Xingang Wang JP is the vice chairman of Claygate Parish Council in Elmbridge. He has been a parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith and Manchester Central.
This week millions of people will go to the polling station on 5th May. I have been privileged to campaign in both Elmbridge and Hammersmith in different capacities during this election. There are some observations I would like to share.
Elmbridge borough is in the north of Surrey in the London commuter belt. It is partly rural with towns, villages and reservoirs. My youngest daughter was born in Kingston Hospital in Elmbridge’s neighbour borough, Kingston. The Conservatives are the largest Party with 18 councillors, but they don’t have a majority and the Council is currently run by a chaotic coalition of Liberal Democrats and 7 resident associations. 1/3 of local councillors will be re-elected on 5th May this year, together with a by-election for non-political Claygate parish council.
The Esher and Walton parliamentary seat is within Elmbridge. This was always seen as a safe seat but is now a “remainery” marginal. It was the Liberal Democrats’ top target in 2019, and we expect it will be again for the next general election. These local elections are seen as preparing the ground for the forthcoming general election, and I have been campaigning in several marginal wards as well as the ward that I am standing in, which is held by an independent. The local residents associations often claim that they are not a political party but they always put up political candidates in local elections.
As a resident living here for 10 years, I see the biggest failure of the Liberal Democrats / Resident Associations-run council as being that they lack leadership. This means they are not effective and cannot reach conclusions. They have not been able to produce a Local Plan, so they are missing their housing targets, leaving the community exposed to “planning by appeal”. They have also passed a maximum Council Tax increase, despite having a record of poor services, particularly refuse collection. So this election really is about bins, not Brexit or Boris!
So my campaigning is focused on micro issues, seeking to gain support on individual matters that affect individual people or families, or small communities. Like the disabled local resident who invited me to observe her daily journey from her flat to the nearest train station. The narrow road, even having been resurfaced, is still filled with small potholes, not fatal, but it gives her great difficulties using her scooter. I raised the concern on her behalf with the independent county councillor, but I still have received no reply when I write this article. I have made this kind of failure a large part of my campaign. The resident associations may have a good name, but they are all talk when it comes to helping residents.
The local Conservative team has been amazingly active, with campaigning begun long before the elections. Campaigning during the non-election periods has provided lots of valuable data, which I am sure will help us to regain ground here on May 5th. I am certainly looking forward to the day when we take back the control of the council, and also give our hard-working local MP, Dominic Raab, a much stronger majority.
In Hammersmith, we are trying to regain ground lost in 2018, when every conservative Councillor in the constituency lost their seat. The local Association is working hard to rebuild trust so there can be an effective opposition in the council.
Again, the campaign aims are local. Lots of Hammersmith residents do not like cycle lanes installed by the Labour-controlled council during the pandemic. Green transport is welcomed, but the badly designed cycle lanes are not. A local resident showed me a picture of his broken nose caused when he was tripped up in the cycle lane. He also saw an older person who was almost run over by cyclists. Local Conservatives put together a petition to scrap the dangerous cycle lane, with over 3,800 signatures collected. And the numbers are increasing every day.
There are lots of blocks of flats in Hammersmith. It is difficult to get in, but once in, you can canvass the whole building easily. There are several weatherproof canvassing sessions we held in these building blocks.
Conservative voters are everywhere, and many residents are tired of Labour councillors who do not help them. One resident has been calling his Labour councillors for years about the incorrectly located bicycle storage outside of his house. No one takes action, and residents are sent from pillar to post around different departments, with no one accepting responsibility. We are building up a mass of cases for our candidates.
The doorstep responses have a high correlation with the national headlines. Yet when you draw attention to local issues, such as Hammersmith Bridge that Labour has failed to fix, or badly designed Hammersmith cycle lanes, residents pause and think.
The elections this year present a tough challenge for candidates and campaigners, but residents know that we will be there for them in good times and bad. Where we keep getting that message across, we have every chance of winning.