Greenwich needs an Opposition – and it seems the voters agree

Our final pitch to voters in the council elections
Our final pitch to voters in the Greenwich Council elections last Thursday

The results of last Thursday’s local election are in, and despite Labour’s plan to win all 51 seats on Greenwich Council this year, we held all nine Conservative seats at the Town Hall – actually winning one more seat than at the last full set of local elections four years ago.

In a borough where Conservative grassroots members are outnumbered by Labour members by more than 10 to 1, this trend-bucking result represents a significant setback for Greenwich Labour – and could contribute to big changes in Greenwich politics in the years ahead.

On behalf of the whole Greenwich Conservatives team, I would like to thank residents for their support last Thursday.  We ran on a very clear message – that Greenwich needs an Opposition to hold Labour councillors to account, and to make sure that residents’ voices are heard when decisions are made at the Town Hall.

Over the next four years, we will act on that mandate and on the priorities outlined in our manifesto for opposition – and give residents the strong, independent voice they need.

After these results, all nine of us are raring to go – and we have big plans ahead.

Labour had the machine – but we had the message

The results are a significant blow to the overconfident Greenwich Labour Party, who saw this as their opportunity to wipe the Conservatives off the map.  As long ago as 23rd May 2014, as the votes in the previous council election were being counted, a senior Eltham Labour figure made sure he was overheard boasting to a colleague that next time, Labour had the chance to unseat every opposition Conservative councillor left.

This has been their strategy since then – with the people behind it seemingly emboldened by last year’s General Election result.  Over the last few months, we found ourselves significantly outnumbered by Labour activists on the ground – apparently bolstered by Momentum members, who were told to target Eltham South ward in particular.

Bizarrely, however, Labour chose not to localise their campaigns or make any local pledges at all to voters in each ward.  The usual election address-style leaflet from local candidates was replaced by the little red book.  Letters to voters in the Eltham wards came not from the local candidates, but from Clive Efford talking about national issues, with candidates barely even given a namecheck.

If there was one lesson to be learnt from last year’s General Election, it’s that this hubris simply doesn’t work – but Labour missed it.

By contrast, Greenwich Conservatives did what we always try to do – make local council elections about local issues, not national party politics.  That’s what the voters expect and deserve.  We focused on our (strong) track record of delivering real improvements in our wards – and across the borough, we asked the electorate to consider what an all-Labour Council would actually mean, in practice.  They had their say on that prospect on Thursday.

What this result means for the next four years

It is quite something to consider that – despite hundreds of thousands of leaflets from different parties and tens of thousands of conversations on the doorstep – the composition of Greenwich Council has remained exactly the same – with 42 Labour councillors opposed by nine Conservatives.

In a far more important sense, however, the political landscape in Greenwich is very different after these local elections.

The election results will surely have influenced the current Labour council leadership election, and surely not to the benefit of current deputy leader and contender Danny Thorpe, who will be closely associated with Labour’s election strategy and manifesto.

After Labour took the decision to deliver their whole manifesto through every letterbox in the run up to polling day, the fact they made zero progress at all as a result is hardly a ringing endorsement of the bland, vague, uninspiring commitments it contained.

Danny’s leadership rival Averil Lekau, together with a string of Labour councillors who have remained silent on almost every issue for the last four years, have already broken ranks with the outgoing administration on issues around development (most notably the Cruise Liner Terminal).

If the ruling Labour Group has any sense – which remains to be seen – they will take these results, and the election campaign and hustings that just took place across the borough, as a sign that the Council needs to do much more to listen to residents and engage them in decision-making.

We need to see a real change of approach at the Council.  After these results and the approach we took with our unconventional manifesto, Greenwich Conservatives have a mandate to hold Labour councillors to account to make sure they deliver this.

Opposition is catching on

It should be said that if that happy event transpires, some of the credit will have to go to other opposition voices in our borough – and not just the Conservative Group that I lead inside the Council Chamber.

The Green Party’s tireless campaigning in Peninsula Ward, the new Plumstead Party’s strong election result (achieving second places from a standing start), the Women’s Equality Party’s result in Charlton, and the seriously impressive, cross-party, No Toxic Cruise Port campaign, have all added greatly to our local democracy over the last year.

I hope this diversity of opinion continues, and I am looking forward to doing what I can, as Leader of the Opposition at the Town Hall, to encourage it – and to try and ensure that all voices and perspectives are heard.

Finally – a good contest, well fought

As we get down to the hard work of the next four years, I want to end with a final reflection on the campaign that has just finished.  It was, with only one or two exceptions (and one egregious misuse of taxpayer resources), an extremely good-natured, well-fought and dare I say it, comradely contest.

In the vast majority of wards, the election was largely free of the negative campaigning, backbiting and playground politics that can sometimes plague local democracy.  This positivity a very good thing, and something that I hope will continue.

As individuals, the vast majority of candidates from all the main parties acquitted themselves well, worked hard, treated their opponents with respect, and gave residents a clear choice.  They can be asked to do no more than that.

To those candidates from all parties who lost – I know how it feels.  Take it from me that it gets better, and you will be back.

To those candidates who won – see you at the Town Hall, for four years of vigorous debate and discussion over the issues that are important to people’s lives in this great borough.

Those debates and discussions will benefit from more than one voice in the Council Chamber, thanks to the voters’ verdict last Thursday – and our democracy will be far better off for it.

See the full 2018 Greenwich Council election results here.

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