Conservatives launch election post-mortem as local chairman warns of ‘errors of unprecedented magnitude'

Candidate Claire-Louise Leyland believes good policies were deliberately distorted by opponents

Wednesday, 14th June 2017 — By Richard Osley

Claire Louise Leyland

Claire-Louise Leyland

CONSERVATIVES have launched an internal party investigation into their election performance across London, including the failure to win in Hampstead and Kilburn, a key target seat.

Rather than removing Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, the party lost by 15,560 votes, figures which turn this famous election battleground into what would normally be regarded as a safe seat for Jeremy Corbyn’s party.

While the rank-and-file Tory members on the ground believe they had a stronger candidate here than in 2015, one senior local organiser warned of “errors of an unprecedented magnitude” in the wider campaign delivered by central office.

At one stage it looked as if Claire-Louise Leyland, leader of the opposition at the Town Hall, could be one of the big beneficiaries of Theresa May’s move to seek a larger Commons majority with a snap election. The decision, however, has only strengthened the hand of Ms Siddiq, who had previously been teetering with a lead of just 1,138.

The upward trend for Labour across London constituencies suggested that local Tories would have struggled to win however the campaign on the ground had panned out, but rivals have nevertheless suggested that Cllr Leyland tied herself too closely to Mrs May, who has born the brunt of much of the post-election analysis.

“I didn’t think it was right, as Tulip did, to say you were somehow not going to be working with your leader if you were elected,” Cllr Leyland said. “I was standing as a Conservative Party candidate and the aim was to work with Theresa May at Westminster. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise to the voters.”

Cllr Leyland said that it had proved hard for Mrs May and her top team to articulate manifesto policies from a detailed 84-page document, which she said had been misrepresented as attacking the most vulnerable. Policies included a reorganisation of school meals and the winter fuel allowance, which she said were never properly presented as measures that would be means-tested.

“If you look at the manifesto, we were not trying to harm people, we were not trying to pull a fast one on the British people. If we were I’d understand people calling us nasty,” she said. “What Theresa May was trying to do was to help people in most need. We were looking at taking resource from where it was not needed and taking it to people most in need. She was genuinely trying to tackle inequality, to help people.”

Many of her admirers locally believe Cllr Leyland would have been suited to a longer campaign and more hustings. “If you tell students you can have free university teaching, they are all going to vote for you,” one prominent local member said. “Corbyn was promising all things to all people.”

Hampstead and Kilburn was tantalising close for the Tories in 2010 when they fell short by just 42 votes. Even at 1,138, Ms Siddiq’s majority was inside the party’s top 20 target seats.

Gio Spinella, chairman of the constituency association, told the New Journal: “There is understandable disappointment and consternation at last week’s results, especially as this seat has been marginal for so long. Hundreds of men and women have devoted weeks of their time, often putting their personal and professional lives on hold to work on securing a Conservative victory in Hampstead and Kilburn. I would like to publicly thank them for their awe-inspiring acts of generosity and selflessness throughout this campaign.”

He added: “What little solace can be found in the fact that it is a London-wide wave, one the causes of which our party still has to fully understand and to which we must respond. The London party is leading an inquiry into this campaign and Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives will fully participate. “Errors were clearly made of an unprecedented magnitude and we will expect a proper reckoning by those responsible.”

The results have led to Labour confidence that they can go further in Camden next year by cutting the number of Tory councillors at the Town Hall with victories in long-held Conservative seats such as Swiss Cottage and Belsize, possibly forcing the Tories back into a pocket of two wards: Frognal and Hampstead. The Conservatives, conversely, believe they could expand their numbers at the council under different circumstances when the parties go head to head on local issues.

Cllr Spinella said: “Hampstead and Kilburn and Camden Conservatives are battered and bruised but we’re not giving up. We remain the opposition in the seat and in the borough and will continue to offer a clear alternative to Labour. Every campaign is its own story and while the past does inform it, the future isn’t written yet.”

On the future of the wounded Prime Minister, he said: “We are happy that she and not Jeremy Corbyn remains our Prime Minister. We appreciate the words she reportedly said at the 1922 Committee earlier this week and we fully intend to support her as she leads our country through these difficult times.”

Cllr Leyland said she supported Mrs May to stay on, with the Tories going into a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. “Working with the DUP is not such a unique idea. You didn’t hear Labour supporters complaining about it as unusual and extreme when Gordon Brown was thinking about it,” she said. “If you look at the DUP, people may find their views are not all as extreme as the press have made out in the last few days. We are two different parties, we will disagree on issues as political parties do, but the agreement is there to support us on some of the bigger choices we need to make in response to the challenges we will face in the next five to 10 to 20 years.”

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