"Are you ready for my hot take on the outcome of the local elections? Here it is, my pithy soundbite that explains it all, honed following a week of moonlighting as a media pundit in appearances described lovingly by my own children as ‘not that interesting for us’ and ‘what is TV, can I watch YouTube?’
This hot take is so good that it explains how all the parties did quite well in some places and less well in others. It describes how even in London there were lots of different local stories to tell as, strangely enough, Londoners did not vote as one monolithic elitist block of cycling hipsters or yacht-owning tycoons.
This journalistic tour de force then considers the fate of the parties and their leaders, utilising the finest forecasting technology to call an ‘uncertain’ future for the Prime Minister, a ‘spicy’ future for the LOTO and somewhere between 17 and 207 more front page stories about beers and parties.
And of course, most importantly, to finish on a populist note, I then read the minds of every voter to understand whether they voted Red because of Brexit or was it beer, or possibly bankruptcy or if they voted Blue because of bhajis, buildings (too many of them? too few?) or bleeding-heart-aphobia and, even more impressively, summarise these findings into 25 words or less.
So here it is, in 25 words:
‘This election was sort of relatively OK for everyone and the reasons for that are quite complex and specific to each part of the country’.
Sorry. But look, I can do hot takes for real. I’ll probably have something about the Levelling Up Bill just published (e.g is it a sop to the Tories in the South East who are feeling bruised by a Red Wall-first Government strategy perhaps?) in time, but for today, I’ll leave you with the LDN team who genuinely know what they are talking about and have the facts, stats and graphics to prove it.
I hope you enjoy today’s election special – there is some non-election news too if you scroll to the end – normal service resumes next week!
(I then finally reveal that I myself have overdosed on hot takes and have checked myself into rehab along with Dan Hodges.)”
LCA Board Director and LDN Editor Jenna Goldberg
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THE NEW LANDSCAPE
This election in London has produced a mixed bag of mostly positive results for Labour, the Lib Dems, Greens and local parties, with mostly less positive results for the Conservatives. As illustrated in our new map of boroughs now controlled by each party:
- Labour’s three gains are offset by three losses, meaning it is no better or worse off than it was following the 2018 elections in this regard, with a total of 21 boroughs.
- The Tories are down from seven boroughs to six (not quite their worst result ever in London, of just four)
- The Lib Dems have held onto their three boroughs in the south west.
- Newcomers Aspire have made a clean sweep to the Mayoralty and the majority of council seats in Tower Hamlets.
- Havering is again the only borough under No Overall Control (NOC).
- And Croydon, whose count somehow lasted three whole days, now has a Conservative Mayor, and even though the seat count is tight, has technically gone from red to blue.
The total number of seats won by the Tories across London is down by a net 20% and all the other major parties have made some gains in net terms, though boundary changes across 25 boroughs mean that direct comparisons are not as clear as they might seem. We do not yet have full turnout and vote share figures for all boroughs, so most of our analysis today focuses on gains and losses in terms of seats. It does however seem that turnout was down across most of London and clearly, the Tories’ share was down overall, with the gains shared by the other parties.
Labour started election results day with a bang, with wins in three flagship Tory boroughs confirmed early on 6 May:
- In Barnet, Labour swung decisively ahead, winning 41 seats (+16 from 2018) to the Tories’ 22 (-16). Clearly this reflects, at least partly, the Labour Party’s intensive campaigning here and especially its efforts to mend relations with the Jewish community. Then again, outgoing Tory leader Daniel Thomas called the result ‘a warning shot from Conservative supporters’, aptly observing that many simply ‘stayed at home’ – the 37.9% turnout here, down from 43.7% in 2018, suggests Thomas might be right on that.
- Labour also painted the town red in Wandsworth, winning 35 seats (+9) against the Tories’ 22 (-11) and one Independent – the ‘gravity-defying’ Malcolm Grimston – holding his seat in West Hill Ward. Labour was of course ecstatic to win ‘Thatcher’s favourite borough’ and none more so than Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, formerly Labour MP for Tooting. Here too, the outgoing Tory Leader Ravi Govindia suggested that dissatisfaction with the Government tipped the balance against the Conservatives locally though the long-term trends here – all three parliamentary seats have gone blue to red in the last five years – suggest that he was already fighting a losing battle, especially as the Labour challengers met his promise of keeping council tax low with the same pledge.
- But Labour’s win in Westminster was, arguably, its most totemic success. Labour won here for the first time since the inception of the modern boroughs, taking 31 seats (+12) to the Conservatives’ 23 (-18). What went wrong here will be a question for the ages, but turnout was notably very low here, at 29.9% (down from almost 38% in 2018); was it a Covid exodus of second home owners, demographic shifts, dissatisfaction with the national party (i.e. over partygate and the cost of living crisis), the infamous Mound, or all of the above?
But then, later in the day (and over the weekend) things went sour for Labour elsewhere in London.
- Their first defeat was to be Harrow, where the Conservatives took 31 seats (+3) to Labour’s 24 (-11). The disproportionate loss of seats for Labour suggests that this is one borough where boundary reviews may have benefitted the challenger, but other reasons abound. Labour’s majority was not, to begin with, all that wide. We’ve also seen the Conservatives inch ahead of Labour here at recent elections, including the 2021 Mayorals – and LCA also hears that parts of Harrow’s sizeable Hindu community have been increasingly unhappy with Labour on a number of issues.
- Then came the shock news that in Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman’s attempted comeback had succeeded – and over the weekend the count confirmed that his party, Aspire, had won 24 seats, effectively from a standing start (having been formed after the last election), with Labour tumbling to 19 (-23), the Tories 1 (-1), and Greens 1 (+1). There is not nearly enough space here to explain how and why a Labour council can lose both the Mayoralty and a sizeable majority on the council to a party led by a politician previously found guilty of electoral fraud, removed from his post and banned from running for public office for five years. Suffice it to say here that Rahman himself is unsurprisingly keen to focus on the future and it is notable that incumbent Labour Mayor John Biggs, who was running for re-election, has fully conceded defeat – and the results of the election, which was closely monitored by the Electoral Commission, Met Police and other authorities, have not been challenged.
- If that wasn’t bruising enough for Labour, it was only in the wee hours of Saturday morning that we learned that Conservative candidate Jason Perry had been elected – by a margin of less than 600 votes – as Croydon’s first directly elected mayor, defeating the very experienced and much respected former Deputy Mayor for Transport and former Leader of Croydon Val Shawcross. When the full results of the council election emerged on Sunday, it became clear than Labour had also lost their majority on the council, with 34 seats (-7), against the Tories’ 32 (+3), with both the Lib Dems and Greens also winning a foothold here (with one and two seats respectively). It is almost certain that the Council’s financial troubles, perhaps combined with low turnout (35%, down from 38%), and a concern about ‘over-development’ were the main reasons for Labour’s defeat here.
ELSEWHERE IN LONDON
While the focus and commentary may be on those boroughs which changed political control, we think that there are a few other trends and changes to note:
- Labour has decisively held political control of all but one of its other boroughs, broadly maintaining or enhancing their seat numbers in 14 authorities - Barking & Dagenham, Camden, Ealing, Greenwich, Hammersmith & Fulham, Haringey, Hounslow, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, and Waltham Forest. They also unsurprisingly retained the Mayoralties in Newham, Lewisham and Hackney. Elsewhere Labour retained political control of four boroughs where it did see a reduction in its overall majority, losing 11 seats in Brent, eight in Enfield, three in Merton and two in Hackney.
- The Labour party did also make progress as an opposition party in Sutton, where three councillors became the first Labour councillors to be elected in the borough since 2002.
- Meanwhile the Conservatives held Kensington & Chelsea and Bexley with one seat lost in each, also holding on but down 14 seats in its stronghold of Bromley and 14 in Hillingdon (though here too, boundary changes have inflated the scale of losses, as the overall number of seats fell too).
- Conservative opposition groups across much of London also suffered losses, leaving them with only – staggeringly – one seat in Richmond, five in Redbridge, seven in Merton, three in Kingston and three in Greenwich. They also saw their position eroded slightly in Havering, which remains under NOC.
- The Lib Dems will be pleased to have decisively held Richmond and Kingston, as well as Sutton – though they have seen their majority eroded in the last but then, they have also run that council for 10 terms. The Lib Dems also gained their first seats in the Conservative stronghold of Bromley since 2010, their first seat in Croydon since 2002 and have gained 11 seats in Merton (for a total 17 there, making them the official opposition on the Council), as well as a scattering of seats elsewhere across London. The Party was not quite so successful in Haringey, where it lost eight seats and Southwark, where it lost three.
- The Greens Party held their one seat in Camden, made small gains in Islington where they now have three councillors and in Croydon where they now have two councillors, also winning two seats in Newham, two in Hackney, plus one in Tower Hamlets and one additional seat in Richmond also. The party did however lose three councillors in Lambeth.
- ‘Other’ parties and Independents also made some gains across London, though the vast majority consist of Aspire’s 24 seats in Tower Hamlets (all of which, unfortunately, have gone to men).
- Six seats have had their elections postponed – three in Redbridge and three in Kingston due to the death of candidates shortly before the election – whilst Jason Perry’s election as both Mayor and Councillor in Croydon means that a by-election for his council seat needs to be held in due course.
Following the elections, it is certain that at least eight boroughs will have new leaders – for a variety of reasons.
- In Hounslow, Leader Steve Curran had said that he would not be seeking re-election due to ill health, meaning that a change of leadership there was always on the cards – and Cllr Shantanu Rajawat has been chosen by the Labour group and this is now likely to be confirmed at the full Council AGM.
- In Croydon, Conservative Jason Perry was elected as the borough’s first-ever Mayor, while in Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman has succeeded replaced Labour’s John Biggs as Mayor.
- Then, Labour winning majorities in three new boroughs with a Leader and Cabinet system mean that their councillors will be electing new Leaders. While the official decisions will be made at the respective Council AGMs, Cllr Simon Hogg looks set to be the Leader of Wandsworth, Cllr Adam Hug will the new Leader of Westminster and Cllr Barry Rawlings the new Leader of Barnet.
- Similarly, former Conservative Opposition Group leader Cllr Paul Osborn will now lead Harrow Council.
- Elsewhere, despite Labour holding on to Merton Council, incumbent Leader Mark Allison failed to retain his seat, meaning that a new Leader will need to be appointed.
The directly elected Labour Mayors of Hackney (Phil Glanville), Lewisham (Damien Egan) and Newham (Rokhsana Fiaz) have meanwhile been comfortably re-elected. In recent days, Peter Mason has been re-elected as Leader in Ealing and Claire Holland in Lambeth. We also expect a number of other incumbent leaders who succeeded in securing re-election to again be selected by their peers as the Leaders of their respective Councils over the coming days, including leader of London Councils, Georgia Gould in Camden and Stephen Cowan in Hammersmith & Fulham. The next few weeks may however bring about one or two additional changes if councillors challenge their leaders – a not-unlikely scenario in some boroughs where the incumbent party returned to power but with an eroded majority...
BEYOND THE M25
The Tories’ losses in these local elections extended well beyond London, though the governing party will be thankful for a handful of positive results. Across England, Scotland and Wales, the Tories lost more than 450 seats and control of 11 councils, whilst Labour gained just over 100 seats and control of five councils. The Liberal Democrats and Green Party will perhaps be the most pleased with their results, gaining 224 and 87 seats respectively (not to mention more new seats in England than Labour). In Wales, the Labour Party posted a strong performance, gaining 67 seats though in Scotland, the SNP continued to strengthen its position by gaining the most seats. The Tories lost a number of councils in the so-called ‘blue wall’ and the South, including in Somerset, Kent, Oxfordshire and Surrey, but Labour struggled to break back into the ‘red wall’ in the North and the Midlands, though winning the new Cumberland Council – very much in ‘red wall’ territory – is certainly a feather in their cap. Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein pulled off a historic result, becoming the largest party in Stormont for the first time.
The results will certainly put pressure on the Prime Minister with the Conservatives now five points behind Labour in national equivalent vote share terms, according to electoral expert Professor Sir John Curtice. However, despite conceding his party had endured ‘a tough night in parts of the country’, Johnson may take some comfort in Labour’s failure to make significant gains in traditional red wall seats in the north of England – and will hope this prevents a leadership contest. Indeed, what should have been a day of celebration for Labour was marred by the latest revelations in the so-called ‘beergate’ scandal. Furthermore, a five percent lead in national vote share would probably win Labour little more than a hung parliament at a General Election, which suggests Labour’s net ‘win’ at this local election is less than definitive. Nonetheless, Johnson will have to dig deep to sustain his leadership as Tories in the southern heartlands begin to question whether the PM can appeal to Tory voters in the south Brexit supports in the north and Midlands simultaneously.
SADIQ ON TOUR
With the election done and dusted, Sadiq Khan has flown off for his long-trailed tour of the US. In his own words, the trip is intended to ‘bang the drum’ for London as a place to visit and invest in. He’s received a warm welcome and reams of press coverage, with widely publicised meetings with businessman, philanthropist, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, current Mayor Eric Adams, and former First Lady, Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. This is the opening gambit of a trip that will take Khan from the East to the West Coast and along the way he will be having meetings with business leaders, attending public events and speaking to US media. Supported by London’s promotional agency London & Partners, he’s already been beamed to millions of Americans’ television screens and has also revealed new plans for Major League Baseball to hold events in London over the next five years. We wish him luck!
THE TROUBLE WITH SPORT
Speaking of sport, we’ve got a mixed bag of news in this sphere for London. Ten years on from Britain’s greatest sporting summer, a potential UK Athletics move away from the London Stadium is not great timing as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the London 2012 Games. UK Athletics are in preliminary discussions to receive a £10-£15m pay-off to relocate its annual summer events to Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium in a bid for the stadium owner to save the £3m spent every time the venue is converted to stage athletics. The move – which could allow West Ham United to transform the venue into a full-time football stadium – would result in athletics sadly having a smaller footprint in the capital, though the pay-off could be used to revamp the long-neglected Crystal Place Stadium; potentially even fulfilling a plan which many thought should have been Option A instead of trying to combine football and athletics at Stratford. Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan has confirmed his team are in talks with the International Olympic Committee over London submitting a bid to again host the Olympic Games in 2036 or 2040.
Over to West London, Chelsea FC has confirmed terms to sell the club to LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and his consortium in a deal worth £4.25bn. Subject to Government approval and an owners and directors’ test to be carried out by the Premier League – the deal is expected to be complete by the 31 May deadline.
- Chris Hayward has been elected as the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee (and therefore de facto Leader of the Council) at the City of London Corporation. He was previously Deputy Chairman.
- Shravan Joshi has been elected as the Chairman of the Planning and Transportation Committee at the City of London Corporation.
- Richard Upton is stepping down from his role as CEO of U+I and will be replaced by Mike Hood with immediate effect. Upton will continue as a Senior Advisor to the team at U+I and has accepted a second term as Commissioner of Historic England.
- Pippa Crerar will become Political Editor at The Guardian this summer. Crerar is currently the Political Editor at Daily Mirror and a Presenter for The Week In Westminster on BBC Radio 4.
- In a possible sign that the London Assembly has succeeded in reaching a more collegiate approach to divvying up its key roles, Dr Onkar Sahota, the Labour Assembly Member for Ealing and Hillingdon, has been elected as Chair of the London Assembly, whilst Londonwide Conservative Assembly Member Andrew Boff, has been elected as Deputy Chair.
- We were saddened to hear that homelessness charity St Mungo’s CEO Steve Douglas CBE passed away suddenly at his home on Sunday morning. Steve’s distinguished 25-year career in the public, housing association and charity sectors has left behind a lasting legacy. He will be missed.
The Queen’s Speech, which inaugurates the new parliamentary session, was delivered by the Prince of Wales yesterday. Centred on 38 Bills, many carried forward from the previous session of parliament, it does contain some further information on long-awaited legislation. For many of our readers, the most interesting among these will be the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. This enshrines key commitments from the Levelling Up White Paper in law. It also serves as the vehicle for the few surviving shreds of the Government's Planning for the Future White Paper, plus odds and ends of other long-mooted policies to support the high street. Fleeting mentions of Bills for Social Housing Regulation, Renters' Reform, and Non-Domestic Rating are also significant in their own right. The briefing notes published by the Government contain slightly more information on each of these than the brief and formulaic speech itself. While its provisions for planning have been described as ‘watered down’ in the media it is clear that it contains some reforms that will bring significant changes to the system – and the publication of the Bill in full only today suggests that some of its provisions are very meaty indeed. We will return to these in future editions.
WEST END MERGER
Shaftesbury and Capital & Counties, known as Capco, have confirmed that they are currently in ‘advanced discussions’ about a potential merger. Between them, the two landlords own 2.9m sq ft of prime retail and office space in Central London, spanning Covent Garden, Soho, Chinatown and Carnaby Street. If the merger goes ahead, the company would be led by Shaftesbury’s Jonathan Nicholls as Chairman and Capco’s Ian Hawksworth as CEO. A final decision is expected to be made in the coming weeks, with the potential merger valued at an estimated £3.5bn.
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