Cllr Olivia Lyons is the Leader of Cannock Chase District Council.
Our local election campaign was demanding, and the campaign period short, but as we stood on each damp, cold, doorstep, the message was the same. Labour had lost touch with what was, for years, their core vote. Nationally, they no longer represented the working class and, locally, the years of sheer neglect in our once vibrant market towns was both stark and noticeable.
The position of no overall control had taken its toll. In the months prior to the local elections, the local Labour Party were in disarray. The longer-standing members, true to the more traditional ‘New Labour’ ideology had capitulated to the growing number representing Corbyn’s hard left, the divide was growing by the day. Quickly and visibly, they were losing touch, losing control, and losing all credibility. It was a minority administration growing enraged and thrashing around clutching to their evaporating dream of their future.
In the space of a few months, the Leader of the Labour Group moved from an informal ‘Supply and Demand’ arrangement to form a formal Coalition with what was, at the time, the local Green Party. Relationships quickly broke down and the manifestation of hostility was undisguised.
A breakaway Party was collectively formed by the former Labour parliamentary candidate and the former Green parliamentary candidate; they formally registered as a political party and, ironically, called themselves ‘Chase Independents’. Their aim was to be a knight in shining armour sweeping in to oust a disorderly administration on a fabricated platform of distortions. Fielding a group of supposedly apolitical, community minded candidates – they were undoubtedly the most political of all, and their masterplan was to campaign dirty. That included conning their way into the new Designer Outlet Village by pretending to be workmen in a desperate attempt to seek publicity but instead culminated in a visit from the Police. The Chase Indies Leader publicly asserted that his only ambition was to be a local voice, whilst he stood against a backdrop of failed attempts to become Police and Crime Commissioner, a Member of Parliament, and even a Member of the European Parliament.
Two years prior, when forming a new Shadow Cabinet, we promised to be a credible and strong opposition, a promise we must keep. As a small group of 14, we refused to be distracted by the internal happenings and the ever-evolving dynamics of the other parties. We were clear that the middle of a global pandemic was not the time to ‘play politics’. Our continued focus remained very clearly with the residents that we were elected to represent. They had put their trust in us and our duty to serve was now more important than ever.
Fast forward a few months and we received confirmation that the public would be going to the polls. Restrictions were slowly easing and the vaccination programme was well underway. Initially, we decided not to knock on doors but instead develop and grow our online presence, acutely aware that residents may feel uncomfortable being approached after such a long period of isolation. Alongside this, we continued working within each of our local communities, at the time supporting the ongoing response to the pandemic and also re-established our InTouch literature.
As time went on, the campaign intensified with leaflets increasing in frequency and, eventually, with yet further easing of restrictions, we took to the doorstep. That was when we really began to gauge the shift of public opinion. We were a group of locals, campaigning and caring for our local community, no doubt helped along by an increasingly positive national picture – personal freedoms were gradually returning, Covid case numbers in a slow decline and there was hope that we were slowly and cautiously returning to a life that somewhat resembled normality.
The focus of our campaign remained on what mattered – it was a local election and we focused solely on local issues. Labour literature evaded the local issues that had fallen within the remit of their administration for many years – declining town centres, decaying parks, and detrimentally high taxes, the list simply goes on. Instead, they adopted a negative campaign, slating every Conservative proposal or decision whether by Government, the County Council, or us as an Opposition – noticeably without offering any alternatives and, more so, without offering up any credible policy suggestions at all.
Come May 6th, we entered the counting hall with an optimistic mindset, carrying with us the enthusiasm from the doorstep. The national picture was better than expected, the red wall was crumbling. Not taking anything for granted, we were both fearful of becoming carried away yet quietly hoping to be the next blue brick in the wall. The results came in thick and fast, without the need for many recounts.
The electorate had unequivocally placed their trust in us. The real hard work was about to begin. We instantly promised to work tirelessly to repay that trust, a promise made by all 24 of us.
In the few months that followed, we have uncovered more that a few Labour skeletons buried in the Council’s closets but we will govern with the same positive mindset that we campaigned with.
Post pandemic we have a challenging, yet exciting opportunity to repave the path ahead – focusing on economic recovery, rejuvenating our town centres, and improving the overall wellbeing of the residents we serve.
As a very wise lady once said “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony”, a very fitting quote to encapsulate the past year in Cannock Chase.