Theresa May is Prime Minister and MP for Maidenhead.
Conservative activists could be forgiven for putting their feet up over the bank holiday. For many, it will have been the first weekend in months when they had not spent hours pounding the streets with a bundle of leaflets in hand, or knocking on their neighbours’ doors. As they give their weary feet a rest, they can reflect on a job well done.
Parties eight years into government usually brace themselves for heavy losses at local elections. Councillors by the hundred – through no fault of their own – can find themselves losing their seats because of national political forces that are beyond their control. But this last week, it was different.
Our party’s strong performance in the local elections last week – far exceeding the expectations of the pundits – was down to a number of factors. The strong record of Conservative councils delivering lower council tax and better public services. The action the Conservative Government is taking nationally – to strengthen the foundations of our economy, improve and invest in our public services and deliver a Brexit that works for Britain. Our revitalised campaign machine, which Brandon Lewis and Mick Davis, the Party’s Chief Executive, have been working hard to develop. But one thing above all else ensured that last Thursday was a good night for the Conservatives – and that was the hard work and dedication of our candidates, members and activists.
As Leader of the Conservative Party, I want to thank each and every one of you. To the activists who travelled to support colleagues in different areas, to the volunteers who gave up their time at weekends and after work, to the people who made a donation to the fighting fund: you are the lifeblood of our party, and your contributions have made all the difference.
The new councillors elected last week for the very first time are about to start one of the best jobs in public life. Those who have just been re-elected will know the challenges and rewards that come with the territory. And to those excellent councillors who lost their seats last week – I am sorry that your hard work did not meet a better reward and I want to thank you for everything you have done for our party and country.
Every single candidate, of whatever party, did something very special last week. Our way of life in Britain depends on the willingness of ordinary citizens to do something extraordinary – to stand up and be counted, to be exposed to scrutiny and criticism, in order to win the chance to make the lives of your neighbours better.
I know first-hand what a privilege it is to be elected to serve your local area as a councillor. I started my political career as a borough councillor in Merton in south London. I know it is hard work. The months between getting selected and hearing the results declared are some of the toughest of your political career. You rely on the support of your team – working together to write and deliver your literature, to canvass, to man the street stalls. But as the candidate, it’s your name on the ballot paper and your face on the leaflet.
That has never been easy, but in recent years it has become harder than ever because of the aggressive and unpleasant tone which has crept in to our public life. We have seen it worsen over the last decade, as our politics has become more polarised and social media has provided both a more direct means of communication and a new way of delivering abuse.
We know that our party has not been the source of this bitterness. But in the way we do our politics, we can be part of the solution. We strive to live up to the best traditions of our democratic process. Guided by our principles, we stand in service of our country and its citizens, not an abstract ideology. When we speak to people on the doorstep about the issues that matter to them, we respect the person we’re talking to even if they vote another way or have a different political perspective. We know that while political differences may separate us, so much more unites us and we can all achieve more by working constructively together.
I believe this decent, practical view of politics is much closer to the hearts of the British people than the angry and partisan approach that increasingly characterises the left. It is how we will build our support and how we will attract new members to our fold. Most people don’t view politics through an ideological prism. They expect disagreements and debate about the best way forward. But they also want practical solutions which will improve people’s lives. And from the Conservative councils that keep taxes low and deliver great local services, to the action the Government is taking to strengthen our economy, invest in our public services and deliver Brexit – practical solutions are what our Party is providing.
After a well-earned rest over the weekend, I know that from today Conservatives across the country will be back getting on with the job of delivering for Britain.