Cllr Gareth Lyon is a councillor in Rushmoor and the Chairman of the Aldershot and North Hants Conservative Association.
Ronald Reagan famously declared:
“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.”
During the last two weeks something remarkable has happened to our local election campaigns across the country. Mirroring the change in the weather, the friendly sunny skies overhead have increasingly been matched by a markedly friendlier reception on the doorstep. Where for weeks we had painful conversations about the mess in Westminster and how Parliament and the Government is handling Brexit – we are now seeing a vernal flowering of interest in what these elections are really all about – our record in local Government.
The optimist in me insists that this is down to the under-appreciated common sense of the British people. Although the failure to leave, or indeed the process of even trying to leave, is infuriating many, as we approach polling day, people are paying more attention to those matters that they, and we as their local councillors, really can influence. In Aldershot and North Hampshire we have a strong story to tell. We are working intensely to regenerate Farnborough and Aldershot town centres – attracting hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment, improving our leisure, cultural, housing, services, and retail offers. We are one of the few local authorities in the region who have retained weekly bin collections and are actually improving, rather than cutting, local services. We are also shifting the cost burden of council services away from the local taxpayer by developing a varied and robust investment strategy.
I am sure that other Conservative-run authorities across the country will have similarly impressive stories to tell and will be enjoying this rare chance to be heard.
Our councillors and council candidates have certainly been doing a great job shouting about this amazing record and the council’s exciting ambitions and it is certainly possible that this effort is succeeding and people are genuinely focussing more on our message than the distractions of the European soap opera. But there is also another possible explanation isn’t there? One which suggests that the local political weather may be about to reflect the meteorological forecast for this week. It may not be entirely coincidental that the surge in local support we have seen has coincided so neatly with the Parliamentary recess and the intermission in what has otherwise been a non-stop focus on Brexit in news coverage. This would mean that the brief opportunity we’ve had to be heard by our residents is now coming to an end. That rather than a springtime of local democratic engagement, instead winter is coming. Again. This would obviously be hugely frustrating, and to a great extent, self-inflicted.
This is not to get in to the debate about the Government’s negotiating strategy, or the way in which Parliament has voted or ought to have voted on various votes. It is a much more basic point. A plea even. Put simply: please can our side stop talking quite so much about Brexit, for the next ten days at least?
I remember once speaking to a veteran of the First Gulf War who described the sense of dread with which some British units were filled when they saw American jets flying overhead – there had been enough friendly fire incidents in the war for our forces to regard with alarm and suspicion what was meant to be on of our key strategic advantages – control of the skies.
The analogy feels like an appropriate one here. Our Government and MPs in Westminster have a huge say in what fills the airwaves around our local residents. For a long long time that has inevitably been Brexit and little else.
To some extent this is not new – there are numerous incidents and policy announcements over the past nine years which our notional allies in Westminster have seen fit to announce in the month or so leading up to local elections which have ended up landing on the heads of the poor bloody infantry on the doorstep.
This year though, it is worse than ever.
So at this point, when nearly every resident I speak to is sick of the whole debate – and when we have only just managed to break through and engage with them on issues affecting their daily lives right now – we humbly ask that our allies in Westminster do one of two things:
Don’t announce anything on Brexit…or better yet…
Don’t announce anything at all!