Tories bid to end Newcastle election hoodoo – 30 years after last winning

“We have a huge Conservative-voting population in Newcastle and it cannot be right that there is no Tory in the council chamber.”

<p>Newcastle Conservatives Chairman John Watts pictured at Newcastle Civic Centre.</p>

Newcastle Conservatives Chairman John Watts pictured at Newcastle Civic Centre.

John Major was in 10 Downing Street and Right Said Fred were top of the charts the last time a Conservative was elected in Newcastle.

Next month will mark a full 30 years since the Tories last claimed a victory in the city, an unhappy anniversary for those bidding to finally reverse the party’s fortunes on Tyneside come the local elections on May 5.

There has not been a single Conservative voice in the Newcastle City Council chamber since Sandra Gilfillan and Nina Hannaford’s terms in Jesmond and Kenton respectively came to an end in 1996.

And for a party that polled more than 35,000 votes in Newcastle at the last general election, coming second in all three of the city’s constituencies, three decades of failure at the ballot box is seen as an aberration.

John Watts, chairman of the Newcastle Conservatives, calls their constant losses since May 1992 a “30-year wrong” and blamed it on tactical voting, with traditionally blue voters switching allegiances to the Liberal Democrats at local elections in order to keep Labour from winning their seat.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Nobody who believes in democracy could surely think that is right, in a city where at every general election the second highest vote goes to the Tories.

“We have a huge Conservative-voting population in Newcastle and it cannot be right that there is no Tory in the council chamber.”

The 59-year-old, who is standing in the Castle ward next month, added: “There are lots of voters in the wards I have stood in the north of the city, Parklands and Castle, where they tell me that there is no necessity to knock on their door at a general election because they are a Conservative household and will always vote Conservative.

“But in a local election, they vote Liberal Democrat to keep Labour out. It is as simple as that.”

One of the Tories’ main targets this year is Gosforth, where retired local GP Doc Anand is bidding to unseat Lib Dem Colin Ferguson.

They are also hoping for success from Leanne Conway-Wilcox in the Labour-held ward of Kingston Park South and Newbiggin Hall, while taxi driver Raja Khan is involved in what is being touted as a four-way scrap in the competitive West Fenham – where Labour’s deputy council leader Karen Kilgour is trying to hang on to her seat.

Coun Nick Cott, leader of the city’s opposition Lib Dem group, said it was “arrogant” to suggest that the Tories had a right to a seat on the council.

He added: “People are entitled to vote how they want in any election, nobody owns their votes. They make decisions based on the issues that they feel are important and that might be different at local elections than in national ones.

“My experience is that people vote for Liberal Democrats here for positive reasons, because they think we can make a difference to their lives. The Tories have no record in Newcastle whatsoever.”

Mr Watts, who has put forward policies including a freeze on council tax and cutting the number of councillors in Newcastle by a third, believes that the Partygate scandal engulfing Boris Johnson’s government will have minimal impact on May 5 – saying it is a “media obsession” and that voters “just want us to get on with the job”.

The Consett-born former police officer, is hopeful that even a single win would be a turning point that could see the Tories replicate the kind of resurgence they have enjoyed in Sunderland over the last few years.

He said: “I can perfectly understand that the Lib Dems would be fearful of us making a breakthrough, look what happened in Sunderland. We had six seats, then eight, then 12, and now 19.

“It is not going to happen in the next two or three elections that we have a Tory-led administration [in Newcastle], but it is not beyond comprehension that it might happen in my lifetime.”