“One must at least admire your indefatigability.” That was the response I received from a local journalist for a tweet I sent out about the West Ham Conservatives AGM.
It’s easy to understand the sentiment. West Ham was never a marginal or a target seat in 2015. The seat once held by Keir Hardy, was won convincingly by Labour.
Newham has a directly elected mayor, Robin Wales. Before this he was council leader from 1995. There are 60 seats on the local council, and there are also 60 Labour councillors. As it stands the London Borough of Newham is a single party state with zero democratic accountability.
Being a representative of any other party under such circumstances might be depressing. Being a Conservative seems virtually hopeless. So why do we bother? What motivates us to campaign for the party in an area Labour completely dominates?
The first reason is because, for all the doom and gloom, it is a worthy and rewarding experience. I’ve met many great friends during my time in the Conservative Party and some of the best have been as a part of West Ham Conservatives. When I stood in a Council by-election on May 7th 2015, even as I basked in our success nationwide, nothing could eclipse the fact that our losing effort had still more than doubled our vote share from the previous May and significantly reduced Labour’s vote. We only managed to do this by being tough, creative, and innovative.
Secondly, Newham still has some of the highest levels of unemployment, poverty and benefit dependency in the country. Furthermore, for all Labour’s talk of wanting to help people from ethnic communities Newham has the highest rate of non-English speakers in the country. Meanwhile projects like the underused £111 million Council HQ and the £11 million over budget Collegiate Sixth Form go through unchallenged in the council chamber, while a controversial new pension scheme for councillors is pushed through, all at huge cost to the taxpayer.
Highlighting these concerns to voters is how we have start to win them over. The only way this can be accomplished is if we approach each voter with no preconceptions about who they might support. A lot has been said about some voters being taken for granted. More needs to be said about voters we write off from the start.
The Conservative Party has never been a party of protest. In Newham we will continue to fight indefatigably for the things we value nationally. To call ourselves a national party we must be willing to fight for these things in Newham in the same way that we do in Nuneaton or Northampton.
Matthew Gass is the Deputy Chair (Membership and Finance) for West Ham Conservatives.
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