Last year, I had the pleasure of standing for election as a City Councillor in Oxford. Well, I say pleasure: I only stood as the local Conservative association asked a few OUCA members to make up the numbers in some no-hope wards. My total contact with the good people of Barton and Sandhills was running through the ward one Sunday morning with the girl I was seeing at the time. She was my fellow Tory candidate and got 15 more votes than me. Clearly, she had something I lacked.
Nevertheless, neither of us came within 300 votes of beating the two winning Labour candidates. Even if we had gotten off our arses and properly campaigned, we would have had little chance in area so solidly Labour. In my defence, I did have Finals to revise for – and several months’ worth of missed pub trips to make up for.
And yet, despite my total local of personal connection, contact, or interest in the area I was nominally angling to be the representative of, I still got 181 voters. Yes, 181 people thought it worthwhile giving up part of their day, toddling down to a Polling Station, and voting for me. I find that ludicrous – and wonderful.
We are very cynical about local elections. Living in the most centralised country in the free world, where only 15% of revenue is raised and spent locally, we are accustomed to treating our councils as vaguely irrelevant. They only collect our bins once every three weeks, they cut down trees we would like to see stay, and they can’t fix a pothole to save their lives. They are faceless functionaries fulfilling Whitehall directives, and the only use for their elections is to give the government of the day a good kicking.
For all its success in handling the war in Ukraine, this is certainly a government that deserves a mid-term shock. 12 years in power for the Tories have had some genuine achievements, from leaving the European Union to Michael Gove’s historic school reforms. But this is now a government in its late middle-age – tired, thoughtless, and governing by Telegraph op-ed to try and save its own skin.
So tomorrow’s results will likely not be a shock: Tories battered across Scotland and Wales, perhaps holding up in the Red Wall but seeing its fortunes flump in the South and West. Some will call for the Prime Minister to go, few will pay attention to what goes on in Northern Ireland, and you will still have to wait three weeks for your bin to be collected. And, if you live under a Conservative council, your average council tax will remain higher than under a Labour one.
The weary Tory voter thus faces an unedifying choice. Stay at home, and potentially see his council go some shade of red and yellow. Or sacrifice part of his day to vote for a party that continually lets him down, for a level of government he knows will always deliver the same brand of tepid mediocrity. It will not be the case, as the Prime Minister once promised, that voting Conservative will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3. You wouldn’t want to anyway, because of all the potholes.
Nevertheless, despite all this gloom, there is still a good reason to go out and vote Conservative tomorrow. It’s the same that drove those plucky and fabulous 181 dutiful democrats to turn out for me last year. Allowing Labour and the Liberal Democrats to go unopposed results in parks named after Diane Abbott and £30,000 wasted on buying EU flags, and left a once-great city mired in scandal. No matter how bad Conservative councils can be with your bins and money, they aren’t as unswervingly bonkers or morally bankrupt as the alternatives. They are the least worst of a bad bunch, despite their current state. And even if none of them are me, voting Tory remains the sensible choice today.