Greig Baker is the Chairman of the Canterbury Conservatives Association.
Like many ConHome readers, in our house we spent a few days resting feet that have done laps round the district, catching up with friends and family neglected for the campaign, and trying to take stock of the local election results. On that note, three things stand out for me: there is no workable Brexit compromise; Labour wants to use Canterbury as a launchpad in Kent; and local party members have to be given more say over policy and personnel.
First, and obviously, these results were all about Brexit. Trust is evaporating. I have never seen so many spoiled ballots before – and every single one carried some variation of “give us Brexit now” (often enhanced with a combination of written expletives and sketched genitalia…). Those voters who didn’t spoil their papers apparently showed their entrenched position on the biggest topic of the day by backing the most pro- or anti-Brexit candidate available.
For instance, even if our former council leader – who stood in a Remain-leaning ward – had won over every single Labour and UKIP supporter in his patch, he would still only have been neck-and-neck with his surging Lib Dem rival. Sadly, that proved an impossible task. In contrast (and in the absence of the Brexit Party), our Leave-backing wards eventually returned enough Conservatives to keep our majority on the Council – despite things looking pretty dicey at the start of the day. The government is woefully misguided in trying to win over imaginary individual voters who are 52 per cent minded to Leave and 48 per cent minded to Remain. They don’t exist. There is no popular centre ground on Brexit and we have to go full throttle for Leave.
Second, the locals gave a hint of our opponents’ likely strategy in the next general election. Labour is intent on using its breach in Canterbury to spread the cancer of Corbynism through the rest of Kent. The local Labour MP’s former chief of staff will be standing in neighbouring Dover and Deal and, in a bid to bolster her ground operation, Labour sent some activists from Canterbury to Dover in the last 48 hours before polling day. Local Greens also struck up a non-aggression pact with Lib Dems in target wards, sometimes to miserable effect.
On a slightly cheerier note, the third thing that strikes me is how focused and consistent effort by capable candidates helped us buck the national trend in some of our target wards. We elected new Councillors in places that – on paper – should have been givens for Labour, the Lib Dems, or Independents respectively. Crucially, those Conservative candidates were picked early enough to put in the hours, understand their voters, and get recognised.
In the local elections around the country there were lots of painful kicks in lots of undeserving shins. Thankfully, Conservative volunteers and candidates are robust. They make the party great – and they make it viable. Dedicated campaigners will keep working their socks off to get candidates elected regardless of Westminster being so dysfunctional at the moment. In return for that essential effort, I think CCHQ knows it has got to listen more to members on issues of policy and personnel. Otherwise, it will take a lot more than a long weekend for the party to recover.