Cllr Jamie Rose is a councillor in Dover.
Going into the elections, there were plenty of reasons to be worried in Dover. A Conservative government had failed to deliver Brexit – in an area which voted overwhelmingly to leave. Opinion polls showed a party plummeting. Ward boundary changes looked unfavourable.
Yet when all was said and done, we had doubled our majority on Dover District Council. Our vote share went up four per cent as Labour’s fell five per cent. As local media pointed out, we had bucked the national trend. Exactly how that was achieved is open to interpretation. But here are the views of someone closely involved.
First, we had a strong message of success to send. In Dover District, we’ve worked hard to bring more jobs and money to our corner of Kent. Just a few years ago, unemployment had rocketed by 50 per cent. There are now 7,700 more people in work.
There’s been more than £500 million of investment. Nearly a year ago, a £50 million shopping centre opened in the heart of Dover. Where once stood an empty, ugly tower block – a much-ridiculed symbol of Dover’s decline – there now stands a multiplex cinema, shops, and restaurants. A state-of-the art leisure centre has been built. In Deal, the iconic pier is undergoing the most comprehensive refurbishment in its history, including a new restaurant at the end.
Crucially, all this has been delivered by a Conservative-controlled council led by Cllr Keith Morris with the lowest council tax in East Kent. That’s what a strong vision and teamwork can achieve – real investment, excellent services and genuine value for money. Quite rightly, it made for a compelling argument on the doorstep.
Yet frustration over Brexit could not be ignored, as Conservative branches across the country will have found out. There was plenty of anger and a strong desire to get on with it – deal or no deal. On doorstep after doorstep, people demanded we leave the EU and move on.
Again, we had a compelling argument – thanks to our MP Charlie Elphicke. Around here everyone knows he has fought tirelessly to get us out of the EU. And we were unaffected by the Prime Minister’s toxicity – for reasons avid readers of this site will be familiar with.
Charlie has also delivered continually for our area. Down at the docks, the Conservatives put a stop to Labour’s plan to sell the Port of Dover to the French or whoever. Then we worked to broker a better deal. The port now has community directors, alongside a constitutional commitment to contribute to the area. A £250 million docks revival project is well underway.
Investment hasn’t just come from the public purse. Big companies have set up shop in our area, too. Multipanel UK relocated its manufacturing operation from China in 2014. Their 24/7 operation now produces more than 500,000 square metres of aluminium composite panels a month. They have been so successful that they hope to open new production lines and hire up to 100 more staff.
Yet these success stories don’t mean much at election time if people don’t hear them. Another reason for our gains, I believe, was a beefed-up social media presence. For the first time, money that might have been spent on more leaflets was put towards a Facebook campaign. A simple post was placed on people’s newsfeeds across the district. It’s not just another way to get the message across, it’s one far less easily tossed into a bin.
At the same time, traditional campaign organisation wasn’t ignored. Recognising we couldn’t call on the number of volunteers you might hope for during a general election, we focused resources on target wards. Here, full canvassing and telling operations were carried out. Working the phones, more than 70 volunteers were mobilised. People were happy to help – because of the local success, and because of our MP’s record.
Dover Conservatism points the way for the future of our party. A focus on the things that matter to people – more jobs, money, and investment. Lower taxes, starting with the least well off. Finances in order. Interests of community and consumer before anything else.
Much has been done. Yet there is much more to do. We need a plan for Britain – how we won’t be bullied by Europe in our quest to become a free-trading, global nation again. How we must rebalance our economy, so it works for the towns and regions as much as the big cities. How we must rejuvenate exports, so we aren’t overly reliant on financial services. We must become international traders again – in things like well-marketed British produce, technology, and environmental enterprise.
The results in Dover point the way to the bright future that lies ahead. Our lesson is that it starts with having the political courage to see Brexit through.
Only then can we properly look at the other important issues. That’s why we must get on with it, then refocus and go again. Because this country is great – but it can be so much better. Our best days are yet to come.