Nick de Bois is a Secretary of the 1922 Committee and MP for Enfield North.
The poor performance of the Conservatives in London has captured less attention in the post-election analysis than it might have done. Much of the attention about the results in the capital has been focused on the relative under-performance of UKIP. But while it won only a seven per cent average share of the vote in the London local elections, it would be a serious mistake to ignore the damage that it did to Conservative candidates last week – and the damage it could do next May.
None the less, UKIP voters,as Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll demonstrates, are there to be won back – not least because four out of five would prefer to see David Cameron rather than Ed Miliband as Prime Minister. My own experience on the doorstep supports the notion that many, though not all, will vote Conservative at the general election if we find our confidence, and deliver an authentic Conservative vision from a future Conservative Government.
Indeed, if two thirds of UKIP voters in my own constituency returned to the Conservatives, the projected UKIP vote would be similar to the combined vote of UKIP and BNP at the 2010 General Election. For in London, UKIP is not the real threat: Labour is.
In many seats across the capital, Labour’s London campaign was well organised, visible, and highly effective. This delivered both gains in councillors and a significantly increased turnout of Labour supporters in Labour-held wards, as well as inConservative held wards. True, UKIP defections from the Conservatives helped Labour over the edge in places such as Enfield and, in some cases, put Labour in extraordinarily close second place positions in wards where they were previously well behind.
However, a close examination of the returns shows that the Labour vote went up significantly, and that not many of those votes came from former Conservatives. It is most likely that they came from former Liberal Democrats, one in two of which are reportedly turning to Labour. Since some constituencies in London saw trials for the benefits cap, it is entirely reasonable to assume this impacted on voting intention to local Conservative disadvantage.
These voters will, come the next election, be just as motivated to vote Labour. So, in addition to wooing back UKIP defectors, the major challenge for Conservatives is to reach the other 30 per cent of voters likely to turnout next year (of whom many remain undecided ) that did not vote in 2014, but that will in 2015. It strikes me that this year’s elections have been disproportionately dominated by the disaffected, the angry and the ideologically opposed to a Conservative-led government.
The choice now for Conservatives in London is to make the positive case for sticking with us in 2015, simply because we are delivering the most important things that matters – a growing economy, rising employment and recovering living standards. Nothing speaks to people more than a regular working income. What’s more, Labour can’t compete on this,:they can only promise and, each time they do, their economic credibility unravels further, leaving Ed Balls and Miliband trailing Cameron and George Osborne by a double digit margin. The Conservative message should remain clear and simple and demonstrate that a vote for Labour puts the economy at risk just when the fruits of recovery are beginning to be felt.
As tempting as it may be, we should resist the temptation to focus – though not ignore – immigration and the EU at the expense of the major economic achievements of this administration. Yet we must widen our appeal by a series of re-assuring policies; continuing to drive crime down; supporting visible policing, transparency in sentencing, and reforming rehabilitation of offenders, for example. In London, crime, housing, health inequalities and access to GP’s dominate the political landscape and we have just eleven months in which to make our case.
So I agree with commentators and even Nigel Farage when he says London is different from the rest of the country. Indeed, Labour present the major threat to a Conservative victory in the capital, not defections to UKIP. While Labour fails elsewhere in the country, it succeeds in London with an effective organisation and message that appeals to both the diversity of London and the disaffected within it. Our seemingly relentless focus on EU and immigration do nothing but support Labour’s message. We cannot afford to be presented as not reflecting the needs and priorities of the majority of Londoners – whilst ironically our policies do the very opposite. It’s time to redress the balance, and make sure that those that did not vote in the locals do vote Conservative in the general election.
I am not sure what Boris was doing at “Newark North”station slurping his coffee with the Prime Minister on Saturday, but I would much rather he was in Westminster North, Ilford North and, yes, most certainly Enfield North. Our coffee is just as good and, with the Mayor’s devolved powers including policing and housing, his role in helping Conservatives back to winning ways in London is crucial. The partnership between him and the Government will rarely be more critical than now, and he would be right to focus on delivering as a Conservative Mayor in the worlds greatest city. Not least, this is because he will cut through to voters more effectively than any local MP or Cabinet minister – which given Lord Ashcroft’s latest national poll, with over half the voters remain undecided, is no mean thing.