Tomorrow, which we seem to have collectively dubbed ‘Super Thursday’, will see an estimated 48m voters decide on more than 5,000 seats across 143 English local councils, 39 Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, 13 directly-elected city and region Mayors in England, as well as the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd and the Hartlepool Parliamentary constituency by-election.
We will be reporting on the headlines on Monday 10 May in a special issue of LDN, followed by some more considered reports in our usual edition on Wednesday 12 May, and a separate, more in-depth election results briefing once detailed borough- and ward-level results emerge.
For those keen to spend part of their weekend watching the results come through, perhaps keep an eye on the West Midlands mayoral race, the Hartlepool by-election (naturally) and how the Tories do in places like Notts and Derbyshire where they did well in 2017. Arguably London’s elections are not quite as interesting, but the voting trends might tell us something useful about next year’s borough elections. Zooming out, they will also give us a glimpse of just how London’s political landscape looks relative to the rest of the country – an important perspective in light of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.
On a separate note, we were extremely sad to hear of the untimely death of Stephen Ashworth last week. Stephen was one of the foremost planning lawyers in the UK with a sharp mind, a great wit and a strong interest in the political dynamics as well as the legal aspects of his profession, which is one reason that we always enjoyed working with him. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at Dentons. For those wanting to read more, there are marvellous tributes to him here.
Sadiq Khan’s polling lead over his opponents has continued to narrow, only days before the election – though the incumbent still seems set to win by a relatively comfortable margin. The two last polls by YouGov (28 April) and Opinium (2-4 May) both suggest that Khan will not hit the 50% threshold needed to win on first preference votes only. YouGov has Khan at 43% of first preference votes, followed by the Tories’ Shaun Bailey at 31%, the Greens’ Sian Berry at 10%, the Lib Dems’ Luisa Porritt at 5% and all other candidates at a cumulative 11%. Opinium found Khan at a higher 48%, Bailey at a lower 29%, Porritt ahead of Berry at 8% to 7% and all others taking a total of 8%. Previously, between November 2019 and mid-April 2021, Khan fairly consistently polled between about 49% and 53%, while Bailey broadly inched upwards from about 24% towards the 30% mark in the same period. YouGov’s survey also found that the Mayor still has a surprisingly positive approval rating after five years in post, though as highlighted by the Evening Standard, Opinium’s poll suggests that crime has become the top issue for Londoners – and that slightly more would trust Shaun Bailey to ‘handle crime’ better than the current Mayor. But while Labour still seems to rule supreme in London, the picture elsewhere in England is fairly grim for Sir Keir Starmer’s party. As reported by the Financial Times, recent surveys have showed the Labour party 'trailing in the Hartlepool by-election as well as the Tees Valley and West Midlands mayoralties’ – all ‘critical bellwether contests,’ more on which below.
FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Perhaps encouraged (or terrified, as the case may be) by the narrowing polling gap, the two main Mayoral candidates’ antics on the campaign trail seem increasingly forced. Khan has resorted to ‘exploring a bid for the 2036 or 2040 Olympic and Paralympic Games’ and teasing Tony Blair for his hair. Bailey has meanwhile chugged his way through every borough on an old double-decker bus, in an arguably questionable imitation of a certain other candidate. It must be said that the race’s two leading female candidates (of which there are far too few) have, by comparison, largely resisted the temptations of Twitter politics. Sian Berry has been talking to the media about flat fares, rent controls and her pedestrianisation plans, while Luisa Porritt has recently spoken to the press about breaking the glass ceiling, supporting small businesses, and a new road-charging scheme for London. Campaigning organisations are meanwhile continuing to broadcast their asks for the next Mayor, from the London Cycling Campaign’s push for a ‘climate safe future,’ to Friends Of The Earth’s manifesto audit, ARLA Propertymark’s ‘six point-plan’ for London’s rental sector, and charity AKT’s call on the next Mayor to ‘put a housing strategy in place to help LGBTQ+ youngsters out of homelessness.’
...AND LEST WE FORGET
While we have largely focused on the race for Mayor of London, there are of course also 25 London Assembly members to be elected (14 elected by constituencies and 11 Londonwide). As several long-serving Assembly stalwarts like Jennette Arnold (Lab) and Tony Arbour (Con) are not running again this year, Londoners are set to elect a number of new faces to the Assembly, whose core purpose is holding the Mayor to account. Second on the Lib Dem Londonwide list behind incumbent Caroline Pidgeon is Merton councillor Hina Bokhari who if elected would be the first Muslim woman to win an Assembly seat, while Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who has been campaigning to improve air quality after it was found to have contributed to her daughter’s death, is standing for the Greens in Greenwich and Lewisham.
Then there is a list of ‘special’ elections being held by a number of London boroughs. No less than 45 by-elections are taking place across 22 boroughs, which may provide some helpful indications for how the full London borough elections in May 2022 might pan out. Voters in Newham and Tower Hamlets will also have an opportunity to vote in critical governance referendums, which could significantly affect how these councils are run. In Newham, voters will choose whether to replace the current directly-elected Mayor system with the little-used Committee model and in Tower Hamlets, residents will be asked whether they want to stick with a directly-elected Mayor or move to the more common Leader and Cabinet system.
Looking at ‘Super Thursday’ more broadly, as in London, the UK-wide party-preference polls have tightened, but the other way, with the Tories’ lead over Labour now cut to about 5 percentage points. However these are, crucially, a disparate set of local and regional elections and the political dynamics at play on the ground are quite complex. It is perhaps telling that both the Conservatives and Labour are busily managing expectations – fully expecting that, as per more regionally-focused polls, they are as sure to advance in some areas as they are to be beaten back in others.
Meanwhile, for London’s local authorities it is, for the most part, business as usual which this time of year means Annual General Meetings (AGMs).
In Hammersmith & Fulham, which held its AGM as we went to print last Wednesday, the one key change to note was the replacement of Cllr Sue MacMillan by Cllr Sharon Holder as Cabinet Member for Strategy Councillor.
- Redbridge Council’s AGM last Thursday was uneventful, which is unsurprising considering it announced ‘a new and expanded Cabinet’ only in January.
- Brent Council’s AGM on the same day was a tad more lively, with Cabinet members for Schools, Employment and Skills Cllr Amer Agha replaced by Cllr Thomas Stephens and Cllr Neil Nerva replacing Cllr Krupesh Hirani as Cabinet Member for Public Health, Culture and Leisure – but no changes to the planning committee.
- Very much as expected, the action at Camden Council’s AGM yesterday evening was largely limited to the appointment of a new ceremonial Mayor – its Cabinet and planning committee remain as they were.
- Croydon Council’s AGM yesterday produced no changes to Cabinet, but a couple of Labour members on the planning Committee have been replaced.
Watch this space for more next week.
REMOTE PLANNING NO MORE?
The High Court has ruled against a last-ditch effort by the local government sector to keep holding ‘virtual’ committee meetings beyond the expiry date of emergency regulations which allowed them. This means that, from 7 May, public council meetings in England must again take place ‘in person’ for their decisions to be valid. The national Local Government Association has registered its disappointment, as have some London boroughs. For his part, the Communities Secretary has apologised for any inconvenience caused and offered updated guidance ‘for the safe use of public buildings.’ This development creates an unenviable challenge for councils, that will last for as long as social distancing rules remain in force – as they are bound to, until at least 17 May. It remains unclear whether meeting schedules and protocols will be affected and it is understood that many councils are looking for venues that can accommodate Covid-safe in-person meetings. Looking ahead, the Government is consulting on the future of remote and ‘hybrid’ meetings (the Call for Evidence closes on 17 June), and may yet bring them back in future legislation. For now, individual authorities will work out a range of solutions and some temporary disruption may be expected.
- Long standing director of strategy John Dickie, has been appointed permanent CEO at London First.
- Chris Grigg has been appointed as Chair of the new UK Infrastructure Bank, which will launch in an interim form on 17 May 2021.
- Hannah Doody is set to be appointed as Chief Executive of Merton Council.
QUEEN'S SPEECH AHOY
The weekend saw several reports about what will be included in the Queen’s Speech, set for 11 May. While the Government is still keeping most of the details under wraps, it is understood that at least 25 new bills will be included, with the intention of ‘delivering key sections of the Tory manifesto’ including measures to ‘clear obstacles to housebuilding and wider development’. This is likely to include a ‘zoning’ approach, which was part of the Government’s Planning for the Future white paper, in which local authorities will have to designate all land for development or preservation. It has also been reported that one of the bills will ‘outline the biggest reform of the NHS in a decade’ potentially including making the NHS ‘directly answerable’ to the Health Secretary. We’ll be reporting on the Speech more fully in next week’s edition of LDN.
(PAYING FOR) BUILDING SAFETY
Building and fire safety remain high up the political agenda. The Grenfell Inquiry continues this week, with testimony from employees of the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) which managed the building. The Inquiry has heard that the TMO ‘never fully got to grips’ with the actions identified in fire risk assessments and that in June 2017 there were 142 outstanding actions. In Parliament, the unamended Fire Safety Bill has become law, despite efforts from both the Lords and Commons to introduce changes which would ensure that leaseholders would not be responsible for the cost of cladding remediation. Campaigners End Our Cladding Scandal have said that this will ‘ruin’ the lives of hundreds of thousands of ‘innocent people’. The Treasury has meanwhile launched a consultation on the design of a new residential property developer tax, first mentioned as part of a cladding remediation package announced by Government in February this year. The tax is intended to be in place from 2022 and raise £2bn over 10 years to help pay for the remediation of unsafe cladding on residential buildings over 18 metres in England. The tax, as proposed, would apply to developers’ profit from residential development in the UK over £25m – and to new developments as well as the conversion of existing buildings. But is it enough? Campaigners certainly do not think so.
Successful Resident Engagement for Estate Renewal - LCA Breakfast Briefing
We are delighted to invite LDN readers to join us on Tuesday 18 May at 8.30-9.45am to hear from our expert team about delivering resident engagement for major estate renewals and resident ballots.
- Symon Sentain, Director of Property Services, Newlon Housing Trust
- Tricia Patel, Partner, Pollard Thomas Edwards
- Ed Williams, Director, London Communications Agency
- Jonny Popper, Managing Director, London Communications Agency (Chairing)
LCA has been working with Newlon Housing Trust on the Barnsbury Estate Transformation in Islington for over two years. One of the largest and most complex estate renewal projects in the capital so far, the plans will see the redevelopment of the majority of the buildings on the Estate, as well as the refurbishment of some blocks, catering for all existing residents and providing 450 to 600 additional new homes.
After two years of engagement – consulting before and during COVID – the residents’ ballot saw a turnout of 79%, with 73% voting in favour. Having lived and breathed this complex and challenging project, we are now hosting an event to share our experiences and lessons learned, joined by the leads from Newlon and the scheme architects PTE, which will be extremely relevant for anyone involved with estate renewal projects.
If you would like to attend this webinar, please email Sophie Bedford with your name, job title and company details and we will confirm the registration details.
NLA 'ON TOUR'
New London Architecture (NLA), until recently based at The Building Centre in Store Street, has announced that its first ‘on tour’ residency will begin on 21 June at the iconic Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross. As NLA enters a new chapter in its life, its exhibitions and events programme - as well as its famous New London Model - will travel across Greater London as part of efforts to engage more people, foster debate and help the city grapple with the challenge of recovery, before settling in a new permanent home. Further details of the NLA's Summer programme will be announced as lockdown restrictions are eased in line with government guidance, so keep an eye on their website! We were delighted to help our clients King's Cross and our long-standing partners at NLA announce this residency - and look forward to visiting NLA in their new temporary home.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
LDN is put together by a dedicated team at London Communications Agency. The content for each edition is developed from news drawn from the last week from every London local paper as well as the regional and national press, from intelligence gathered by monitoring local, regional and national government activity and from the insight and expert knowledge of the entire LCA team.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact Duncan Hepburn on 020 7612 8480 or email@example.com.
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