Thursday 7th May 2015 was a rainy day in Loughborough. Barely ceasing, the rain poured down onto an uncertain political scene – Education Secretary Nicky Morgan was defending a fragile majority of 3,744. Local Conservatives, defending their (historically high) majority on Charnwood Borough Council, were bracing themselves for losses. Labour bussed in supporters from all over Leicestershire hoping- expecting- to make serious gains in this most central of middle England seats.
Then the flood came. Nicky Morgan not only defended her seat, but increased her majority to over 9,000. At Borough level, Conservatives not only defended their majority but actually made gains – significant gains. Shelthorpe (once Europe’s largest Council estate), Southfields (central Loughborough, Labour since Mrs Thatcher was in Downing Street) and Garendon (site of a hugely controversial housing development, Labour since the dawn of time) now all have Conservative Councillors. Labour’s Deputy Leader on Charnwood Borough lost her supposedly safe seat to a first year university student.
Right across Leicestershire, the Conservatives went from strength to strength. The party increased its vote in every single constituency in the county, gained control of Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council and increased its number of councillors on Harborough, Blaby, Melton and North West Leicestershire District Councils.
Only the People’s Republic of Leicester withstood the rise of the blue tide. Having Labour MPs since the days of Ramsey MacDonald, and with a majority of 52 on the 54 seat City Council, Labour really are going to take some shifting in their socialist citadel. Why the huge disparity between city and county? In a word – demographics. The city of Leicester can broadly be divided between the predominantly Asian areas of north and east Leicester (communities which traditionally vote Labour en masse), and the white, working class estates in the south and west of the city (which include some of the most deprived areas in the country).
Ending Labour’s strangle-hold on the City is arguably the greatest challenge facing the Conservative Party in Leicestershire today and will undoubtedly take a generation to alter. A key part of this will be breaking the link between a person’s family background and Labour inheriting their vote. Amongst British Asians there is some evidence that this is starting to happen. Binita Mehta, the 24 year old Leader of the Conservative Group in Watford recently said in a Telegraph article that the younger generation of British Asians are much more likely to question and develop their own political views than would have been the case with their parents.
This, then, gives the Conservative Party a real opportunity in the long term to make inroads into Leicester. The party of aspiration, the party of community, the party of business could also be the party of Leicester’s Asian community. Kishan Devani, the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Leicester East at the General Election did a lot of work to build the party in the community. But in an area where Keith Vaz is king of all he surveys, making any kind of break-through this time around was always likely to be an uphill task.
In the county of Leicestershire, there really hasn’t been a better time to be a Conservative. The challenge the party now faces is turning the gains made in May into longer term Conservative supporting areas. This can be done, but it will take a combination of strong Conservative government (both nationally and locally) and a continuation of the committed campaigning on the ground.
James Poland is a Councillor for the Wreake villages in Leicestershire.
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