A look forward: 2018 London elections (part 2)

by Jackie_South on January 2, 2018

Yesterday, I started a three-part series looking forward to this May’s local elections across the 32 London Boroughs. This is part two in that series, covering the boroughs H to L. For part one, including details on the methodology, click here

Today’s Evening Standard’s front page headline was Tory Guru: May Could Lose Half of London Councils. I suspect that the story is slightly overblown partly to play up expectations of loses, so that losing just one or two councils looks like a under-performance by the two other main parties, and partly because editor George Osborne cannot resist the urge to dig a heel into the Prime Minister’s ribs now and again.

As we said yesterday, the Standard thinks that Labour could win Barnet, and that the Conservatives will hold Bexley and Bromley. But what about the other boroughs? Here is part two of our alphabetical run-down, taking the twelve boroughs starting with the letters H to L.

Hackney – safe Labour
Labour’s control of Hackney has only faltered twice. Almost unbelievably, the Conservatives had outright control of the council between 1968 and 1971. Following a period of political malaise and incompetence, Labour lost control again in 1998 at a time when the party made a net gain of councils it controlled in the capital.

Labour regained control in 2002, and later that year elected its first executive mayor, Jules Pipe. Pipe held that role for another 14 years, before resigning to become Sadiq Khan’s deputy for regeneration in 2016. Under Pipe, Labour in Hackney turned from a byword for incompetence and corruption into a model of good, if at times unadventurous and uninspiring, governance. In 2014, Labour won 50 of the borough’s 57 council seats.

A new mayor (the more energetic Philip Glanville was elected in late 2016 and will be up for election again in May) and strong general election results in June suggest that Labour might possibly wipe out those last seven non-Labour councillors.

Labour already holds every seat in Meg Hillier’s Hackney South and Shoreditch constituency, and Diane Abbott’s 14% swing in June suggests that the 4 Conservatives (3 in the heavily Jewish Springfield ward and 1 in neighbouring Stamford Hill West ward) and the 3 Liberal Democrats (in Cazenove ward, neighbouring the two wards with Conservatives) are vulnerable. However, it is possible that the block-voting of the Haredi Jewish population in Springfield ward might save the Conservatives there.

Our projection: Lab 57, Con 0, LD 0, Others 0. Labour mayor retained.

Hammersmith and Fulham – likely Labour hold
Labour’s most surprising win of 2014 was to regain Hammersmith and Fulham. Many experts had thought that the gentrification of this part of west London had put the borough beyond Labour’s reach and the previous Conservative administration had made much of its collaboration with its wealthier neighbours of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster as the “Tri-Borough” to cement this, as well as to save some money.

The Conservatives had run the borough for eight years, but that was atypical of the borough’s history. They had only obtained a majority once before, in Labour’s calamitous year 1968. The Conservative victory in 2006 followed 20 years of Labour majorities.

There are a number of reasons for Labour’s unexpected 2014 success, but one was clearly over-reach by the Conservative administration, particularly on its Earls Court regeneration scheme that smacked of social cleansing. But Labour’s foothold (taking 26 of the borough’s 46 seats, with the Conservatives holding the other 20) also presaged its strong showing in both 2015 and 2017 general elections.

West London was not a happy place for the Conservatives in 2017. The swing in that election would wipe them out of their last seats in the Hammersmith constituency (one in Addison ward, two in Avonmore and Brook Green ward and three in Ravenscourt ward), as well as allowing Labour to win Sands End ward in southeast Fulham. Those projections leave the Conservatives with just 11 councillors representing the four strongest Conservative wards in Fulham.

However, we are only calling this as a likely hold for Labour, given the surprising win in 2014. The Conservatives could shock us by mounting a revival, but net Labour gains seem more likely.

Our projection: Lab 35, Con 11, LD 0, Others 0

Haringey – safe Labour
The local elections might be the least interesting thing about Haringey politics this year, and certainly won’t be the deciding factor in the leadership of the council.

Haringey is safely Labour, and May’s local elections are unlikely to change that. Along with Greenwich, Haringey is Labour’s third-most consistent borough in London: the only election that they did not win outright control was when the Conservatives won control in Labour’s 1968 lowpoint. The Conservatives have long since disappeared from political representation in the borough, to be replaced in part by the Liberal Democrats in the more affluent west of the borough around Highgate, Muswell Hill and Crouch End. They currently hold 9 council seats to Labour’s 48.

The general election results suggest that Labour’s position should improve: all 9 Lib Dem seats are in Hornsey and Wood Green, where Catherine West secured a 15% swing against them in June. The borough’s other constituency, Tottenham, saw David Lammy secure a staggering 82% of the vote. Our projections show Labour comfortably winning every council seat. Highgate ward is the Lib Dems’ best chance of retaining representation, but our projection shows their highest placed candidate still losing to Labour’s lowest-placed one by a margin of 17%.

But it is the politics within the local Labour Party that will be the largest determinant to Haringey’s political leadership. This is the borough whose local elections will most clearly be impacted by the growth of Momentum, who look likely to have control of the Labour Group after the elections given the party’s recent selection of candidates and the resigned departure of a number of long-standing councillors. That is likely to result in a new leadership for the council.

Claire Kober, the current incumbent is respected in London circles. She has done much to repair the reputation of Haringey in the wake of the Baby P social services scandal and is now the leader of London Councils, the collective of all 33 (including the City of London) boroughs.

Whilst Kober was successfully reselected herself, her leadership looks doomed due to the growth of Momentum in the local party, particularly in the affluent west, and a couple of sizable unforced errors by her and the leadership of the local party.

The first of these has been to pursue the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV)  – a partnership with Australian private developers Lend Lease to demolish and rebuild a swathe of the borough’s council estates. Whilst the intention to regenerate poorly maintained estates may be a noble one, the plans have drawn criticism from both Lammy and West and could not have been more badly timed for their political impact.

The second error was to delay the party’s selection process for council candidates. Apparently concerned about the growing influence of Momentum in the party, the local party delayed its selections until the autumn in the hope that these newer members might have drifted off. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the delaying tactic turned a possibility of a few Momentum candidates being chosen into a dead certainty that they would take control.

Despite the Evening Standard‘s take on matters today, however, this is likely to be the only borough where Momentum are likely to dominate a council after May.

Our projection: Lab 57, Con 0, LD 0, Others 0

Harrow – likely Labour hold
Harrow has trended towards Labour since it became a London Borough. Between 1964 and 1990, the Conservatives had a majority in the borough in seven of the eight elections (there was no overall control in the Labour highpoint year of 1971). But Labour has led the council after four of the last five elections, albeit as a minority administration in 2002.

The Conservatives won control in 2006 and it surprised many that Labour took back power in 2010, and many more when the Conservatives took over the council for a year in 2013.

It appeared as if the local Labour party was not ready for power in 2010, with a swathe of eager but inexperienced new councillors. Veteran leader Bill Stephenson took up the burden whilst his new team cut their teeth, but the strain clearly impacted on his health: he retired as leader in late 2012 and this is when Labour’s difficulties grew.

Labour’s fortunes in Harrow have grown as its demographics have diversified, particularly through the growth of its Asian population. Naturally, those communities wanted to share in the leadership of the party that had benefitted from them. As a consequence, another veteran councillor, deputy leader Thaya Idaikkadar, took the helm. But by May 2013, a number of his colleagues decided he was not up to the job.

Idaikkadar lost the leadership of the Labour Group and resigned the party in protest, taking a number of other councillors (mainly, but not exclusively Asian) with him to form an independent Labour group. Initially, a deal with the Conservatives enabled Idaikkadar to remain leader of the council with their support, but the Tories quickly out-manoeuvred him and took control themselves in coalition with the independent group.

By the 2014 elections, Labour had sorted themselves out. They wisely picked a leader who was both Asian and capable, the young and cerebral Sachin Shah. Every ‘Independent Labour’ candidate was beaten in the polls, although their influence probably deflated Labour’s performance. Nevertheless, Labour clawed its way back to the 34 councillors that it returned in 2010. The Conservatives had 26 councillors (mainly in the north of the borough), the Lib Dems one (in Rayners Lane) and two independents were elected in Headstone North ward.

All the Harrow constituencies swung to Labour in the general election, although the swing was more muted in Harrow East, which has a sizable Jewish population and so Labour had similar difficulties there as in neighbouring Barnet. So, a good turnout should see Labour make gains now that the Independent Labour Group is no more. Our projections see them having twice as many seats as the Tories, with the other parties wiped out.

However, some expert followers of London politics such as Tony Travers see this as one borough that could potentially slip back into Tory hands if the ethnic politics of the borough throw another curve ball. As a consequence, we are rating this as a likely Labour hold, rather than a safe bet.

Our projection: Lab 42, Con 21, LD 0, Independents 0, Others 0

Havering – likely no overall control
Havering, on the borders of London and Essex, is the London Borough that most often has no party in a majority. It is the only London Borough to have had no overall control more often than not since its creation.

The reason for this is a strong representation by local residents associations and independent residents groups on the council: they currently comprise 24 of the 54 members. Whilst they organise themselves as different groups on the council, their number exceeds the membership of the 22 Conservatives. Nevertheless, the council has a Conservative leader thanks to the deals done between these groups.

UKIP has 7 councillors (Havering voted to leave the EU by more than two-to-one) and Labour a solitary one – former Upminster MP Keith Darvill.

Things have not always been so bad for Labour in Havering: whilst they have only held a majority on the council once (in their 1971 high water mark) they ran minority administrations from 1990 until 2002. The borough returned three Labour MPs in 1997.

But the Conservatives decimated Labour in 2002, initially taking control as a minority administration before forming a majority in 2006. They lost that majority in the 2014 elections, thanks to UKIP gains, and resident association victories in parts of Hornchurch and Harold Wood.

The general election results suggest that UKIP could disappear again, with Labour taking most of their seats. There were small swings between the two main parties (Romford slightly to Labour, Hornchurch & Upminster and Dagenham & Rainham slightly to the Conservatives).

It is possible that the Conservatives could regain a majority, and Havering is the borough where the Tories are most able to be able to gain a majority this time around. However, it seems more likely that the various resident group representatives should hold on, resulting again in a hung council (albeit one that is likely to be Conservative-led).

Our projection: Con 26, Residents Groups 21, Lab 7, UKIP 0, LD 0, Others 0

Hillingdon – likely Conservative hold
Hillingdon is a borough where our prediction (likely Conservative hold) and projection (Labour majority of 1) differ.

The Conservatives have won outright majorities on the council in half the elections since 1964, including the last three (2006, 2010 and 2014). They have been in power longer, forming minority administrations since 1998 after regaining power from Labour.  Labour ran the borough for a single term following a revolt of normally Conservative voters on plans for Harefield hospital in the north-western corner of the borough.

That is not to say that Labour does not have some strength in the borough: they make up 23 of the 65 councillors and the southern part of the borough comprises Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s safe Labour constituency of Hayes and Harlington. But the Conservatives hold the other 42 council seats and making the 10 gains necessary for control seems a large task.

The borough’s politics follow its geography. In the south, around Heathrow Airport, Labour does well, particularly in Hayes. At the borough’s northern edge around Northwood, the Tories predominate. It is the middle of the borough that will determine its political fate.

There are three Conservative council seats on the edge of Hayes and Harlington, in wards currently split between Labour and the Tories: two in West Drayton ward and one in Charville ward. Labour’s other opportunities for gains are in the south and east of Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency: running roughly west to east Uxbridge South (where Labour currently have a councillor), Yiewsley, Brunel, Hillingdon East and South Ruislip wards.

Our projections show that Labour could do this, although the narrowness of the victory prompts our assessment that the Conservatives are more likely to just about hold on. The Brexit effect is likely to be muted here: Hillingdon was one of only five London boroughs that voted to Leave the EU (56%-44%).

If Labour wins control of Hillingdon, it will embolden their efforts to defeat Boris Johnson (majority 5,034) at the next general election.

Our projection: Lab 33, Con 32, LD 0, Others 0

Hounslow – safe Labour
Despite stretching to the borders of the capital and having a Conservative MP until 2015, Hounslow has been a pretty consistently Labour borough. Labour has only lost control twice: to a Conservative majority in its 1968 London elections low-point and to a Conservative minority administration in 2006.

Labour currently holds a healthy lead over the Conservatives on the 60-member council of 49 seats to 11. Labour holds a monopoly of the councillors in the Feltham and Heston constituency in the west of the borough.

The Conservative seats are all in the Brentford and Isleworth constituency, holding all nine seats across three Chiswick wards and two of the three members in Osterley and Spring Grove ward, in the north-west of the constituency. Brentford and Isleworth swung heavily to Labour in the 2017 general election (by 9.5%) and this would be enough to enable them to win all or some of the seats in all of those wards. Our projection shows the Conservatives reduced to four councillors, all in affluent Chiswick on the borough’s eastern edge.

There is a note of caution in these projections: Labour’s Ruth Cadbury only narrowly won Brentford and Isleworth from the Conservatives in 2015 and so the 2017 result may include an electoral bounce through an incumbency effect. Nevertheless, political trends in west London suggest that Labour is more likely to win seats than lose them this time around in Hounslow.

Our projection: Lab 56, Con 4, LD 0, Others 0

Islington – safe Labour
Nowadays, it seems almost astonishing that Islington – Ed Miliband’s favourite Labour council and home to Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornbury – was run by the Liberal Democrats as recently as 2010. The Liberal Democrats were wiped out as an electoral force in the borough in the 2014 elections, leaving a sole Green councillor as the opposition to Labour.

Despite its reputation for dinner party liberals, the borough has always had a strong working-class demographic and 69% of its population live in rented housing. Labour has usually had a majority on the council, other than a loss to the Conservatives in 1968 and the Liberal Democrats in both 2002 and 2006.

Miliband’s and Corbyn’s love of the borough’s politics is perhaps slightly more based on the PR of the local Labour Party than the impressiveness of its achievements: Islington has built less new affordable housing than other inner-London Labour authorities and despite its rhetoric has gone less far on the living wage, removing zero hour contracts for day care and bringing council services back in-house than Southwark, for example.

Nevertheless, the borough’s selections have been nowhere near as fraught as its neighbour Haringey to the north (where Islington’s former leader Catherine West is now an MP).

Corbyn and Thornberry’s performance in the June election suggests that Islington could well join the ranks of Labour one-party boroughs in May. All this requires is for Labour to win the one Green seat in Highbury East ward, in Corbyn’s Islington North constituency. Labour failed to win that seat by only 8 votes in 2014.

Our projection: Lab 48, Green 0, Con 0, LD 0, Others 0

Kensington and Chelsea – likely Conservative hold
Since June, 72% of the electorate of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have a Labour MP. With the horrific disaster at Grenfell Tower, and signs that political incompetence may have played a role in that tragedy, surely the days of Conservative control in Britain’s richest borough may be at an end? Lord Hayward, the Conservative expert quoted by the Evening Standard today, suggested the result here is currently “impossible to call”.

The answer is almost certainly not, and with all due respect to Lord Hayward, we are calling it. Whilst Emma Dent Coad’s 20 vote victory was a spectacular win, the political geography of the borough means that it would not have brought Labour many more councillors. Instead, it is likely to have just stacked their votes up higher in the wards that they already represent.

Kensington and Chelsea is one of two London boroughs where the Conservatives have always had a majority since its creation. Even in Labour’s zenith year (in both London and K&C) of 1971, the Tories had almost twice as many members as Labour on the council.

Labour currently has 12 of the Royal Borough’s 50 councillors, all in the north of the borough around Ladbrooke Grove and the less gentrified end of Notting Hill. The Conservatives have 37 councillors and the Liberal Democrats one (in Earls Court).

Whilst the general election swings to Labour in both Kensington (10.6%) and Chelsea and Fulham (10.3%) were very high, applying them to the 2014 council results only gains Labour two seats. One of these is in St. Helen’s ward, just across the Westway from Grenfell Tower and currently split between Labour and Conservatives. The other is one of the three seats currently held by the Conservatives at the other end of the borough in Chelsea Riverside ward, an area south of King’s Road that includes the World’s End Estate. But even if Labour were to take all three seats in Riverside, they would only being doing as well as in 1971.
Whatever the failings of the Royal Borough’s Conservatives, it seems very unlikely that the well-heeled voters of Kensington town, Chelsea north of Kings Road, Holland Park, Notting Hill Gate or South Kensington will abandon them.

Our projection: Con 35, Lab 14, LD 1, Others 0

Kingston upon Thames – likely Lib Dem gain
In 2014, as Liberal Democrat fortunes collapsed during its Coalition years, the Conservatives took control of Kingston council from them. Could 2018 be the Lib Dems’ chance to win it back?

The general election result suggests that this is on the cards. In 2014, the Conservatives won 28 of the borough’s 48 council seats, with the Liberal Democrats falling to 18 and Labour winning two from the Lib Dems in Norbiton. That year the Liberal Democrats suffered not only from their national malaise but also the 2013 resignation of their council leader Derek Osbourne for possessing and distributing child pornography.

June’s general election saw Lib Dem Ed Davie win back his former seat of Kingston and Surbiton (which comprises three-quarters of the borough) from the Tories on a 6% swing. Whilst Sarah Olney narrowly failed to hold on to her by-election win of Richmond Park, which includes the northern quarter of the borough, the swing from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems there from the 2015 general election was almost 20% – a truly staggering result.

Factoring those general election swings into our projections sees the Liberal Democrats not only winning back control, but smashing it: winning 20 seats off the Conservatives (as well as taking back those Norbiton seats from Labour). The Conservatives would be reduced to a strip of wards running down the eastern flank of the borough, from Coombe Hill in the north to Old Malden in the south.

It seems unlikely that in reality that the Lib Dems will win quite that big. But a Liberal Democrat win seems definitively on the cards.

Our projection: LD 40, Con 8, Lab 0, Others 0

Lambeth – safe Labour

Along with Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Lewisham, Lambeth could join Barking and Newham as one-party states in May. Our projection shows Labour winning 61 of the borough’s 63 seats and in this case the projection could be understating the picture, as I’ll explain below.

Labour already dominates Lambeth: holding all but four of the current seats on the council. Those four comprise three Tory seats in Clapham Common and a Green councillor in St. Leonard’s ward in the west of Streatham. All of these are in Chuka Umunna’s Streatham constituency, which he won with a 9.6% swing in June, and all would be comfortably won by Labour with that sort of swing. Clapham Common is certainly the sort of Conservative ward that should be vulnerable to Labour in the post-Brexit political environment.

Helen Hayes achieved a similar swing in Dulwich and West Norwood, which includes the south east of the borough. All the wards there should therefore be safe for Labour, even Thurlow Park ward which was once the Tories’ best bet in the borough.

However, the third Lambeth constituency – Vauxhall – saw the only swing against Labour in Inner London. Lambeth was a strongly pro-Remain borough in the EU referendum, whilst Vauxhall’s MP Kate Hoey was a vocal leader of the national Leave campaign. As a consequence, the Liberal Democrats took votes off Hoey in June, although the 5% swing was no where near enough to trouble Hoey, who still had a 37% majority.

Whilst her position on Brexit might have cost her votes in the more affluent north of the constituency around Kennington, Brexit was a more peripheral concern in Brixton in the south of her seat. The swing in the general election would potentially see Liberal Democrats elected in the borough’s most northerly ward: Bishop’s ward around Waterloo.

The Lib Dems ran the council, with the Conservatives, between 2002 and 2006. Despite this, they were reduced to 17 seats in 2006, 15 (in Streatham and Kennington) in 2010 and wiped out in 2014.

The recovery of Liberal Democrat fortunes in Streatham (the area that really propelled them to power in 2002) currently seems unlikely. Even winning Bishop’s ward depends on the improbable proposition of the Lib Dems somehow turning the local elections into a referendum on their MP’s views on Europe. That task is made harder from them by the clear distancing of the Labour council from Hoey on the issue. Whilst our projection shows the Lib Dems gaining the ward’s two seats, it seems more likely that Labour will retain them.

Momentum have organised heavily in Lambeth, but with little impact on the selection of councillors. Lambeth looks set to remain a last bastion of New Labour, and is unlikely to return to the left-wing Labour politics of its past any time soon.

Our projection: Lab 61, LD 2, Con 0, Green 0, Others 0

Lewisham – safe Labour

Another borough where Labour dominance could turn into a monopoly of council seats is the south-east London borough of Lewisham. In 2014 it almost got there: Labour won 53 of the 54 seats on the council. The one exception was a Green councillor elected in Brockley ward.

All three of the borough’s constituencies saw double-figure swings to Labour in June’s general election, and so it is very unlikely that any other party will have significant representation on the council after May. The one Green councillor is in a ward where that party has had representation since 2002, but this may well be at an end this time around. Elsewhere, the Conservatives have at times had councillors in Grove Park in the far southeast of the borough, and a long-time ago in areas like Blackheath.

A strong showing by the Liberal Democrats in 2006, particularly in the east of the borough in Blackheath and Downham, and in the west of the borough in Forest Hill, denied Labour a majority in that year (along with Conservative, Green and Socialist Party councillors) but the only time Labour has not controlled Lewisham was back in 1968.

There are two interesting aspects to the elections this time around. Labour maintained control in 2006 thorough having a directly-elected mayor. Sir Steve Bullock has held that role since its creation in 2002, when he won the Labour nomination following a left-wing swell to prevent the then Blairite Dave Sullivan taking the post. Sir Steve is stepping down in May, and Labour have selected the more youthful Damian Egan (currently the borough’s executive member for regeneration) to replace him.

Both Bullock and Egan have been implicate, and later exonerated, in the concerns surrounding the legitimacy of the development proposals for Millwall football club’s stadium in the borough. Given Egan’s easy victory in the selection process after this had come to the fore, it seems unlikely to taint him in the mayoral election in May.

The second aspect is the growth of Momentum in the local Labour Party. In Lambeth, this growth has had minimal impact on the party’s council selections, in Haringey it has had a profound one. The impact in Lewisham is somewhere between the two, taking control of wards with more middle-class voters in the Deptford constituency, such as Ladywell, but making little impact in more estate-based wards or those in the other two constituencies. Momentum is therefore likely to be a voice on the council, but not a dominating one.

Our projection: Lab 54, Con 0, LD 0, Green 0, Others 0. Labour mayor retained.


Our series will conclude in part three, covering the boroughs starting with the letters M to W.

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