A Look Back at the Reading Local Election Campaign
As we draw close to the end of the local election campaign it is a good time to take stock. This year has been the first one I have fought where we are running the Council and the national government, and we have had to sort out a huge financial mess left by Labour. To be honest I entered the campaign somewhat concerned that Labour had so many targets to shoot at and expecting quite a difficult time on some doorsteps. I remember my first Reading local election campaign in 1996, when Conservatives nationally were deeply unpopular and I would get leaflets torn up and thrown back at me and doors regularly slammed in my face. I suspected that we might be in for a bit of that this time as necessary cuts and increased charges have hit home.
Of course my first priority has been to ensure that my literature gets out in my own ward and that residents with issues are looked after, and that I have done, aided by a superb team of deliverers and my two fellow ward Councillors. However, I have also made time to campaign in the wards south of the river, both in wards we are defending, such as Park and Church, and wards which are currently Labour held, such as Abbey and Battle. The most strking fact has been the obvious lack of Labour activity. Houses which usually had Labour posters up are bare and residents have told me that they have seen nothing of Labour and had no Labour leaflets. It has also been noticeable that even some residents who are clearly not going to vote Conservative make the point that they will not be voting Labour either. I spoke to one young lady who was a teacher who was quitting the profession because of what Labour had done during their 13 years in power and how she and her husband would never vote for them again.
Jane Griffiths on her blog has bemoaned the lack of posters in this campaign and in much of the Borough this is true. However, if anyone wants to see posters I invite them to take a walk along Oxford Road. In one of Labour’s heartland wards, almost every third shop has a Conservative poster up for our excellent candidate Imran Ishtiaq, and many of the residential side roads have as well. I have only seen two properties with Labour posters on and both of these also have Conservative ones! I understand that some Labour thugs have been threatening shopkeepers to take their Conservative posters down or have their windows smashed. Fortunately so many properties have posters that this threat carries little weight.
One of my Labour sources tells me that the local party is “in a flat spin” about our campaign in Battle ward and they now fear they are going to lose! That same source tells me that the Labour Group had to have a whip round to raise £3,000 which they transferred to the bankrupt local party to pay for the local election campaign, leaving the Group funds very depleted. John Howarth was also brought back to advise on campaigning to try to revitalise their flagging campaign.
All of this of course flies in the face of regular Labour blog posts and tweets which have sought to create an impression of activity and successful campaigning. These Labour boasts are not supported by the evidence on the ground and on the doorstep. Even former-Councillor Tony Jones, who has become known as the “Comical Ali” of local Labour politics, has struggled to keep up the pretence of Labour sweeping to success on Thursday. Of course Labour are being helped by their wealthy Trade Union chums who have paid for huge billboard ads across Reading attacking “The Big Society” and urging people to vote for “the party that will protect public services”. I wonder who they think that means? Surely it can’t be a Labour party which is playing politics in places like Manchester and cutting services like libraries rather than the money it pays for full-time Union officials?! It must be nice for Labour to be able to use public money to pay for full-time Union officials and then have the same Unions donate cash to the Labour party and pay for expensive billboards to attack Labour’s political opponents!
The reaction on the doorstep has been generally very positive with people appreciating the tough decisions we have had to make and the fact that despite this, Council Tax has been frozen. The people with questions about decisions have been appreciative of the chance to discuss them. The only hostility has been from a few previous Labour supporters but even some of them have made it clear that they may not vote at all. The shrillness of Labour’s attacks and their complete lack of a positive agenda has put a lot of people off the party and has certainly motivated Conservative and Lib Dem supporters to vote.
Labour as usual have resorted to telling lies during the campaign. Several people have reported the Kentwood Labour candidate as telling them that we “plan to privatise the Royal Berkshire Hospital”; Labour in Abbey ward have invented a list of roads which they say will have parking meters installed; and don’t start me on the Labour campaign in Redlands ward! If Labour had any decency they would stick to the truth and tell people what their plans for Reading were. I have quite a collection of Labour leaflets now and it is hard to find any positive statement of their plans or policies. Their manifesto was similarly light on substance. Several people have suggested to me that Labour thought that they were going to walk these elections and cruise back into control of the Council with several gains from the coalition parties. What I have seen on the ground suggests that Labour are heading for disappointment on Friday.
This has been an interesting local election campaign in unique circumstances for us. I have faith in the good sense of Reading people and am greatly encouraged by what I have heard and seen on the streets. I am therefore very much looking forward to polling day and the election count on Friday.