than in any other medium. It is easier to be negative when we don’t see the immediate effect of it. Some of us have even been on the receiving end, so we should guard against the temptation to get in to twitter spats that don’t win anyone any votes.
In Wandsworth and Merton, I want to do this by bringing together all my messaging under one clear and positive consistent message – prevention.
Preventing crime. Preventing escalation of the housing crisis. Preventing poor health.
Crime is the number one issue brought up everytime and everywhere I canvass. It seems to be ever-present in our lives everytime we turn on the news. But it’s not just the terrible tragedies of children being killed on our streets that we need to address. It is also the fact that people are fundamentally not feeling safe anymore. The arguments about police numbers and links to crime are complex. Plus we must remember that correlation does not always equal causation.
The Government has just increased the Met Police’s budget by £172 million. Crime rates in general have been falling since 2011. We have given the police not only the resource, but the powers they need to tackle knife crime via our Serious Violence Strategy.
We are the party that is doing something, rather than taking the police down. And yet, all we hear from the Mayor is ‘central government cuts.’
There is a lot said, and even more written, about the frustration of young people trying to get on the housing ladder. I was that person. I remember the feeling of futility when you realise it will take a decade of work to buy a house. Possibly. How tiring it is when you are renting and continually moving. Rising house prices make it feel like someone is continually moving the goal posts. (Like the badgers did) Sadiq promised to build 800,000 houses. He was given £5 billion to do so – and built 5,500 last year.
In my area, there are schemes that have been indefinitely stalled as the Mayor thinks there should be a greater percentage of affordable houses built within the development. But the number of affordable houses that actually gets built when it has been stalled is zero. None. Nought per cent. Politics is always the art of compromise, and we can’t make the best the enemy of the good.
Lastly, under health and wellbeing I want to shout more about the amazing things the Conservative party does for the well-being of Londoners. Whether that is through air quality and local success stories like the installation of electric car charging points in Wandsworth, or about national policies that mean we have just had the first conviction in this country for FGM, and the great work to come out of the recent Domestic Abuse Bill.
In Wandsworth the average age is 32 and in Merton its 34. I’m not going to give out my exact age – but let’s just say I fall within the bracket.
Having someone that looks like Wandsworth and sounds like Merton is, I hope, going to go a long way towards showing our voters that we are the party who represents them. But obviously that isn’t enough. We need policies that actually represent their issues and concerns.
That is why we are opposing the expansion of Heathrow, supporting the expansion of cycle hire schemes and cycle routes, support TfL incentivising working from home, and building new houses on brownfield sites and not in back gardens.
Another way to be relatable is to get the recommendations of non-political peers. It is sometimes referred to as social proof. Where are the voices prepared to speak out for the Tories in London? We need more vocal advocates prepared to help us tell our positive story.
Bins not Brexit. As with the local council election last year, the London Assembly and Mayoral election gives us the opportunity to get a little bit of clear water between us and the narrative of national politics. We have some brilliant local councillors and MPs in London, not to mention our fab existing London Assembly members. We need to make sure we are speaking with one voice about all the good work we do throughout London. Standing up for public services rather than talking them down.
Easy right? Or difficult, difficult lemon difficult. You know it’s hard out here for a Tory.