By Martin Seiffarth
‘Red London’ is not the title of a disaster film; it is the headline of this week’s Spectator. That the doom-mongering over the upcoming local elections in London has reached so far is worrying for two reasons: it is counterproductive to the Conservative campaign; and, if the predictions are proven right, the results will be as disastrous for the party as it will be for the capital itself.
‘Disastrous’ may seem an overstatement: London, after all, is thriving both economically and culturally. But London’s prosperity is not a given; it is the result of decades of hard work – work that could easily be undone by even a few years of socialism. Sadiq Khan, in only two years as Mayor, has already caused enormous damage: his freeze on bus and tube fares has left Transport for London with a crippling £800 million deficit; his housing policy has not been met; and his stubborn opposition to ‘stop and search’ has hindered police from preventing violent crime. But perhaps we can excuse him; his priorities, after all, seem to lie elsewhere: whether it is Brexit, Trump, or even tax evasion, Khan perennially seems more concerned with the national cause du jour than he does with standing up for issues affecting Londoners. Khan aside, Labour’s track record is poor on the council level, too: in Labour-controlled Camden, council tax rose by 4.3% last year alone, and will – if Labour wins – rise by 5.9% again this year. Meanwhile, in Hounslow, Ealing and elsewhere bin collections were cut down to once per fortnight in a failed attempt to force residents to recycle instead – the result, predictably, being an enormous increase in fly-tipping.
Thankfully, Labour’s record in London stands in stark contrast to the Conservatives’. Boris Johnson, during his eight years as Mayor, achieved an enormous amount: under his leadership, 1,000 new buses were put on the road, 10,000 new hire bikes deployed, 100,000 new homes delivered. London’s Conservative councils, too, have done – and continue to do – remarkable work on what truly matters to residents: keeping taxes low – the lowest council tax in the country is paid in Conservative-led Westminster – and improving essential services like rubbish collection and road maintenance. These local issues may not be particularly exciting – bins are more boring than Brexit – but they are crucial. They are the issues on which existing councils should be judged – and the ones that they will confront daily from their first day in office.
This is not to say that councillors and mayors are competent merely because they are Conservatives. Conservative principles of self-reliance, private enterprise, and limited intervention are of course important – but more important still is pragmatism. Pragmatism, ultimately, is more than anything what differentiates the two parties at the local level: Conservative councillors are committed to finding common-sense solutions to real problems; but their socialist counterparts in the Labour Party are in thrall to a regressive, stifling ideology that prevents them from doing what is in their constituents’ best interest. There are still, of course, members of the Labour Party who have escaped Momentum’s poisonous ideology, but most of them have, in past months, been systematically deselected, or forced to resign. In Haringey, Southwark, and Lewisham – to mention but three – well-respected senior figures like Claire Kober, Samantha Jury-Dada and Lord Roy Kennedy have been replaced by lesser-known and far more extreme candidates. Equally damaging for Labour will be the raving antisemitism that has been uncovered at the heart of the party. This is likely to be especially damaging in Barnet – a marginal borough where nearly a fifth of the population is Jewish – but should also put others off voting for Corbyn’s Labour.
Conversely, Conservative associations throughout London are more united in spirit and more numerous in members than they have been for years; the vast majority of associations have fielded a full roster of qualified, skilful new candidates for the role of councillor, whilst largely retaining the experienced ‘old guard’ of existing councillors. This is not to say that there are no problems facing the Conservatives: in some parts of London – and especially in the largely pro-Remain marginal seats currently at stake – Brexit is still perceived as Conservative-led treachery. It will be, unfortunately, nigh-impossible to convince most of these voters of the merits of Brexit and of the way in which it is being handled. We must, rather, take every opportunity to emphasise the fact that these are local, rather than national, elections. A vote for a Conservative council is a vote for responsible and effective local governance; not one for Theresa May to remain in No 10. If we fail to clarify this – if the election on the 3rd May is perceived as a referendum on the Prime Minister’s leadership, or worse, as a second Brexit referendum – we will not only suffer a political defeat but we will leave the capital in the hands of people who have proven themselves unfit to govern it.