As we hurtle towards the next round of local elections in the UK, all eyes will be on London. All Councillor seats in the London Boroughs are up for grabs, unlike most other Councils in the country, which will be electing by thirds. Whilst the majority of the London Boroughs are Labour held, there are currently seven Conservative held boroughs, three Liberal Democrat boroughs and one under No Overall Control.
It would not be unreasonable to assume that the Conservatives will lose seats across London in the Local elections, given the national political situation. ‘Party gate’ is still fresh in everyone’s minds, as well as a polarising reaction to the Government’s latest migration plans, which paint something of a bleak picture for the Conservatives. In the past we have seen these votes swing towards the Liberal Democrats, and as the Lib Dems’ popularity is gradually increasing in traditionally Conservative held seats, this trend may well continue. Labour looks set to have a strong election in London, but the impact of local issues such as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) remains to be seen in boroughs like Ealing and Greenwich.
In the lead up to election day on 5 May, PLMR will be monitoring and analysing the local elections across the country with a series of blogs covering the key races to watch. First, we have examined six key races to watch in London.
Currently Conservative-held, the London Borough of Barnet has been identified as a key target for the Labour Party in London, so much so that its election launch event was held there at the start of April. Currently, the Conservative party control the Council, with 37 seats, the Labour Party has 23 seats, the Lib Dems have 2 seats and there is one Independent.
The Labour Party expected to win Barnet in the 2018 local elections, but failed to do so, which is widely blamed on the row over Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, given that Barnet has the highest Jewish population in the country.
The issue that the Labour Party faces in Barnet now is the legacy from the Jeremy Corbyn premiership that caused a lot of mistrust within the Jewish community, and whether Keir Starmer has done enough to distance himself and the Labour Party from this legacy. London Labour clearly think they’ve done enough, but only time will tell.
Croydon Council has flip-flopped between Labour and Conservative control over the years, but the current backdrop of circumstances makes this local election one to watch. Labour controlled Croydon declared bankruptcy in late 2020, resulting in a ban on non-essential spending, and has subsequently said that it may have to do this again in its latest budget.
In October 2021, the London Borough of Croydon undertook a referendum on its governance system, resulting in the Council moving from a Leader and Cabinet model to a Directly Elected Mayor, meaning that local voters have direct control over who is leading the Council. Former London Assembly Member, Val Shawcross, is running to be Mayor for the Labour Party, and Labour members are quietly confident that she will be successful. Although it is possible that the Labour party will lose council seats more widely across the borough because of the mishandling of finances by the former Labour administration.
The London Borough of Wandsworth is seen as the flagship Tory borough in London. Famed for its low Council Tax and many affluent areas, including the newly developed Nine Elms, Putney and Wandsworth Town. Wandsworth is however also a key target for the Labour Party.
Wandsworth has been under Conservative control since 1974 and currently the Wandsworth Conservatives is headed up by Leader of the Council, Ravi Govindia, who has been in post since 2011. Wandsworth Labour has gradually been increasing its Councillor numbers over the last few local elections. In 2010 the Party won 13 seats, in 2014 this increased to 19 seats and in 2018 Labour jumped to 26 seats. It is possible that the national picture will work in Wandsworth Labour’s favour, and the group could win enough seats to take control of the council on 5 May.
It would be a significant win for the London Labour Party if it is able to take Wandsworth, which was famously known as Margaret Thatcher’s favourite local council.
Tower Hamlets has been a borough to watch in London since Lutfer Rahman won a second term as Directly Elected Mayor in 2014, a result that was later declared void and Rahman was found guilty of corruption and illegal practises, resulting in a ban from standing for office for 5 years.
Those five years are now over, and Lutfer Rahman is back! He is now representing a new party, Aspire, which won its first Council seat in a by-election in August 2021.
Tower Hamlets residents voted to retain the Directly Elected Mayor position, rather than switching to a different governance system, which means that the people of Tower Hamlets will get to vote on whether Lutfer Rahman will be able to return to the Mayoralty. Definitely one to watch!
The Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames is a very affluent, Liberal Democrat controlled, borough in South West London. Kingston was the flagship Liberal Democrat Council until 2014, when national opinion of the Liberal Democrats was at an all-time low and the Conservatives took control of the Council. The Conservatives however, only held power in Kingston until 2018, when the Liberal Democrats seized control back with a strong majority of 39 seats to 9.
Whilst the national context paints a good picture for the Liberal Democrats, given the Party’s recent successes in the by-elections in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire, it is not clear whether this will be reflected in the local elections, particularly in Kingston.
The battle in Kingston will be fought over very local issues, of which the Liberal Democrats have come under considerable fire in recent months. Issues such as the potential redevelopment of the Council’s offices in the Guildhall to provide a boutique hotel have caused issues, as well as the redevelopment of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre which caused one Liberal Democrat Councillor to become an Independent. It also doesn’t help that the Leader of the Council has changed twice since the 2018 local elections.
Whilst it is seen as unlikely that the Liberal Democrats will lose control of the Council, it will be interesting to see the impact of local issues on the Party’s Councillor numbers.
The London Borough of Havering is the closest race in the local elections happening on 5 May and is possibly one of the most interesting boroughs in London.
Currently under No Overall Control, with a Conservative Leader, Havering is tucked away in the North East corner of London and generally identifies more with the politics of neighbouring Essex boroughs, than London politics. The Current political make up is 26 Conservative councillors, five Labour Councillors, eight Resident’s Group members, six Upminster & Cranham Residents’ Association members, six Independent Residents’ Group and finally three North Havering Residents’ Group members.
Given the vast array of councillors from different parties in Havering, it is difficult to say whether the national picture will have a huge effect on the Conservative’s chances in the borough, and although it may be a tough ask, there is a slim possibility the Conservatives could take control of the Council. The result in Havering will depend on how popular locally the various Residents’ Group members are, and how much local people feel they have done for them. Whilst it is very unclear what the outcome will be, Havering’s result will definitely be one to look out for!