Cllr Morris Bright is the Leader, Hertsmere Borough Council, the Deputy Leader of Hertfordshire County Council and the Chairman of the Board of Directors at Elstree Studios.
I was sitting in a Hertfordshire County Council meeting on the hottest day ever, a few weeks back, when the Leader, Richard Roberts, turned to me and said:
“Morris, just what is in the water in Hertsmere?”
And you know, I couldn’t tell him. But I knew exactly what he meant.
Historically, Hertsmere was always a quiet unassuming place on the political landscape. As extreme north London ends and Hertfordshire begins, that’s where we are. Some 105,000 residents across townships including Elstree & Borehamwood, Radlett, Shenley, Bushey & Potters Bar. We were founded in the early 1970s. We’ve only ever had three MPs. Two of them – Cecil Parkinson and Oliver Dowden – have been party chairman. And other than a hiatus in the mid-1990s, the council has always managed to stay blue with varying degrees of majority, from just one, up to 33.
Things started to change in the mid-twenty teens; a new Member of Parliament after James Clappison had done a great stint of 23 years – Oliver Dowden CBE, one of David Cameron’s right-hand people, a senior adviser predicted to be destined for higher things. At the 2019 all-outs in Hertsmere, we took 29 seats, Labour seven, and the Lib Dems three.
Considering these elections took place against the backdrop of what was looking like a failed Brexit, and with councils falling around us, we were very happy with our numbers. Less so to see three Lib Dems back, when we’d managed to wipe them out of Hertsmere, and also a small Labour opposition with more left-wing tendencies than anything we’d had in the authority for almost 20 years – and with a propensity for being vexatious in both council and outside. Our party had a big churn of councillors in 2015 and 2019 and the new members hadn’t seen anything like this before. I had and I knew it wasn’t going to be nice. And now with social media in the ascendancy many of our people were seeing a real opposition for the first time and a pretty unpleasant one at that.
Yes, after a while, the sea of lies and misinformation can get a bit galling, but we’re made of stern stuff in Hertsmere. And whatever is in the water, we won’t let the keyboard warriors and disingenuous opposition councillors bring us down. We have all outs next year and while we all know that local elections can be used for protest voting and to express satisfaction and also dissatisfaction with incumbent governments, we know what we’ve done and achieved in our neck of the wood and in the hardest of times.
We’ve been putting out regular ‘In Touches’ for many months now and with QR codes and all, as well as the Association taking someone on part-time to assist with social media and making sure we get our news out across different platforms and through to all age groups.
Our job post-COVID is to remind residents of – what they have told us in local independent polling over the years – why they like living where they do. We are explaining what the ruling Tory administration has achieved both during and post-pandemic. And we carefully point out – being wary of too much negativity which can turn people off – why the other lot really aren’t up to it.
In the past month, for example, one of Labour’s seven councillors has been found guilty in court of public disorder offences including the abuse of a female council officer. £2,000 in fines. We’re all waiting to hear if at national level, Labour will be throwing her out of the party. One of the three Lib Dems, its leader until recently, posted on social media just days before the case, his support for the Labour councillor and paid towards a GoFundMe page to cover the legal costs. Yes, really.
Hertsmere does have a great story to tell. We’ve just opened our two new state-of-the-art sound stages at council-owned Elstree Studios – the home of The Crown and Strictly Come Dancing – and SKY/Universal have just built their largest studios outside of America in our patch with Ariana Grande preparing to shoot a film version of Wicked there soon. Exciting times for the creative industries and a huge boost for jobs and our local economies. We’ve new bike schemes starting as well as helping fund the now nationally recognised Borehamwood Football Club with its latest development plans – the ground is used by Arsenal Ladies to train. Lots of money has gone in to parks and green spaces – seven Green Flag awards this year. Busier high streets, low unemployment. Lots done. Always more to do.
So do feel free to come and visit us in Hertsmere, especially in the run-up to the 2023 local elections, where any help with canvassing and leaflet dropping would always be appreciated. Might be wise though to bring your own water. Just to be on the safe side.