Some random thoughts on Brent East
21 Sep 2003
Sir George at the Brent East Conservative's HQ
Sir George at the Brent East Conservative's HQ
Click for a full size picture
Random thought 1.
Call me old-fashioned, but one of the first things to do if you lose in this country is to congratulate the winner. It is happily a long time since I lost an election and I was pretty cross when it happened. But I congratulated the victors of the Clapham Town Ward election for Lambeth Borough Council in May 1971. I think it enhances the public's perception of political parties if we observe the courtesies that are commonplace in sport and indeed elsewhere in society; and it reinforces public confidence in the political process if politicians publicly accept the verdict of the voters. If I had drawn the short straw on Friday morning and gone on the Today Programme to explain my party's performance, I hope I would have started by saying "Well done, Sarah Teather."
And the second thing you do if you lose is find out what happened, so you do better next time.

Random thought 2.
When I first got into Parliament, there was a Labour Government. There were a number of by-elections in seats that Labour had held with comfortable majorities at the previous General Election - Ashfield, Workington, Birmingham Stechford, Walsall. They lost them to the Conservatives.
Those seats were also contested by the Liberals - they won none of them. In all those seats, you could argue that, if the normal loyal Labour vote didn't want to vote Labour because of disillusionment with their Government, they were more likely to go to the Liberals than the Conservatives - but they didn't. The rock-solid mining seat of Ashfield returned a Conservative MP.

Random thought 3.
No national party can write off a seat like Brent East. It is a few miles round the North Circular from my old seat of Ealing Acton - which included a very small part of Willesden. Not an area where it is easy to secure votes for the Conservatives - but not impossible. We came within a whisker of winning the seat in 1987 with a first class candidate - Damian Green, now in the Shadow Cabinet. Conservatives must have a message that resonates for the communities that live in some of the challenging parts of inner London. There must be no no-go areas for the Conservatives.

Random thought 4.
Spending an evening in Brent East last week, I didn't detect a lot of support for traditional Liberal Democrat policies - the folk I met weren't clamouring to join the Euro, to change the voting system, to replace the council tax with a local income tax, to be more relaxed about immigration controls or to release earlier from prison murderers and rapists. And there was certainly a market for some of the things we have been campaigning for - particularly for more policemen on the beat. So it was not a preference for Liberal Democrat philosophy over Conservative philosophy that led to the result. (Many voters were profoundly uninterested in both, and fed up with being stopped in the street and given political propaganda.)

Random thought 5.
We didn't come out of the trap as fast as the Liberal Democrats, when the Labour MP sadly died in July. The LibDem campaign was up and running before ours was, and they were able to make most of the early running. I also suspect they had more people on the ground. When I was there on the eve-of-poll, there were fewer people at our Headquarters than I had expected. Yes, a number of my parliamentary colleagues were pounding the streets with me, delivering last minute leaflets; and many more were telephoning from Central Office, but I got the impression that the Liberal Democrats had mobilised more troops from around the country than we had.

Random thought 6.
In the view of the campaign directors, one issue appeared paramount. Who was local; which candidate lived where and in what sort of a house? The Liberal Democrats, in previous by-elections, have criticised my party for not having a "local" candidate, when their candidate lived in the constituency and ours didn't. They were clearly pushing their luck when they described their candidate in Brent East as a "local campaigner" when she did not live in the Borough of Brent and the Conservative candidate did. But the voters of Brent East must have wondered what was going on as photographs of expensive accommodation in Weybridge tumbled through their letter boxes, along with maps of England showing who had fought where previously. Does this enhance the public's view of my profession, I asked myself, as I delivered my leaflets in Press Place, NW10.

Random thought 7
Is it all IDS' fault? It is convenient to blame the Leader of the Party for every thing that goes wrong. There are issues surrounding the Leadership, as any Conservative MP will tell you, but I believe it is simplistic to blame this on the Leader. The miners of Ashfield voted Conservative in 1976, when Margaret Thatcher was our Leader, and I don't think they identified with what she stood for. For every argument saying that the Party should change its Leader, I can find one that says the Leader should change the Party - but that is for another article. I certainly don't blame the Party Chairman; I applaud the way she is trying to change the Party, to broaden its base, and to persuade party member to see the Party as others see us.

Random thought 8.
So what are you going to do about this? Good question. Right now, I am off to the St Michael's Church Fete at Weyhill, and then I am taking Lady Young to see Calendar Girls.
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Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015