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The battle to "out Focus" the Lib Dems in Hull

Fareham Cllr John Fareham, the Conservative Group leader on Hull Council, says making progress remains hard work despite the "Cameron bounce."

Hull is an interesting and challenging place to be a Conservative in Local government with a somewhat unenviable reputation of only managing political power for two years since 1924!  That said I am now
the longest-serving Conservative councillor ever in the history of the city and, as a former Lord Mayor and (by the grace of the larger groups) still a committee chairman it does show that opportunities are still here to be had.  My (hopefully soon to be former) colleague Andrew Percy has used his time here and is a PPC in the marginal Labour seat of Brigg and Goole - the testing times here honing his abilities to take the action home to Labour in one of their seats

We are in an upbeat mood in Hull and getting ready for the local government elections.  In the seat we hold, Bricknell ward, it really is a case of campaigning all year round. The monthly ward-wide newsletters, the street newsletters (perhaps the ultimate in localism) where we are on target to hit issue 1,000 by the start of the campaign season, and the Estate specials for our Council estate, spring off the press regularly.  We truly do "out Focus" the Liberal Democrats in Hull and have done so in this seat since I was first elected in 1983.

The problem we have is the Hull Liberal Democrats have one of the most efficient paper producing machines anywhere - probably a product of having at least two of their National or regional local government "gurus" as sitting councillors.   Whatever one thinks of what they produce (and it is simplistic, over-large fonts, and ridiculous pictures - as well as those phrases we know and love: "local
campaigner chosen"  "more and more people are switching to...." "everyone knows Conservatives can't win here" and of course everybody's favourite: "It's a two horse race") it certainly does get the message across that there is activity. 

This does make it more difficult to break into other seats but, under the new chairmanship of Andy Forster - and aided by a CSI (does nobody in Millbank keep a finger on the pulse of American TV culture transported to British TV) - we have identified modest targets.  To win in one swoop is optimistic, but we all have to start somewhere.  My own seat was pretty marginal at around a 400 majority back in 83 but since then, thanks to a small and loyal team and, when Andrew arrived a decade ago, an equally effective ward colleague, we now do have the best mandate in the city.  We poll over 50% on turnouts averaging 40% - a shade higher than the seat held by one of Chris Rennard's trusty henchmen - and masses higher than most seats where the turnout is considerably lower.

It is interesting, and says much for politics in Hull, that the "Cameron Bounce" is not hitting the streets in depth.  The Conservative vote is more enthusiastic than it has been since 1992, but recruitment campaigns even targeted at known voters who have voted steadily for us even through the dark times still will not persuade people to join us en masse.  Join us they are, but a flood it is not. Yet another challenge in Hull, and yet another example of us bucking the trend.

However we are not downhearted.  Remember we are one of the bigger cities in the country and officially a sub regional centre (something they talk about in the Dog and Duck all the time I am sure!).  We may only have two of 59 councillors (and for 7 years I was on my own until finally "got" in 1995 the year so many of us went) but we fought back. I took my seat back - the first Conservative gain in 17 years - and whatever else is said the more promising electoral grounds of Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, and Sheffield all have NO conservative Cllrs despite more generous boundaries.  So we are buoyant, look to the future and are attempting the fightback aided by the better times we are seeing nationally.


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