Cllr Olly Scargill is a councillor on North Tyneside Council.
In my ward the Conservatives used to come third – after UKIP. The last time Labour lost it, before I won in 2022, Gordon Brown was Prime Minister (and I was seven years old). But this year, it returned one of the largest Conservative majorities in the region.
When you look at the polling, you might think the phenomenon of the ‘red wall Tory’ is over. Most of the polls are suggesting a 1997-style landslide for Labour – and, if there isn’t a miraculous change in fortunes, most Conservatives in the North East will be wiped out. Yet, when faced with the reality of living under a Labour administration, the feeling on the doors in my ward is quite different.
With the cost-of-living crisis on everyone’s minds, people want us to be more careful than ever with how we spend their money. If you live under a Labour Council, you will have seen the costly vanity projects and questionable priorities. So, you can imagine the anger when North Tyneside Labour spent £1.5 million on a new (and dangerous) Dutch-style roundabout – only to rip up half of the cycle paths a year later to make way for their even more unpopular development of 3,000 new houses on green space.
Whilst residents say we need to get back to the basics, our Labour Mayor recently opened a £19m bus station which offers people routes into a town centre that has become desolate under her leadership – with more vacant units than ever. Nothing encapsulates Labour better than this: a road to nowhere.
Getting that message across to people can be really difficult. Most of the North East has voted Labour for generations and it may seem like many voters wouldn’t imagine backing another party. But once we get our message across, people listen – they start to talk about money being wasted, the failures of the Labour Council, the strange and expensive projects. Residents begin to question for the first time why their Council tax is being spent on morph statues across the borough. Highlighting this waste to residents was my strategy and it really worked.
Above all, I think people know the difference between Westminster Conservatives and their local Conservatives. Doing the campaign right means you can ride out the inevitable ups and downs of national politics. Talking about local issues that matter to people will always be a stronger message than moaning about the government in the abstract. Labour just doesn’t seem to get this.
In the 2022 local elections, Conservatives faced huge losses across the country – losing nearly 500 local councillors. But people in North Tyneside voted differently. For the first time in a decade, we won Collingwood Ward. It was a fantastic and humbling night, but we knew we had our work cut out to prove we were the right choice.
This year, it was clear Labour wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Their red army came out in droves on polling day – I remember seeing Alan Campbell MP on a door at about 9pm. That was pretty intimidating compared to five of us (one of them being my mum). But we more than doubled our majority, again bucking the national trend. Despite all of Labour’s efforts, Labour voter after Labour voter was switching to us. It felt like December 2019 again.
We’re also helped by the fact that Labour has regionally unpopular figureheads. The undignified catfight between North of Tyne Mayor, and Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness, has not endeared Labour to voters. The former has walked away from the party following his rejection as a candidate, whilst the latter is incompetent in her current role and harbours aspirations to be incompetent as the new North East Mayor. Wherever voters turn in North Tyneside, there’s an unpopular Labour politician waiting in the wings to disappoint them.
Next year, we have all-out elections. All sixty councillors in North Tyneside are up for election due to local boundary changes. It gives the Conservatives a fantastic opportunity and our message to voters will be stronger than ever. The best message in a campaign is always the most positive one.
Weird things happen in all-out elections – some voters might only use one of their votes, some might vote three different ways, some might lend a vote to a candidate they recognise even though they wouldn’t usually vote that way. We’re preparing for some very interesting results.