In Monday’s Evening Standard, Tory MP Stephen Hammond made an impassioned plea for his party to change course on Brexit to avoid a battering at this year’s London council elections.
Brexit is of course deeply unpopular in London where voters bucked the national trend to overwhelmingly vote Remain in the 2016 referendum, but Tories shouldn’t kid themselves that a change in Brexit policy is going to spare their blushes come May.
Their party’s control over London’s town halls has been in decline long before Brexit became an issue – at the last election in 2014 it scraped together a paltry 26% share of the vote.
This saw it end up with 9 councils and 612 councillors, down on the 11 councils and 717 councillors won in 2010, itself a decline on 2006 when it beat Labour to take 14 councils (up 6 on 2002) and 785 councillors (up 132).
Rather than the Government’s Brexit policy being the main driver of a likely third consecutive drop in the number of Tory councils and councillors, we might more plausibly blame the continued slashing of public sector budgets and the abandoning of hundreds of thousands of Londoners to the mercy of badly run train operators.
When Londoners cast their votes in a few months time, most are more likely to be thinking of their crowded, delayed and yet more expensive train commute, the shuttered up former police station or the under pressure local A&E than whether JP Morgan gets passporting rights which save its well-heeled shareholders having to stump up for a local office in Frankfurt or Paris.
In his article, Hammond correctly says “there are thousands of Londoners who want good local services,” but the most immediate threat to these services is the Chancellor’s refusal to invest in them properly.
Tory MPs hoping to boost their party’s electoral prospects should be lobbying to drop the rhetoric of austerity, otherwise they’ll keep losing ground to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour regardless of how much they manage to soften Brexit.