Holly Whitbread: It’s tough going, campaigning in Epping Forest – despite having a good record to defend
Cllr Holly Whitbread is an Epping Forest District councillor and currently works as a parliamentary researcher.
There is no denying that, thus far, this local election has been difficult for Conservatives on the ground.
I have been pushing leaflets through letterboxes and knocking on doors for a few months now in anticipation of the impending local elections. At first, I was somewhat unfazed by the potential impact that Brexit may have on the elections. However, as time has developed, and scenes in Westminster have become ever more unprecedented, there is a tangible sense of frustration and growing anger brewing amongst the electorate. In the past few days, I have had doors slammed in my face, and been called a traitor, and there is a steady stream of known Conservative voters saying they will either not vote, or will never vote Conservative again as a result of the Brexit debacle.
The local and national mood is unrecognisable from May 2017, when standing on the Conservative ticket – the party delivering Brexit – was a huge selling point. Both the voters and candidates are yearning for these more simplistic and optimistic days. We are all bored with the never-ending overly cerebral conversations about the implications of Parliamentary procedure. People want to see their vote translated into practical reality.
Usually, local elections are fought on local priorities. Although local issues remain prevalent, the usual topics of parking, potholes and planning are being somewhat sidelined by Brexit.
However, we must persevere.
On the ground, local Conservatives have a great narrative to sell.
Local elections are an opportunity to champion fundamental conservative values. We local activists know that when we translate these principles into reality, applying them to the running of local authorities, communities can thrive. Up and down the country, Conservative-run councils are keeping taxes low and running efficient services, as well as investing in the future. Providing good value for residents.
In a time when trust is eroding in politicians, Conservative-run authorities are delivering on their mandate to improve and enhance their local area. Conservative councillors and candidates should be advocating for what they can offer locally and championing the excellent work already done.
In Epping Forest, where I am a district councillor, the Conservative-run council is an excellent case study for the success of local Conservativism. The council is run with an aspiration to maintain sound finance, whilst delivering the vital services which residents both want and require. We have a plethora of achievements and an exciting and ambitious vision to proudly present on the doorstep.
We have kept tax low. Epping Forest District Council has only increased its Council Tax once since 2010 and has the second lowest Council Tax in Essex. We are proud to have frozen our proportion of tax for the past nine out of ten years against a background of tax increases. This has been maintained whilst protecting front line services, which are delivered to a high standard, as well as providing additional non-statutory services. In the past ten years, last year was the only year we had a small rise in council tax in order to fund three Essex Police officers tasked in the district, by the district, to help address a scourge of anti-social behaviour. We are working hard to maintain this and hopefully even achieve the lowest council tax in Essex in the future.
Epping Forest has been proactive in building council houses for residents. Our own council house building programme provides new high-quality affordable housing. In order to have access to this housing, you must have lived in the district for at least seven years. More council houses for local families, which are much needed, are in the pipeline.
The council is also investing in the health and wellbeing of local residents. In partnership with our leisure provider, we are providing state of the art leisure services. Existing leisure centres have been regenerated and new state of the art facilities are being delivered. The council has also worked on other ambitious projects to enhance our local area and generate income to fund services, including a shopping park.
At the heart of all we do, we aim to run an efficient and modern council. We have adopted a forward-looking approach, working to deliver excellent customer services and ensuring our model of governance works to the benefit of all residents in the long term.
When communicating with our electorate we are sharing the facts and selling our optimistic vision for Epping Forest. We hope that people can identify that local Conservatives are doing a good job and share our long-term vision for the district, and the individual towns and villages which it is made up of. Whilst engaging with some people is proving difficult, as a result of Brexit disillusionment, to those who will engage we stress the key message that local elections are about local issues and who can do the best job for the community.
I would urge fellow campaigners, not to lose heart. Whilst undoubtedly Brexit will have some negative impact on the local election results. It is my feeling that it is most likely to translate into apathy. People are bored of political stalemate and what they perceive to be ineffectual politicians. By sharing our positive local Conservative message, we hope to help enfranchise the electorate by setting out the benefit of local democracy in putting in place effective Conservative authorities.
So, let’s help shake Brexit fatigue by re-igniting a positive localised Conservative message. Local Conservatives have much to be proud of. Although it is hard work, we must continue knocking and delivering. Promoting the Conservative agenda which we are fighting to deliver upon in Council chambers across the UK, for the benefit of our local communities.
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