The Conservative Party in Waltham Forest: a twitching corpse, maybe, but one that affects us all

One notable fact about Waltham Forest politics is that the Conservatives have very little public presence. The party’s 16 councillors huddle in Chingford and its immediate environs. At elections, little effort is expended anywhere else. Between times, while public controversies come and go, it is difficult to recall a singe example of a significant Conservative or Conservative-led response. Symptomatically, as regards the serious matters covered by this blog – mismanagement of public funds, asbestos, religious extremism, and so on – the Conservative silence has been deafening.

Indeed, as a group, the Conservative councillors (with only one or two exceptions) seem inward looking and complacent, exchanging in-jokes and banter, while loath to do the leg-work necessary to effectively confront their opponents. There is no spark, nor willingness to fight. It is as if all concerned have accepted their fate.

What explains this striking passivity? It is not as if the opportunities have been lacking. In fact over the past decade, Labour’s haplessness can only be called remarkable. So there must be some other explanation.

Over the years I’ve heard various theories. Some blame the baleful effects of immersion in Town Hall culture, others the influence of some shadowy organisation, beyond politics, on the lines of the Masons. However, in my view, the explanation is a good deal more prosaic, and stems from the simple fact that – perhaps surprisingly – the current arrangement suits most of those involved quite nicely.

Matt Davis, as the Leader of the Conservatives, receives £16,516 on top of his basic allowance of £10,322, and makes no secret of the fact that he has another demanding job, which involves regular trips overseas. His party enjoys the privileges of being the official opposition – for instance the services of a researcher. There are occasional further perks. For instance, this year, Labour momentarily set aside its longstanding policy of wanting to dominate everything, and allowed the Conservative Peter Herrington, a noted Davis loyalist, to become Mayor.

On the Labour side, the advantages are obvious: with the Conservatives tamed, there is no danger of being pursued with difficult or probing questions.

So, all told, though everyone in the Town Hall may have to trim a bit, this is seen as a price well worth paying to preserve the benefits of the status quo.

Of course, that said, there is one big loser – the electorate. We pay councillors to stand up for our interests, and challenge vigorously when merited. If I am right, and both parties are colluding in some sort of informal pact, we are being grossly short-changed.