To turn their electoral misfortunes around, London Tories need to declare unilateral declaration of independence from the national party in the same way that Scottish Tories have done so under Ruth Davidson. Greg Hands is the man for the job, says Peter Bingle.
Election night was a disappointing evening for Tories. At 2159 on 8th June they were expecting a majority of sixty plus. At 2201 they realised that voters had reacted to the worst ever election campaign and the most disastrous manifesto by giving them a very bloody nose!
Nowhere in the country was the result as bad as in Greater London. During the Cameron and Osborne years London was ignored, starved of resources during election campaigns and allowed to decline. How different to the Thatcher years when the Tories had a majority of London MPs.
The 2017 election campaign was supposed to be very different. There was early talk of ten or more gains in London. The result was very different. Once marginal Labour seats such as Enfield North and Westminster North now have huge majorities. Tory seats such as Battersea and Kensington were lost and MPs such as Justine Greening, Stephen Hammond and IDS got the shock of their political lives.
The message is now very clear. More of the same from the Tory high command in London will result in a situation in which Tory councils and MPs are much cherished rarities. The three so-called Tory flagships of RBKC, Wandsworth and Westminster are now all in serious danger of being controlled by the Labour Party after next May’s local elections. Their glory days may be behind them but even so.
So, drastic action is needed to turn around and halt what is in danger of becoming an irreversible political decline in Greater London.
The Tory Party under the hapless Patrick McLoughlin is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to running campaigns. If it were a pet it would be taken to a vet and put down. The situation in London, if anything, is even worse, so action needs to be taken quickly to put things right.
The first thing that needs to happen is that London Tories need to declare UDI from the national party in the same way that Scottish Tories have done so under Ruth Davidson. There needs to be an independent and autonomous party organisation, separate funding and a positive but very different political narrative which makes it relevant to and interesting for Londoners.
It is now clear that London is different to the rest of the country. London Tories need to embrace this difference, throw off the dead hand of CCHQ and become a political force in their own right which young professionals and aspirant voters want to join and campaign for. The status quo is unsustainable. Tory groups and associations are full of people who have been around for far too long. They may have been radical once. Those days are now behind them. They are radical no longer and have become a rather dull part of a mistrusted establishment. The public mood in London is hostile to the Tory Party as the general election proved.
You only have to look at social media to see how brilliant Scottish Tories are at communicating with folk who would never previously have ever considered voting Tory. Many Tory councillors in London have never heard of Facebook and Twitter and those who have don’t know how to use it properly. The political potential of Facebook simply isn’t understood. So the old guard need to be despatched without emotion to the knackers yard.
Ruth Davidson has been a brilliant leader of the Scottish Conservatives. London Tories need a similar face if they are serious about once again becoming the dominant force in Greater London. Who should that be?
Since becoming Minister for London Greg Hands has shown that it is possible for a Tory minister to be highly visible and politically effective on London issues. It helps that Greg served his political apprentice as a councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham. His political and personal closeness to the Editor of the ES may also prove very helpful in maintaining a high profile!
It is still early days but Greg Hands may be the person that an independent and revived London Tory Party needs to get behind as they start the long but essential task of rebuilding their political fortunes. It is a huge task but the alternative is oblivion. There can be no more of the same …