As Conservative campaigners take to the rain sodden streets this weekend, in a final push to win seats in local and Mayoral elections they could have no better message to deliver than this – ‘Conservative Councils are the most competent, efficient and deliver the very best services across the UK’.
It is a message which is both true and evidence based.
I cite my own Central Bedfordshire Council, which in its last budget has managed to reduce council tax by 0.8% whilst neighbouring Labour controlled Luton Borough Council increased theirs by 3.4%. Luton is an area with modest house prices and areas of high depravation, Luton residents can least afford the increase. The impact will push some families off the domestic economic cliff edge and could be a root cause of further re-possessions.
Not only have Conservative-controlled CBC managed a reduction during a time which is financially difficult for families everywhere, they have also made efficiency savings which have had zero impact on services delivered and that is a story repeated across the country. It has to be the reasoning behind the message we often get on the doorstep in some areas of the country ‘I vote one way in the national election and another during the locals’.
Local councillors are hard-wired into their local communities. Operating close to the earth, they know exactly what local people want and are always the first witness to the disconnect which opens up between the national government of the day and the people. This is why local elections are so important. It is the ground source base from which the national party should intelligence gather and should be the primary source of information upon which policy is based.
But is isn’t and never has been. Councillors of all parties, vent their frustration at not being listened to at the top to local MPs, who have their own issues with being heard.
As councillors knock on doors this week, many people ask for an in out referendum vote on Europe. Lots mention high EU and non EU immigration and the fact that some schools contain children for whom English isn’t the mother language. The school population can speak up to sixty different languages making teaching impossible; resulting in those children being unemployable and spending a life time on benefits an expensive scenario. They ask what the Government is doing about this? The answer is not a lot as we are prevented from doing anything substantive by EU legislation. That’s the EU we send £50 million per day of taxpayers' money to. They complain about that too.
People want a law to make metal theft illegal and economic growth to be a priority. Don’t hold your breath for bills addressing either of those issues to be included in the forthcoming Queen's speech, which will decide the legislative programme for the next Parliamentary session.
They want more green playing fields for children and less house building as communities become concreted over, terrorist suspects to be immediately sent back from whence they came and for the government to show some backbone and put two fingers up to the ECHR. To pay much less tax and to keep more of what they earn, for petrol prices to be reduced and for inheritance tax thresholds to be raised.
As councillors across the country knock on doors this week, no one is asking for House of Lords reform, no one mentions a burning desire for the introduction of gay marriage, no one talks about the big society, Lots of people ask, what’s going on and is the NHS going to still be free and safe?
The traditional avenue of party conference, where anyone could ask a question from the floor of the conference to the conference platform and receive a direct answer from ministers and party leaders has gone. Activists no longer have the three minute spot where they could put in a slip to speak and be called within minutes to deliver their own thoughts on what they had learnt on the street.
Conference has become corporate, the cost to attend way beyond the pocket of most activists who no longer attend. No more nabbing a minister by the collar in a hotel bar and imparting the message which everyone in the dog and duck asked you to deliver.
The result has become Westminster elite talks to Westminster elite.
Government needs to talk to local councillors and activists as the elections end, whilst they are still fresh from the messages and impressions they were imbued with whilst out knocking on doors. Activists need a channel which enables them to feed information unfettered, straight to the top, in a way conference used to allow.
What they have to say may not make pretty listening but if taken on board with a little humility, a will to reconnect with the country and a genuine desire to serve the people who elected us, councillors could light the way forward for a resurgent Conservative-led Government in 2015 and that precious Conservative majority which so badly eluded us 2010.