The Tory administration in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, so it was said, was Young Dave’s favourite council, the embodiment of how conservatism could deliver a new kind of local Government. For the Guardian’s Dave Hill, not a great fan of The Blue Team, it was “every Tory failing in one place ... exemplifies every ruinous folly of contemporary, radical Conservatism”.
Hill’s analysis should be read when the post-mortem starts: anyone who needs to know why the Tories unexpectedly lost control of LBHF to Labour last night will find reason enough in the Guardian man’s report. When Chelsea and Fulham’s Tory MP Greg Hands concentrates on the issue of Charing Cross Hospital (and accuses his Labour opponents of “lies”), he misses two other reasons his pals lost.
Yes, there were concerns about hospital provision, and with good reason, but the most significantly-sized elephant in the room is, as Hill points out, LBHF’s slavish embrace of property developers and almost Messianic zeal for any scheme that would make lots of money and clear out all those rotten Labour voting plebs who still cling to the idea of social housing as A Good Thing.
And nothing epitomises this more than the proposed – and hotly disputed – “redevelopment” of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, together with the demolition of the Earl’s Court exhibition centre, in favour of a new development by property company CapCo, which would redefine “affordable” housing as that within the reach of those earning upwards of £70,000 a year.
Meanwhile, hundreds of homes from the borough’s existing stock of social housing have been sold off, with (for instance) 158 of them fetching £63.9 million. And the amount reinvested between April 2010 and September 2013? £0. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Anyone wishing to understand the apparently miraculous reductions in Council Tax need look no further in understanding how this has been achieved.
And then there is the question of education: while LBHF under Tory control was determined to close Sulivan primary school and gift the site to another Free School project, they were also encouraging the likes of the loathsome Toby Young to open, er, another primary school, to be part of his Free Schools empire. That not all parents in the area favoured this approach was not considered.
When the Charing Cross Hospital saga is put alongside the trashing of West Kensington, Gibbs Green and Earl’s Court for the enrichment of the Tories’ property developer pals, and the closure of inconvenient local authority schools for the benefit of their Free School supporting pals, it should not prove too difficult for Greg Hands to understand why his team got kicked out last night.
The only lesson needing learning is for Labour to replicate the result elsewhere.
Nobody living in Hammersmith is surprised by this result. The Tory council has been contemptuous of anyone who doesn't share their views and isn't like them. They published 'council' magazines that were pure propaganda and did not welcome residents' contributions. They believed the state had no part to play in civil society and that the less than well off should live elsewhere. They had no regard for the physical beauty of the borough and understood the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Three cheers for democracy and the intelligence of the Hammersmith electorate.
The lesson for Labour would appear to be that there is a lot of grassroots antipathy to the kind of policies followed by Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives and that Labour did not fully recognise this.
Hopefully Labour will try to understand better that antipathy and build on it. If it was David Cameron's favourite council there should be away to use that antipathy against him. There is more potential in that than in meaningless photo opportunities.
Rather childish of me I know, but I have to say this result amused me greatly.
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