How the Tories won Harlow and the challenge ahead running the council

Politics / Mon 10th May 2021 at 07:21pm

FOR nearly eight years, this reporter has attended council meetings, cabinet meetings and scrutiny meetings where the Harlow Conservatives have slammed the council, questioned the council, made demands of the council etc etc.

Two years ago, this reporter met the new chair of Harlow Conservatives for a coffee at The Sandwich Bar in the town and questioned whether they were ever going to get into power or even have a decent stab at it?

Cllr Perrin pledged that they would.

One of the major factors in the Conservatives winning power in Harlow was, to say the least, they gave it a go.

In nearly every ward, they campaigned and campaigned and campaigned.

They also had a very slick, effective and proactive campaign on line.

Yes, it certainly looked like they had a healthy war chest (there are limits) but it was targeted wisely.

The campaigns were as clear as the Sacchi campaign of 1979 (Britain Isn’t Working). The campaign, especially their videos had vision and hope.

A lot of credit must go down to the new Bush Fair councillor Dan Swords, who as Robert Halfon’s apprentice had taken the MP’s social media presence to a new level.

But behind it was a well organised team of seasoned experienced local councillors.

There were also some promising looking new candidates such as James Leppard, Nicola Purse, Alastair Gunn and Gareth Williams.

Of course their victory was clearly helped by Vaccinations, Brexit, Boris Johnson, (like Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon being the incumbent). Furlough (there is, we believe a massive number of people in Harlow on furlough).

And so now we have a Conservative administration for the first time in nine years.

There is now (probably) going to be a honeymoon period. The Tories will look at the way things were done and may well want to change both in policy, structure and tone. You can see that already with the bins not being collected. Although they may want to make sure that things don’t end up as they have in Thurrock just now.

They will be aware that there were major stakeholders who fled they had a better relationship with the Malcolm Morley/Jon Clempner partnership than the previous one.

Relationships with the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town project will be interesting. One word: Monorail.

There are also organisations such as Discover Harlow that they may have a limited shelf life unless they can justify themselves to their new bosses.

What about Harlow Times magazine?

It will also be interesting to see what the relationship between a Tory administration and the Harlow Playhouse. Can’t say we have seen many Tories at events there (although Andrew Johnson has a close association to Victoria Hall in Old Harlow).

As we said in our Labour review: You campaign in poetry and you govern in prose but having made a lot of pledges, the people of Harlow are going to want to see the potholes filled in (properly); more police on the streets and the solve rates increased; an increase in council house building. Results not excuses.

The residents will want to see physical evidence of improvement in the town centre. Not “It’s complicated” Lots of different companies own different bits. That’s not what it said on the tin. The clock is already ticking.

It will also be interesting to see the relationship between the leading Tories. We assume that Andrew Johnson will lead but he has a very ambitious deputy in Joel Charles. They have worked in partnership for many years as opposition but it will be interesting to see the dynamic now in power.

We imagine, Mike Hardware may chair planning and Simon Carter may lead Housing. They may want to change certain portfolios. Russell Perrin may well head Resources.

A Labour run Harlow Council brought a lot of colour to this town. They brought back the Carnival, they were starting to bring businesses together and seemed to have the finger on a lot of pulses. They also delivered a balance budget.

It could easily be that a Conservative run Harlow Council becomes the very definition of a cynic. It will know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

But resident may say this is not a talent show and then may not cate. They will care about they council tax bills, the state of the roads and everything else the Tories have made pledges over.

They will benefit from a better relationship with Tory run Essex County Council but must not be their silence partners.

This will be a real test for the Tories. They will all need to commit to all that it takes to being in power. All the criticism of Labour we made in yesterday’s piece could end up applying to them.

Conserve the good, reform the bad was at the heart of the Tamworth Manifesto by future PM Robert Peel. Perhaps time for a Harlow Manifesto. If not, the Tories may be back to cold Wednesday nights in opposition asking questions of page 127 of an agenda item and rueing missed chances.

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