Nationally the Tories gained 911 new council seats and secured 40% of the vote at the local elections. This puts them – just – on target for a general election victory. But there was little to celebrate for Bristol’s Tories at these local elections and certainly no sign of a ‘Cameron bounce’ in Bristol.
Despite efforts to take seats in, amongst others, Hengrove, Cotham, Bedminster, Brislington East and St George East, Tory efforts were wasted as they failed to gain a single seat and their overall vote fell 5% on last year to 25%.
This has to be classified as a personal disaster for the self-styled populist Tory boss Richard “Bunter” Eddy – already widely viewed as a ridiculous and embarrassing figure by most people outside the Council House Tory group. Leading the party into elections for the first time, he’s predictably taken the party backwards although it’s unlikely his rather dim, unreconstructed membership will place the blame on him.
The reasons for the dismal Tory performance are twofold and quite obvious. Firstly, there’s little use for a Tory Party in Bristol since both the Labour Party and the Lib Dems have ruthlessly pursued Thatcherite policies for a number of years now.
Privatisation, corporate friendly development policies, a relaxed attitude to free market ideology, selling off of public assets, implementation of flexible labour arrangements within the city council, tough talking and few results on crime, the obsssession with anti-social behaviour, outsourcing, consultants, endless public-private partnerships, heavy city centre investment allied to neighbourhood neglect, PFI, the handing of power to unelected quangos, useless private sector-led responses to major public interest projects such as transport, constant promotion of large-scale, loss making landmark ‘Bilbao-style’ capital projects and pitiful PR-led promises and initiatives that come to nothing have been the hallmarks of both Labour and Lib Dem administrations for at least ten years now. Where is there for the Tories to go? Where’s the clear blue water?
However, for the Bristol Tories, there’s a starker issue than policy to be considered. Image. Perhaps the most significant occurrence, from the Tory perspective, in the election period was the quiet defection of Jack Lopresti from his safe Bristol Tory seat in Stockwood to Patchway in South Gloucestershire.
Young and ambitious, Lopresti has harboured parliamentary ambitions for some time now and his defection to South Gloucestershire is widely interpreted as a snub from the frustrated young councillor to the Bristol Tories and their peculiar and self-defeating style.
At present the Bristol Tories are not in any sense ‘Cameroons’ or modernisers. Hell, they’re not even Thatcherites yet. To understand the Bristol Tories you need to go back to, at least, the fifties. This is the Tory Party of backscratching self-interested chaps in pinstripe suits, gin-soaked colonels and secondhand car-dealing spivs. Basically it acts like it’s the political wing of the Bristol Rotary Club rather than a 21st century political party.
Now while pinstripe suits, faked posh accents and reactionary rhetoric about gypsies and Europe might play well in Bunter Eddy’s strange little fiefdom of Headley Park, it has little appeal or relevance anymore for wealthy Clifton, Redland and Cotham or the inner-city where the Tories really need to start performing if they’re ever to revive in Bristol.
It’s no accident that the Barbara Janke/Stephen Williams Bristol West Lib Dem polite and caring conservative style is making all the electoral running in these wards at present while the Tories increasingly find themselves squeezed by the Greens. David Cameron and his laughable crew of Old Etonians – hardly the brightest bunch to get to the top of the Tory Party – understand all this perfectly well and have positioned their party to make gains in such wards. But the message seems to have stalled as it headed west.
It’s perfectly obvious there will be no Tory revival under Eddy and his mentor, the crashing bore and equally ineffective Peter Abrahams. Indeed were this London, not Bristol, the most ruthless and effective election-winning machine in western Europe would have had these two buffoons out on their pin-striped backsides long ago.
But this isn’t London. It’s Bristol. And we can only conclude that the Tory Party here are a bunch of bumbling provincial idiots. Presumably they’re quite happy to let Bunter continue on his electorally disastrous and well-past-its-sell-by-date path, while dining out on the little bit of power he currently holds courtesy of the hung council?
Thanks to Bunter, his party will be a laughable irrelevance and a politically marginal force in the city for at least another generation. Thank you very much indeed Bunter.
Incidentally, Lopresti lost in Patchway and is no longer a Tory councillor.