Published:

Nicholas Rogers is the London Assembly member for South West London

Politics is a brutal business. Over the last few days, too many excellent Conservatives across London suffered defeat. The roll call of flagship London councils we lost does not need repeating. As well as fighting hard in my South West patch, I campaigned in most other boroughs and saw first-hand just how high the standard of our candidates was, how much they cared for their local communities, and how hard they were working. My sincere commiserations to all those who missed out.

After defeat, it is tempting to wallow a little as we lick our wounds. It’s a natural human reaction but one we should not indulge for too long. There are lessons to be learnt and applied from the defeats we suffered in London. Many people will have their own thoughts; these are some of mine, scribbled in the immediate aftermath of our bruising set of results. It will, of course, take time to learn all the lessons from these elections.

London is unique in the world, distinct even from other top-tier global cities. This is what makes the city great. It also presents significant political challenges; the issues London faces are different – and on a different scale – to issues faced elsewhere in Britain. The electorate is distinct, as are their expectations of their politicians.

For us to address these issues and meet the expectations of our electorate, it is increasingly clear to me that the Conservative Party in London needs more freedom to respond in an appropriate way. Part of this must entail us forging an identity that is distinct from the national Conservative brand. While I think that an entirely separate party, as in Scotland, is a step too far and would create too much additional bureaucracy, a distinct visual identity appropriate to London would help bind the party in our city more closely together and ensure we speak as one voice on the issues that matter to our electorate.

And speaking of that electorate. London is the youngest region in the country with an average age of just over 35 years old, about a year younger than me. There’s the old canard about people getting more conservative as they get older; well, millennials (I suppose I am one, just about) are not that young anymore and yet they show few signs of coming our way.

There are obvious reasons why this might be the case. A sense of ownership of one’s community – a stake in society – is the core of our Conservative values. Yet, if you are sharing a rented flat with a load of other people, struggling to save up for a deposit despite holding a decent job and earning a reasonable salary, how can you hope to build that stake in society, or even think about starting a family? With the average house price in London over £530,000, this problem goes way beyond giving up avocado toast and cancelling your Netflix subscription, despite what Kirsty Allsopp might say.

We need to build more of the right sort of housing in London with a variety of tenures – and we need to not only articulate the Conservative way of doing this but also to ensure we stand up for all of those residents. How, for example, can London Conservatives better champion the rights of London’s renters? Until they hear our message, Sadiq Khan’s siren calls for rent controls – a cynical non-starter if ever there was one – will prove very tempting.

Whether on housing, cost of living, or various social issues, it is hard to escape the sensation that, in London, we are moving away from our electorate. That’s why a distinct London Conservative identity is so important – it would give us the freedom to address these issues and lay out our vision for a dynamic, exciting and prosperous modern London.

The fundamental truth, however, at the base of all of this – the truth that gives me hope for a future Conservative London – is that the facts of city life are profoundly Conservative. Cities exist because remarkable things happen when people live in close proximity to one another; trade, business, job opportunities, entrepreneurship, technological innovation and cultural richness… This is a Conservative language. We know it well.

Running underneath and enabling these bustling city activities is the city’s infrastructure and a variety of processes that are, again, deeply Conservative. London’s public transport network keeps the city alive. Its primary function is to enable the proximity which, as described above, is the very reason for the city’s existence. Crossrail, for example, is important because it brings 1.5 million additional people within a 45-minute commute of central London; it shrinks the city and makes proximity easier. To manage so many people living in such close proximity, a strong and effective police force is required. To preserve London’s beauty, the built and natural environments need to be managed carefully.

No one can tell me that Sadiq Khan’s Labour Party understands these issues better than we do. No one can tell me that they know how to run an efficient public transport network better than us, or are more in tune with how to police London, or know how to build ‘gentle density’ in the city, or why the concept of spontaneous order is so important in keeping London liveable.

We have better stories to tell on all of these issues. We can offer Londoners much more than any of our opponents, but we need to be better at delivering our message, more unified in our approach across the city, and more confident in our identity as London Conservatives. It can be done; just look at our successes in Harrow and Croydon. We need to listen to Londoners, and understand and act on what they tell us.

London Conservatives – our time will come again. We will relearn the habit of victory and the enormous honour of governing the greatest city in the world will fall to us once more.