They’re well off and well educated, they admit that they’ve noticed a real improvement under this council but they can’t bring themselves to vote to retain it – because it’s a Conservative council. That’s what I find when I knock on the doors of some of the residents of Richmond-upon-Thames, where I’m a candidate on 4th May. There are two problems: perception and guilt.
Conservatives won Richmond in 2002 after 20 years of Liberal rule.
Many voters still believe the LibDems have control and I suspect, more
importantly, many of the first generation wealthy professionals who
live here feel they need to make amends for their personal success.
The improvements in the borough under the Conservatives are undeniable:
education and social services improved, public spaces and buildings
redeveloped, recycling collections introduced, and the financial black
hole inherited from LibDem profligacy closed. For the first time,
there will be no increase in council tax this year.
But many improvements are not perceived as being Conservative things to
do – many times people have told me that the recycling programme is
fantastic but said it can’t be Conservatives because you “don’t do
It’s hard to see how anyone could disagree with the values and
principles in ‘Built To Last’– the difficulty is convincing the voters
that, it makes a difference in practice. My experiences on the
doorstep in Richmond seem to be a case in point. But we can show that
given a chance to act on these values, we do so to make everyone’s
But there’s another problem – demographics. Parts of the borough are
populated by educated, professional couples. Many have young children;
a large number are first generation wealthy. It’s a profile that I fit
However, unlike me, they cannot bring themselves to vote Conservative.
When they were teenagers, in the 80’s, they thought the Conservatives
were cruel or, to coin a phrase, ‘nasty’. They watched Ben Elton and
listened to The Smiths and Billy Bragg. Being a Conservative was not
cool. Never mind that the Conservative’s economic policies allowed
them to buy a house in Richmond, they are not prepared to admit it –
not while Billy is listening. So, disillusioned with Blair they vote
LibDem and feel less guilty about having two foreign holidays a year
and running two cars.
They agree with me that the primary schools are marvellous, that the
public playgrounds are better than any elsewhere, that the recycling
service is wonderful – but still they won’t vote for us.
But we don’t need to change our substance – we just need to get the
message across that the values are there along with the practical
improvements. That means presenting the real story with confidence.
It’s beginning to work.
I have yet to meet anyone who voted Conservative last time who says
they are disappointed. We’ve kept our promises and that’s been
noticed. Others have noticed the improvements in services and have
said they will vote Conservative – for the first time ever – locally,
even if not nationally, and I have met still more who say that they are
going to vote Conservative – again for the first time. Why? Because
David Cameron has made them think again about what we stand for.