Cllr Stephen Baines is the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group on Calderdale Council
The General Election of 2019 has crystallised trends, both nationally and locally, that we have been seeing for some time. Constituents are no longer voting based upon traditional class boundaries. Under Boris Johnson, Conservatives in Calderdale have seen our vote hold up in traditional Conservative areas, whilst working class and deprived polling districts, previously Labour strongholds, have abandoned Labour under Corbyn. People who traditionally identified with Labour have said ‘No’ to the divisive, polarising, and patronising politics of a perversely far-left and increasingly London-centric party, ruled by the cosmopolitan elites.
On the doorstep, we heard the same messages again and again. We want Brexit done. The electorate wanted closure; an end to the debate, an end to the parliamentary paralysis, an end to the division – not just nationally, but within local communities. People felt betrayed.
For years we saw voter turnout decline. There was growing apathy. Often you will hear from constituents who don’t vote, that all politicians are the same. But when offered the opportunity to more directly participate in democracy, as they did in the referendum, they turned out in droves – 71 per cent in Calderdale. This was repeated again at December when they were asked whether they wanted more dither and delay or just to get it done, there was a 73 per cent turn-out in Calder Valley.
Locally, we have had fewer elected councillors than Labour from 2012. Since then we have suffered under a Lib Dem/Lab coalition and now overall Labour control. During this time the Council has gone on a spending spree. Racking up millions of pounds of “prudential borrowing” indebting future generations of residents by speculating on supposed investment returns that never seem to materialise.
Labour has paid lip service to the environment by creating a paid position as “Cabinet Member for Climate Change and the Environment” and by declaring a climate emergency. Yet it has failed repeatedly for over a decade to tackle Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) where air quality fails national targets. Calderdale ranks poorly in national statistics for the number of deaths caused as a result of air pollution, something compounded by the Labour Government’s promotion of diesel vehicles, and the failure of Labour locally to invest in our highways. Disregarding this to the detriment of the health of the borough’s population, they have planned to build hundreds of houses in areas already suffering extreme traffic congestion and air pollution. This is despite the local outcry over the loss of our Green Belt, the dangerous air pollution and pressure on local infrastructure and services. All this whilst the borough has one of the highest rates of empty houses in the North.
In 2015, we saw how the Boxing Day floods were devastating for the Calder Valley. Craig Whittaker MP managed to secure £30 million of central government funding, something for which Calderdale’s Labour Party and its councillors seem to perversely claim credit. We see very little substance from the Council however when it comes to the basics of preventing flooding – culverts and drains are left blocked and there has been insufficient tree planting within the Borough.
The local high streets have been left neglected. Begging and petty crime have increased, parking is costly and business rates remain high creating an environment where shops are left vacant or are given up to non-rate paying charity shops that attract few shoppers. The Council cuts spending on maintaining the highstreet or pushes the costs onto businesses, making matters worse.
During the last decade, the Conservative Group has repeatedly voted to cut the cost of politics by reducing the number of councillors on the Council and reducing the payments they receive – something that has drawn stiff opposition from Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors intent on keeping their perks and keeping their workload down. These same Lib Dem and Labour candidates have presided over massive frontline staff reductions and an increase in senior management pay.
The Lib/Lab and Labour administrations here at Calderdale have been characterised by steep increases in council tax combined with deep cuts to front line services. Labour has been very vocal about central government cuts and blames their inability to provide the basics that Councils were set up to provide, on these. Yet despite the grim sermons by the Labour Group at each Council meeting there always seems to be spare pots of money for local vanity projects. Millions have been spent revamping the Piece Hall, Princess Buildings, and Northgate House. Even the Mixenden Hub Project gets revived and exhumed around election time but it is yet to materialise.
In May there are 17 seats up for grabs. Whilst we may not take control of the Council, we can make a substantial inroad into making Calderdale Council work for its residents rather than the other way round.
For residents there will be two choices:
A Labour Council that seems to want to dabble in national politics; self-promote and cut rather than deliver frontline services; borrow residents money to fund vanity projects that prop up the careers of its local politicians whilst forgetting what it is there to do.
Or a Conservative Council that will deliver the frontline services they ask for – bin collections, clean streets, working street lights, and filled-in potholes. All whilst reducing the costs of local bureaucracy, including the cost of councillors; reducing borrowing against the borough; and keeping Council Tax low.