Interview: Richard Holden

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Interview: Richard Holden
Credit Unsplash

The Conservative party chairman has warned that the upcoming local elections will be “much tougher” for the Tories than last time, while insisting there is “no love” for Labour among voters.

In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service, party chairman Richard Holden MP said the Conservatives will be facing an uphill battle in May’s council and mayoral elections, because many of the contests were last fought during the “vaccine bounce” of 2021.

Mr Holden, who was out campaigning in Belgravia for the party’s London mayoral candidate Susan Hall, said: “We saw in these elections a few years ago, we were polling at 44 per cent nationally, with a vaccine bounce and all that sort of thing.

“It’s going to be much tougher this time for us, over that national picture, but let’s look at the individual results as they come through, because we’ve still got six weeks to go.”

According to a poll tracker by the Financial Times, Labour currently has a national lead of more than 20 points, with support at 44.1 per cent compared with the Tories at 23.4 per cent. Reform UK are in third place on 11.6 per cent, followed by the Liberal Democrats on 9.4 per cent and the Greens on 6 per cent.

Some polls are now putting national support for the Conservatives at below 20 per cent.

Asked what explains the Tories’ poor poll position, Mr Holden insisted there was “no love” for Labour mayor Sadiq Khan in London, or for opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer.

He said: “I was out in Holborn and St Pancras, in Sir Keir’s own constituency yesterday – no real love or interest in Labour [there].

“What they want to see is a united Conservative party delivering for them. We’ve started to see some big progress on that. We saw inflation numbers [this week], really down now – over two thirds since when Rishi [Sunak] came in.

“I want to see more progress, they want to see more progress, and they want to see a united party, really taking a vision to a country.

“I think we can do that over the next few months, I think we’re going to do it in the local elections this year. We’ve got a really good battle here in London and a good battle in our other mayoral and combined authority areas.”

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Asked whether many people recognised Tory candidate Ms Hall by name, Mr Holden said: “I think her name recognition is growing substantially, now as the campaign progresses into these final six weeks.

“But I think the real question that people are asking, literally everywhere I go, is ‘how can we get rid of Sadiq?’ and the clearest thing to say around that, is that the only person who can get rid of Sadiq is Susan.”

He added that Ms Hall is “out there listening to people every day” and would be “a superb mayor”.

According to a Savanta poll published on Friday, Ms Hall is currently on track to receive 27 per cent of the vote, compared with Mr Khan on 51 per cent.

The Conservatives hold five of the London Assembly’s 14 borough constituencies, with Mr Holden saying he hopes the party will make gains there.

He admitted however: “Some of the local government results in London have been mixed over the last few years – we’ve actually picked up some places, and not done so well in others.

“So I’m really hopeful that we can make gains in London. I really want to see us do everything we can to win, that’s why I’m out today.”

He said one important issue for voters is the capital’s night-time economy, with Londoners “just not feeling safe to go out and about”.

The party chairman recently faced a grilling from Nick Ferrari on LBC over his own future as a Tory MP. His current constituency of North West Durham is being abolished due to boundary changes, and Mr Ferrari took issue with whether Mr Holden was enthusiastic enough about attempting to stay on as an MP in a new seat after the general election.

Asked whether it was absolutely his intention to stand at the election, he said: “I hope to, absolutely. I’ll have to be selected by somewhere, but yes, fingers crossed, someone will want me somewhere – and that’s exactly what I’m fighting to get, a seat at the next election. But in the end it’s down to our local parties.”

He declined to say what seats he was hoping to be selected in, explaining: “Not all seats have been advertised yet, some people might still stand down, we’ll have to see.”

The local elections, including the London mayoral election, are taking place on May 2.

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