Cllr Andrew Wood is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council, and a councillor for Canary Wharf Ward.
In east London, Labour won with huge majorities. In my constituency, we came second with 16 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 63 per cent. East London is one of only four areas left with a large number of Labour MPs. So, if Labour rebuilds, it will be from places like here. Therefore, understanding why we lost so badly in east London arguably may be more important than understanding why we won elsewhere. Not because we expect, or need, to win seats here, but because the groups that support Labour here are largely drawn from the young, the professional middle-class, and Muslims. These are groups we can and should be appealing to, if we are to be One Nation Conservatives. These are also groups that are moving out of east London into seats that we do need to retain in five or ten years time. Here are some things we can do to reduce their resistance to voting Conservative.
Send some love to EU citizens
There are simple and quick measures to dispel some of the fears and propaganda that we are about to treat EU citizens like we did the Windrush generation. For a start, retain the right of EU citizens to vote in local elections. Either it is right that Council Taxpayers can vote, or it is not, it should not be a bargaining chip in negotiations. I got elected as a Conservative in an area with large numbers of EU citizens: Conservatives can win their vote. I would go further and give those with settled status the votes in national elections as we do with Commonwealth citizens. They have made a commitment to the UK, let’s return that commitment. It is also ludicrous that the price of UK citizenship is £1,206. In 2020 let’s reduce the price to zero for those with settled status as a further reassurance to them that they can settle here. It will prove that we are not the nasty people of Labour propaganda.
Many of my Muslim residents are conservatives when it comes to our policies. For example, right to buy is very popular. Many are aspirational; many are small business owners. But they are highly resistant to voting Conservative, in part because Labour have done a better job of appealing to them by making them feel welcome. We need to stop providing any further evidence that we are Islamophobic as it will be shared relentlessly on social media as further proof that we cannot be trusted. I welcome the appointment of Professor Sarwan Singh. I hope he sets clear guidelines about what is acceptable or not. But we need to learn the lessons of anti-Semitism in Labour. We cannot let his report suffer the same fate as the Chakrabarti report on anti-Semitism. If we do not enforce the rules he sets, it will be pointless.
Problems at home
We are building more new homes in east London than anywhere else in the UK. The Manifesto promised to reduce the price of new homes by 30 per cent for local people. In my Ward that still means a two-bedroom apartment would cost over £500,000. As a result, many are forced to rent and won’t build up the capital to buy their own property. And if you do not own your own property will you vote Conservative? But whether you own or rent, the housing market does not work well. If you live in a tall building over 18 metres you may be unable to mortgage it now due to the Advice Note 14 the government issued last year. Housing association tenants and leaseholders are trapped in a monopoly situation, unable to effectively make choices about a range of issues affecting their home. The same applies to leaseholders who think they own their own homes – they really don’t unless they are lucky enough to own their freehold and run their management company. Right to buy is extremely popular with many Labour supporters but until housing associations are forced to sell, it will be half-hearted and will be resisted.
Don’t kill the golden goose
The three most important economic centres in the UK are in London, including Canary Wharf (which generates between £12 billion to £14 billion a year in taxes, very little of which is spent locally). Yes, we need to spend more in the north, especially on infrastructure, but it will take time for that to generate an economic return. You remain dependent in the meantime on places like my ward continuing to generate the golden eggs of employment, taxes, and foreign exchange earnings to make those investments in services and infrastructure across the UK. If you want us to continue to provide those eggs, you need to ensure that the goose is well looked after as well.
81 per cent of the UK economy is composed of service industries. 83 per cent of jobs are in service industries. Most of my residents work in service-based industries that heavily rely on our global links, many will be working with EU-27 based colleagues in global companies whether in banking, insurance, business services, accountancy, retail, tourism, transport, health, publishing, IT, education, etc. Yet the debates over Brexit trade deals have ignored this reality. Can we focus on this a bit more to reassure workers in services industries that we also care about them and to protect the most important part of our economy?
Only the paranoid survive
In 1992, John Major won over 14.1 million votes. Still a record, but five years later, it fell to 9.6 million. Loss of our reputation for economic competence, internal division, tiredness, all had a part to play alongside the rebuilding of Labour as a credible alternative. We need to find a way of not messing up and to continue to broaden our appeal, especially to the young, as we cannot rely forever on a weak opposition.