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Council leader: ‘Time to end depression over Brexit’

Nickie Aiken issues rallying call at Tory conference over divorce from EU – and boasts that she's Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s 'least liked council leader'

05 October, 2018 — By Richard Osley in Birmingham

Cllr Nickie Aiken: ‘I’m sick to death of all this discussion about a second vote. What was the referendum? It was a people’s vote’

WESTMINSTER Council leader Nickie Aiken told a Conservative Party conference fringe meeting that people needed to “stop being depressed” about Brexit as she called on ­members to make the best of Britain’s divorce from Europe.

With the issue causing splits among Tory big-­hitters, and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson directly challenging prime minister Theresa May’s Chequers deal exit plan, Cllr Aiken said she had got over her own initial disappointment with the result of the 2016 referendum and now wanted to see more positivity about the future.

And, although she told the meeting at the Library of Birmingham on Monday afternoon that she had “cried for two days” after the Brexit result, she said she did not support the idea of going back to the country for a view on the prime minister’s final deal.

She also boasted about how she was the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s “least liked council leader” after backing out of the Oxford Street pedestrianisation project in May – but that she considered that to be a “badge of honour”.

At a panel event organised by the Respublica think tank, Cllr Aiken said: “We’ve got to stop being so depressed.

“I’m sick to death of all this discussion about a second vote. What was the referendum? It was a people’s vote. I didn’t agree with the decision, but that’s democracy, and whether you like it or hate, you know what, let’s just get on with it. Let’s just make the best deal we can. If we can’t make a deal, fine, we’ll just get on with it. That’s what we do in Britain, we get on with it, we find the best route forward – and we have to be positive. Because, what’s the alternative? It ain’t pretty.”

A panel discussion had been debating how the Conservatives can be more attractive to voters in London after testing local authority election campaigns.

Cllr Aiken was introduced as an “innovative” council leader and praised for keeping the City Council blue among speculation that Labour would challenge for a historic win at May’s council elections. She told the room that the best route to success was to listen to a “silent majority”.

Cllr Aiken said: “At the end of the day, for me, it’s about listening and making ourselves relevant. Politicians have got to remain relevant to the people they serve, which is of course everyone.

“And that is why we have seen things like Brexit, which have really split this country – it breaks my heart – that’s why we have seen Trump being elected in America, that’s why we saw Macron take on the establishment in France.

“The people are speaking, and the people are saying ‘enough, not in my name, the old world does not work any more’.

“We have got to respond. If we don’t, we will become irrelevant and then we will have extreme, extreme politicians taking over the language and taking over the debate.”

She added: “I always say that I listen to the silent majority. Yes, the loud minority have to have their say but it’s the silent majority that we have to trust and we have to deliver for them.

“So things like Oxford Street, which was a massive issue as you can tell. I am probably the least liked council leader for the mayor – and I wear that badge with honour. I do, because I listened to the people of Soho, Marylebone, Fitzrovia. I listened to the people of Bayswater. I listened to the people of Hyde Park, who said this is not going to work, this is going to really cause us issues. There’s got to be a better way.”

London School for Economics professor Tony Travers, a fellow panellist, had reminded the room that, while the Tories had held onto Westminster – considered one of its flagship local authorities – Labour had eaten into their vote share.

Cllr Aiken acknowledged this too, telling members: “We lost for the first time a seat to Labour in the West End because people were saying, you know, ‘you’re not listening’.

“So that’s why we had to make that decision. We had to come out, straight after the election, and show the people that we can be trusted, we are the custodians of your streets, of your villages, of your neighbourhood and we are going to listen to you.”

She added: “That’s why we are going to have a complete overhaul of our planning system, again putting people – and not just the residents but the developers as well, and the home builders – at the forefront of what we are doing. And the businesses.

“This is a partnership. Nobody can run a city or a borough in isolation, it’s got to be a partnership. We’ll always have to agree to disagree sometimes, and sometimes you have to say ‘trust us, we know what we are doing, we are going to drive this agenda through’, but we’ve got to give the faith back to people.”

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