Local Election Briefing – Harrow

by Jackie_South on May 20, 2014

Harrow iconFor another of our looks at the forthcoming local elections, we turn to the north London borough of Harrow.

At the last general election, the Labour Party in London had some consolation as Brown’s government lost: it more than doubled the London boroughs where it had a majority of the councillors from eight to seventeen (it secured a minority administration in an eighteenth borough, Merton).

Experts agree that it is highly unlikely that Labour will lose some of those gains, such as Camden, Islington and Southwark, this time around. But the result in Harrow is far from certain. This is partly given the tightness of the result in 2010, but more because of what has happened since.Harrow location map

First, the results from 2010. Labour took 34 of the borough’s 63 council seats, ten more than their 2006 tally and enough to gain outright control of the council. The Conservatives lost 11 seats, dropping from a reasonably healthy 38 seats to 27. An independent (one James Bond!) won a seat from the Tories in Headstone North ward whilst the Liberal Democrats held on to their single seat in Rayners Lane.

Harrow 2010

A good result, then, for Labour. However, the Conservatives actually polled significantly more votes across the borough: 39.5% to Labour’s 34.7%.

Harrow 2010 pie

That is because the Tories’ vote is spread less efficiently than Labour’s: the Conservatives have massive majorities in a number of the wards on London’s northern fringes. Whilst Labour has some safe territory in the southwest of the borough and in the centre around Harrow & Wealdstone station, most of its councillors are in marginal wards in the south and southeast.

Harrow10 margins

This means that the Conservatives have fewer wards that they will need to defend this week than Labour.

But the electoral map and the number of marginals is not Labour’s biggest headache in Harrow, it is the events since that election, particularly over the last year.

Given that Labour only held 24 seats before the 2010 elections and was likely to face a bit of a kicking with that election being on the same day as the general election (Labour lost Harrow East and just held on to Harrow West), victory was not only a surprise but one that they seemed a little under-prepared for. Veteran Headstone South councillor Bill Stephenson did a good job as the new leader spinning all the plates, but it was clear that with many new councillors that there was not yet the depth of experienced talent in the Group needed.

As a result, Stephenson took on a lot of additional jobs, including finance, on top of his leadership role. Although he was able to offload some of those as the bright young things of his group learnt the ropes, this effort clearly took its toll. In September 2012, he announced his resignation as Leader on health grounds.

This was when things started to go awry. The Deputy Leader, Roxeth ward’s Thaya Idaikkadar, was elected unopposed as a caretaker leader to take the group through to their next AGM, to be held in May 2013. Many were unimpressed by his performance and, fearing the impact of a poor leader on those tight contests in marginal wards, decided to challenge him at that annual general meeting.

Marlborough ward’s David Perry won, but Idaikkadar charged that he was the victim of racism. A number of other disgruntled councillors who had lost their roles jumped on board, resulting in eight leaving Labour to create an Independent Labour Group (ILG). Race is the defining issue here, although more Asian and other BME councillors stayed loyal to Labour than joined Idaikkadar’s gang.

Harrow change in seats

In a stroke, Labour lost its majority and the ILG held the balance of power, promptly jumping into bed with the Tories to secure a majority of executive posts on the council for themselves, with Idaikkadar as leader, plus a few for the Conservatives. A few months on and the cracks in the new group became evident: Harrow had another shift of power resulting in a Conservative minority administration led by right-wing Hatch End councillor Susan Hall.

To complicate matters further, a member each from the Conservatives and Labour have left their groups to become unaligned independents and a second Conservative has defected to UKIP.

Harrow current cllrs

All this creates a mess, but one that is worse for Labour. The ILG is standing candidates in all but the four safest Conservative wards, having amassed 47 candidates across the borough. Few of these ILG candidates are likely to win, but they may take enough votes off Labour to help the Conservatives. For every potential Labour win, there is an ILG candidate up against them. Mr Idaikkadar obviously does not do revenge by halves.

As we have previously noted, there are a lot of close races: in eleven of the twenty one wards, the seats were either split between parties or the winning party had a lead of less than ten percent. Here’s a quick run-through them all.

Edgware

Edgware 2010 result 

Labour’s majority here in 2010 between its lowest candidate and the Conservatives’ highest was 196 votes, with the Conservatives managing to tighten the gap a little from the 2006 result. One of the Labour councillors here, Nana Asante, defected to the ILG and is standing again – as she is currently mayor of the borough she may get a boost that could either help her retain her seat or at least rob Labour one of the three this time by handing it to the Conservatives.

Greenhill

Greenhill 2010 result

Although Labour only won their third seat here in 2010 by 104 votes, this may be an easier hold for them this time around. All three councillors in this ward have remained loyal to the Labour Party.

Harrow-on-the-Hill

HarrowOnTheHill 2010 result

This seat was interesting enough in 2010: split between 2 Labour councillors and one Conservative. Labour had a narrow lead in votes overall as well as councillors elected, 34.5% to 33.1%. The picture will be even more interesting this time around as one of the Labour councillors, David Gawn, has left them to become an unaffiliated independent, and is standing again. Everything suggests that this could remain split this time around, although quite what the combination of Labour-Conservative-Independent remains to be seen.

Harrow Weald

HarrowWeald 2010 result

The Conservatives won all three seats here in 2010, but their third candidate squeaked in by a margin of 57 votes. However, that was over the Liberal Democrats: Labour were 824 votes behind. Expect three Conservative councillors here when the results are read.

Headstone North

HeadstoneN 2010 result

The election of Independent James Bond prevented a Conservative white-wash here in 2010. Labour were some 600 votes behind, so the real contest here is to see whether Bond can retain his seat: our guess is that he will. In 2010, the Christian People’s Alliance (CPA) stood – they are not doing so this time around.

Headstone South

HeadstoneS 2010 result

This ward is probably safe-ish for Labour: they led by 9.9% on their average votes in 2010,with a lead of 320 seats between their lowest and the Conservatives’ highest votes. However, one of the three elected then, Asad Omar, has defected and become deputy leader of the ILG. Former Leader of the council Bill Stephenson is stepping down from here.

Kenton East

KentonE 2010 result

Three Labour councillors were elected here in 2010, including Navin Shah who went on to be elected to the Greater London Assembly in 2012. All three remained loyal to Labour, although Shah is not re-standing to avoid double-jobbing. The bottom Labour candidate was 205 votes ahead of the highest polling Tory in 2010. We expect three Labour ‘holds’ here.

Kenton West

KentonW 2010 result

Unlike its eastern neighbour, Kenton West slightly favours the Conservatives, who were an average of a percent ahead of Labour here in 2010 and won two of the three council seats. Labour’s Ajay Maru remained loyal to Labour and is standing again. Without the ILG, this should have been a key pick-up opportunity for Labour this time. With them standing three candidates, this is too close to call between Labour and Conservatives.

Queensbury

Queensbury 2010 result

Labour led by 6% here in 2010, although their third candidate only beat the lead Conservative by 141 votes. Labour’s job is complicated this time by two of its three councillors here defecting to the ILG, although only one of those is re-standing. In Labour’s favour, the sole loyal councillor, Sachin Shah, topped the poll in 2010 and is seen as one of the Harrow Party’s rising stars.  Nevertheless, the strong ILG position here could prevent Labour winning all three seats this time around.

Rayner’s Lane

Rayners Lane 2010 result

Leafy Rayner’s Lane provided one of the more interesting results in 2010, electing one Conservative, one Labour and the borough’s sole Liberal Democrat councillor.  Lib Dem Christopher Noyce topped the poll then but, given the national polls, you expect that he would have a tough time holding on this Thursday. Three ILG candidates muddy the waters here – even if Noyce cannot hold on this looks likely to be an interesting race.

West Harrow

WHarrow 2010 result

Labour won all three seats here in 2010, with a narrow average lead of 4.3% for its candidates, the third beating the highest-placed Conservative by only 16 votes. Labour faces two challenges this time. First, that bottom-placed candidate, William Stoodley, defected from the party to become the ILG’s sole white councillor. Secondly, another councillor, Brian Gates, had to step down after being found with child porn, a matter made worse by being the council’s cabinet member for children’s services at the time. Although Gates is not a candidate this time around, this and the three ILG candidates make this a tough battle here for Labour this time around.

 

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