A TOWN PAINTED RED(DISH)?
- Labour win Barnet, Wandsworth and, in the big surprise of the night, Westminster.
- Conservatives gain Harrow and hold onto three boroughs (with a fourth likely on the way) but lose seats across the board with a few notable exceptions.
- As we went to press, the Tower Hamlets Mayoralty looks to have been won by controversial figure Lutfur Rahman – a major Labour upset in the borough.
- Mixed but muted fortunes for the Lib Dems and Greens in the capital
The slightly bleary-eyed LCA Insight Team has examined the news of the day (so far) from many angles and brings you the headlines from London. First we’ve looked at the bare facts, the numbers and the revolving door of political personnel – who’s in, who’s out and who’s possibly in trouble ahead of party group meetings and AGMs still to come.
We consider how the main parties will be telling their story in the capital. The Conservatives who have lost their seats have not hesitated to place the blame squarely with the Prime Minister but will that make any difference to the man seemingly made of Teflon? And what explains Labour’s struggles in Harrow (and possibly in Tower Hamlets too, which is looking increasingly likely as we go to print)?
Finally, we ask what this all means for the capital. With more boroughs painted red will London find itself further at odds with the Government or is it now a deep enough shade that they have to pay attention? Can we read much into these results about the next Mayoral or General Elections? And what of the boroughs where Labour has actually found itself on the back foot?
The big picture for London
As of writing, the results have been officially declared for 24 of London’s 32 boroughs. Labour currently holds 17 boroughs, the Tories have four and the Lib Dems appear to have held onto all three of their strongholds in the south west.
There had been much speculation before the election as to whether Labour had reached its high water mark in 2018 – evidently, they had not in some boroughs, though in others where they were the incumbents, they themselves have faced reversals and even defeat.
The leaders of outgoing Conservative administrations have blamed a “perfect storm” of national issues and Labour had, to be fair, campaigned hard on “partygate” and the cost of living crisis.
But in the boroughs where Labour won control or made significant gains, perhaps barring the slightly more complex case of Barnet, the party had also seen voting patterns shifting gradually in its favour for a long time so it would seem churlish to put those gains down solely to a spur of the moment “protest vote” or sensitive local issues like the Marble Arch Mound.
Even in places where there is no headline grabbing change of political control there have been some significant shifts. In Richmond, the Conservatives lost 10 seats and have just one remaining seat, in Enfield Labour went against the grain and have lost eight seats – meaning things might look shaky for the current Leader – but in Sutton have just won their first seats in 20 years.
Labour smiles - and Tory frowns
Labour winning Barnet had been widely expected but no one expected it to be this convincing a victory. Up 16 seats, spread across this big borough, this is a truly symbolic win for Keir Starmer who can now prove that he has won back the trust of the Jewish community after the Corbyn years. Under Barry Rawlings the incoming administration has promised to ‘protect’ the Green Belt, improve safety and retain weekly bin collections.
Wandsworth, “Thatcher’s favourite borough”, has been trending towards Labour for some years now – its three parliamentary seats have all gone red over the last five years. The outgoing leader Ravi Govindia has been quick to blame Boris for defeat but really the writing has been on the wall for some time.
But Westminster was really the white whale here, the big kahuna for Labour, and the shock of the night. While there was plenty of speculation, the consensus was that Labour had too much to do to make this catch. But make the catch they did, again fairly convincingly – winning Hyde Park and Mayfair against the odds, possibly helped by low turnout.
Merton, Hillingdon and Redbridge (with one ward to be elected on 26 May) have also seen significant Tory seat losses to Labour, some of which might be put down to boundary changes but clearly the national mood music is also playing in outer London. In Ealing and Hounslow the party has held their solid lead gaining two and one seats respectively, while in Greenwich it’s also made gains at the expense of the Conservatives. Haringey is also a Labour hold, but some ballots are still being counted.
Silver linings for the Conservatives
A win in Harrow, which LCA had considered but few truly predicted, balances the story out a bit for the Conservatives. Demographics and boundary changes probably swung the balance as the Tories gained eight seats to take overall control – exactly the same number that were lost in the redrawn ward map.
There are a few other points of comfort for the Conservatives in the capital. In Enfield they bucked the trend to take eight seats from Labour and have claimed that this is due to local opposition to greenbelt development and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (though the places they won tell a slightly different story).
In Sutton, they won a few seats from the Liberal Democrats but more remarkably so did Labour. In Brent, the Tories gained two seats in what was certainly a bad night for the ruling Labour group which lost 11 seats: three to the Lib Dems, two to the Tories and six seemingly to the boundary change ether.
A mixed bag for the Lib Dems
The Lib Dems have convincingly held Richmond, where they’ve taken an additional nine seats, and restricted the Tories (who ran the council as recently as 2014-2018) to a single seat – however the Greens have strengthened their foothold here as well (see below).
As noted above, their majority has been eroded by both the Tories and Labour in Sutton however, the first time that Labour have held seats here since 1974. Meanwhile, Kingston has just been declared a Lib Dem hold, but the full results are yet to emerge.
Elsewhere, the party has made modest gains in Brent, Camden and Kensington & Chelsea and perhaps most surprisingly, Bromley, though they’ll be disappointed to see their group in Southwark shrinking further.
The Greens aren’t quite yet in full bloom in the capital but there are signs of a Spring awakening.
Former national party-co-leader Sian Berry has been re-elected in Camden, but remains the solitary Green on this council. Meanwhile, her colleague and fellow London Assembly member Caroline Russell, until now the only Green in Islington, has now been joined by two colleagues.
And finally, as mentioned above, the Greens have now become the main opposition party in Richmond with five seats, up one from 2018. We’ll have to wait and see whether they can still say the same in Lambeth, which has yet to declare.
More to come...
Counts are still going on so here is a quick status update from across the boroughs who haven’t yet declared in full:
Bromley - likely to remain Tory but there have been rumours of a shift of balance.
Croydon - the Mayoralty and the Council elections are likely to be close run with final results due overnight on Saturday.
Hackney – the Mayoralty was won resoundingly by Labour incumbent Phil Glanville and the majority if not all Council seats are likely to be won by Labour.
Havering – the results from all but one ward have been declared in the borough, with no party gaining overall control. The Conservatives currently lead with 20 seats and the results of the final ward will be declared after a recount on Monday 9 May.
Lewisham – the Mayoralty race was won resoundingly by Labour incumbent Damien Egan and most of the Council seats are likely to be won by Labour.
Newham – the Mayoralty was won convincingly by Labour incumbent Rokhsana Fiaz. The borough is a red state but it may be that the Greens can win a few seats.
Tower Hamlets – a borough where election declarations are always complicated. Former Mayor Luftur Rahman received 47% of first preference votes in the race for the Mayoralty, to incumbent Labour Mayor John Biggs’ 33.2%. As no one candidate received over half of the votes, second preference votes will now have to be counted and as we go to print it’s looking very likely that Rahman will be declared the winner.
The day after for London
Once all the results are in – we’d like to think by Monday at the latest – the focus will shift to people and priorities. Who will the new leaders, committee chairs and Cabinet portfolio holders be? And in boroughs that have changed political control or seen a significant balance shift how quickly will residents sense a change of priorities and policy?
Nothing will be confirmed before the raft of Annual General Meetings over the next few weeks (most are on or around 25 May) and clearly, in Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster, new administrations will take time to learn the ropes. Once they have, we’d expect that their new leadership will enjoy easier relations with City Hall – Sadiq of course knows Wandsworth very well, he was an MP there before moving into City Hall – which could be helpful on planning matters if nothing else.
Zooming out a bit, one question raised by Labour’s advance in London is how it affects the Conservative Party and Government’s approach to the capital. Will the Tories “give up” on London as a lost cause – electorally speaking? If so, expect Levelling Up to mean yet more levelling down for the capital and yet more destructive politicking over Transport for London’s financial future. Then again, their losses in London and regional surrounds may, as one former London Tory MP and Minister hopes, prove to be a “wake up call” for the party, triggering a refresh of policies, pledges and people?
In any event, the next major election for London is now the Mayoral and Assembly elections scheduled for May 2024. Barring the possibility of a snap General Election in the intervening period, this could be the beginning of a relatively calm period in the capital’s local and regional politics – at any rate, it theoretically means that our elected politicians can focus more on policy, rather than politics.
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