London needs its own Conservative Party
Updated: Jun 2
There is no getting away from it; these local elections were disappointing for the Conservative Party in the capital. We lost control of three flagship councils. Seven boroughs didn't elect a single Conservative, and over 100 of our hardworking councillors lost their seats.
Behind the negative headlines, there were some successes. The Party's largest gains were in London, with two boroughs returning eight more Conservative councillors each. We took control of Harrow Council for the first time in 16 years. And Croydon elected Jason Perry as their first directly-elected Mayor, ending Labour's disastrous rule.
These victories do not mean the Party is on the rise in the capital. But these successes are more than hangers-on. They demonstrate that the Conservatives can still win in parts of Greater London, including in parts where we have not been successful in recent years.
That's why we must ignore the doom-mongers in the media - and yes, many in the Conservative Party - who believe London is and will always remain a Labour city. That is by no means inevitable.
In 2006, we won 14 of the capital's boroughs - twice as many as Labour. Two years later, Boris Johnson ousted Ken Livingston from City Hall and defeated him again in 2012, securing the mayoralty for two terms. We've turned the capital blue before and can do so again.
Some of our losses reflect national difficulties and the challenge of fighting local elections after 12 years in government. But we can't just pin the blame on the national picture, the Party has to admit - and I hate to say it - that we have a London problem.
While the Conservatives are rightly addressing the UK's long-ignored regional disparities and levelling-up neglected communities, this is being spun by our opponents to suggest we are turning a blind eye to the challenges facing Londoners.
Nothing is further from the truth. We've invested almost £9 billion to build affordable homes in the capital, a further £9 billion to build Crossrail, £4 billion to keep London moving throughout the pandemic, and recruited 2,599 extra police officers since 2019 for the Metropolitan Police.
But sadly, no one hears about this good work due to Sadiq Khan's story-telling. He claims to be powerless, hands-tied, and blameless despite having vast powers over housing, policies and transport with a £19 billion budget. And tragically, he is responsible for delivering much of the government's investment in the capital.
Despite receiving two huge housing grants, he's only started building two-thirds of the homes he promised by 2022. The Elizabeth Line, while a magnificent piece of British engineering, is about to open 1,262 days late and over £4 billion over budget. And before the pandemic, knife crime soared to record levels, and homicide reached an 11-year high.
Much of the government's agenda can chime in London if communicated properly to voters. A points-based immigration system will give everyone, EU or not, a fair and merit-based opportunity to move and work in the UK. That's partly why more Londoners backed Leave than voted for Sadiq Khan - to end the bloc's discriminatory freedom of movement policy.
Levelling-up other parts of the country is also hugely beneficial to London. It will ease some of the city's pressures, such as overcrowding on public transport and the ever-rising cost of housing in the capital. Frankly, it's been difficult for investment to keep pace with the capital's success.
If other cities and regions shared this burden, it would be easier to build the homes Londoners want - well-connected, affordable family-sized homes with access to green spaces. That's the Conservative vision, and it's an attractive offer compared with Labour's plan to stuff people into one-bedroom shoeboxes in soulless tall buildings.
Article by Gareth Bacon MP first published by The Times.