Cllr Mike Rouse is a councillor on Redditch Borough Council where he is the Cabinet Member for Leisure. He helped to set up 18 Doughty Street TV in 2006 with former ConservativeHome Editor Tim Montgomerie and present-day LBC radio presenter Iain Dale.
Redditch might be a small district-level local authority on the tip of Worcestershire, but we are exactly the kind of ‘new town’ the Conservatives need to win in a general election. We’re also the kind of town Labour needs to win too, and Corbyn knows it – he visited here twice in six months last year. We’re working class, and we voted by 62 per cent to leave the EU. Rachel Maclean is our local MP who has been an absolute hero on Brexit and local issues.
We have four areas of Redditch that are officially classed as areas of deprivation, and even though the town is less than 5 miles end-to-end, the life expectancy in one part is nine years greater than the ward I represent. A council ward I won by a single vote in 2018.
I won because I took a message of progressive and compassionate localised conservatism to people who needed to hear it and who had been let down by Labour for decades, and people who at the time believed we were on the cusp of delivering Brexit, something they voted heavily for. I didn’t duck the difficult questions, I didn’t carefully manage my appearances, and I didn’t hide away from scrutiny. I rolled up my sleeves, at times literally, such as when I assembled a team to clear slippery moss from pavements. I engaged the local community, and I embraced the whole area, whether it be the poorer south or the wealthier north.
Redditch Conservatives bucked the national trend in 2018 when we took the Council, and we did it again in 2019 – but we won’t be able to do it again if we get the leadership of our party wrong. We have worked hard to increase representation from young people, women, and ethnic minorities in our team, including the election of Redditch’s first female Muslim councillor in Nyear Nazir whom we are extremely proud of.
Led locally by Matt Dormer, we have a plan to #UnlockRedditch, including the redevelopment of our train station thanks to funding we won from Worcestershire County Council and partners. If they are to deliver on their promises, we need a government that has sorted out Brexit and can start to invest in the towns and communities across Britain rather than being paralysed by Brexit. Our local government settlement was already delayed last year because of Brexit, and there’s more we are waiting on central government for. We have got to get the machinery of government moving again.
Redditch is a working-class town with huge challenges and equally huge opportunities. It isn’t traditional Tory heartlands, so it’s important we choose a leader who can resonate in the Midlands as much as Maidstone.
Dominic Raab’s pledge to cut income tax and National Insurance for the lowest paid is one that will indeed resonate well on the doors across Redditch and beyond. We don’t have many people in Redditch earning over £50,000, so I just cannot see how tax cuts for people in this bracket is going to help the people I represent. We need to unlock Redditch, not lock up wealth amongst top earners in richer towns elsewhere.
The Conservative Party is at its best when it is led by someone who believes in releasing the potential that exists in all of us, and someone who believes in the ladder of opportunity, not someone who writes people off or pulls the rug out from under them.
Here in Redditch, we are building council homes for the first time since around 1998. In our first year of running the council, we commissioned 67 builds, mostly bungalows, to help older people downsize and free up the 3/4 bedroom houses that families in Redditch need. Our next leader must understand the housing challenge and believe in sensitive building as a solution.
I believe that Raab is the candidate best placed to understand the problems, opportunities, and challenges towns like Redditch are faced with, not just now, but into the future.
I know this because he is the only candidate in this contest to have visited Redditch before the campaign kicked off, and won over the hearts and minds of most people he met here as he outlined a vision based on the kind of conservatism that I know will win elections for the Conservative Party across the Midlands and beyond. He then took the time to talk with local people and discuss many of the issues that we face in Redditch, carefully listening without interrupting, asking insightful questions, and demonstrating a strong solutions-led approach. It was impressive to see, and he clearly left a mark here in Redditch not just with me, but many of my colleagues.
I have faith that Raab has outlined a clear plan on how he will deliver Brexit, using every lever of the state if needed. No other candidate has been as clear and as candid about the difficult road ahead. I also have faith that Raab’s plan for a fairer Britain is one that can be delivered and will help the town of Redditch and others like it.