Victoria Borwick sets out why she’s the right choice to be the Tory’s Kensington candidate at the next general election.
Let me take this on the chin. I lost Kensington in the 2017 general election, but I believe I am the right person to win it back for the Conservatives.
Why? Because I know the reasons that we lost the seat and I know that next time we can put Labour’s Emma Dent Coad to flight.
So what are those reasons?
First, Labour’s red tide has been rising in the capital for a decade. Last year it took 55 per cent of the vote, against 33 per cent for the Conservatives. The swing from our Party to Labour averaged 6.3 per cent. The “Pied Piper” of Islington North basked in the warm glow of over 40,000 votes. Right across London, Conservatives have a fight on our hands to defend our meagre tally of 21 seats. Over that election night, we lost 33 Conservative MPs including 15 Ministers.
Second, the demographics – a high proportion of young people and an ever-changing population – are against the Conservative Party in the capital (though, of course, there is no reason why they cannot be won over to the Tory cause). We need to make Conservative messages of encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship and not leaving the next generation steeped in debt, much clearer.
The cliché of “true blue” Kensington could not be more wrong. It contains two of the most deprived wards in the country and has a high proportion of its children on free school meals. The Grenfell Tower tragedy was a vivid and cruel reminder that in this part of London wealth and poverty exist side by side, and there is plenty to do re-uniting communities and working with our local voluntary organisations.
Third, we need to rethink our campaign strategy. In 2017, following instructions from party HQ, I and my team of campaigners were bussed out to campaign in target seats. Late in the campaign, as evidence mounted that our home patch was under threat, we protested that we were in danger of losing locally, only to be told to stop fretting and focus on target seats. Our manifesto was negative, and we unnecessarily alienated both our older supporters and those with families.
In future, we should accept no hubris from the central Party and, as we proved following our active canvassing in the local Council elections this year, true Conservative messages of giving responsibility to those who can and taking responsibility for those who cannot, investing in social care, in housing, in renewing our infrastructure, and giving a clear vision to inspire the next generation will win back Kensington and other seats.
Finally – Brexit. Kensington voted for Remain and, although I kept a low profile during the referendum campaign and subsequently, I made no secret that I voted Leave on the day. I lost some support over this issue, not least because two candidates with Conservative backgrounds stood as independents committed to Remain, scooping up nearly 500 votes which made all the difference in a contest eventually decided by 20 votes! In my neighbouring constituency of Chelsea, they lost more votes and a larger percentage of votes, so the next election must be fought with messages that resonate with voters.
By the 2022 election, I hope all this will be ancient history with Britain set formally to quit the EU next year. The challenge in the years ahead will be to heal internal divisions and make Brexit work. Kensington benefits from the large number of people from all over the world who have lived here for many years and contribute to our business, culture and philanthropic causes. We know what an important part they play and they are very welcome.
On the campaign front, we need to go further in modernising and professionalising our approach. I pride myself on being a “pavement politician”. I have lived in Kensington all my life, been a governor for a school underneath the Westway for 20 years and have been a councillor and GLA member. I know the constituency and I have been involved in numerous community campaigns to improve lives for local residents.
Before and after my time as the MP, I have championed the interests of local traders and businesses, not least the antique dealers of Portobello Market and the farmers’ markets that boost the local economy and bring vitality to our streets.
But the tried and tested ways of campaigning – though important – are not enough, certainly not in the face of the Momentum-inspired social justice warriors of the Left. I want to take them on and beat them at their own game. To that end, I am planning to work with digital campaign professionals to inject additional intensity and engagement into my campaigning.
To be sure of retaking Kensington, we need to engage far more directly with all of our residents. I will focus on issues that matter – housing, increasing neighbourhood policing, cleaning up the environment, access to primary care and promoting business, jobs and the skills agenda.
I will work with fellow residents to take on Emma Dent Coad, my Labour successor, and ensure that Kensington’s true colours shine through the next time we go to the polls.