Welcome to Local Dialogue’s weekly London local election briefing, bringing you updates from the key battleground boroughs.
Contact the political team at Local Dialogue to receive our London-wide pre-election report, or commission a more in-depth study of any borough.
This week in the key London boroughs:
Ladbrooks issued its first set of odds for control of the battleground London boroughs after the 3 May elections. Surprisingly, it ranks Conservatives at odds on (4/5) to win a majority in Sutton, the sole Lib Dem controlled borough in London. The Lib Dems are, though, favourite (4/7) to take Richmond back from the Conservatives. Elsewhere, Labour is 4/6 in Wandsworth and would appear to be a sure thing at 1/5 in Barnet, compared to the Conservatives priced at 7/2 in the borough. Labour and the Conservatives are ranked as having an equal chance of taking Hillingdon, both priced at 5/6 – a Labour victory here would be a massive turnaround. The 5/1 price for No Overall Control in Kensington and Chelsea would represent good value if the Lib Dems or insurgent local party Advance gain any traction in the borough. Ladbrooks clearly does not believe the extent of the most recent polls of inner London, making the Conservatives 4/7 favourites to retain Westminster, though one Westminster Labour councillor rejoiced that the odds on a Labour win were gradually shortening.
Meanwhile, New Statesman political editor Stephen Bush gave us his “five thoughts on the latest set of polling from London”. The three “thoughts” of most note for the election itself are: Conservative results will be poor; that despite gains in the number of councils controlled, Labour’s total gains in seats won’t be massive (coming from a high point in 2014); and that while the Conservatives are struggling with Remainers, Labour’s vote is holding up well even with Leavers.
In Westminster, the Labour opposition group unveiled several campaign pledges. Labour is proposing changes to the planning system in Westminster that include: allowing residents to speak at committee, providing information about the planning system to residents, establishing a “Design Panel for Westminster”, and creating a new strategic projects planning committee with a “larger than normal membership”. They have also committed to a council tax freeze and keeping twice weekly rubbish collections.
In Tower Hamlets, members of the Independent Group of supporters of the former mayor Lutfur Rahman will now be recognised as councillors and candidates of the Aspire party. This new party was registered recently by known supporters of Rahman, and the name change was formalised on Thursday. In addition to council elections in the borough, Aspire councillor Ohid Ahmed will challenge Labour’s John Biggs for the mayoralty on 3 May. The People’s Alliance for Tower Hamlets (PATH) group has also been recognised for electoral purposes and will be led into the elections by former cabinet member for housing Cllr Rabina Khan. The split in the group of councillors that previously were a part of Lutfur Rahman’s administration into two parties (Aspire and PATH), has given Labour hope of picking up a number of seats and achieving a majority in the Council Chamber.
City Hall announced the winners of the London Borough of Culture competition. Waltham Forest will hold the title in 2019, and Brent in 2020. The award is worth £1.35 million. Smaller prizes from a pot of £850,000 will be shared between Barking & Dagenham, Camden, Kingston, Lambeth, Lewisham, and Merton. 22 London boroughs (equivalent to over 70% of all boroughs) submitted bids. Only one of the 8 winners is not Labour-run – Kingston is controlled by the Conservatives but is a serious threat of falling to the Lib Dems in May.
Barnet’s opposition Labour group announced a campaign pledge to fund 30 extra police officers to a new Safer Barnet Police Team. This would be partly funded by council reserves, with match funding from the Mayor of London. Conservative Barnet leader Cllr Richard Cornelius accused Labour of seeking to “raid our reserves”, and countered that while Barnet contributes more than any other borough to the Met Police budget, it receives fewest officers per head in return.
Beyond the boroughs
Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council Warren Morgan announced he would be stepping down as leader after the administration group’s AGM in April, and from the council at the next set of elections in 2019. Cllr Morgan is a popular figure on the “moderate” wing of the Labour Party, having led the Labour Party to gain Brighton & Hove from the Green Party in 2015. It is the latest resignation of a moderate Labour council leader that’s been blamed on the alleged bullying and intransigence of the now overwhelmingly leftist membership. His announcement was met with dismay and personal praise from many senior local government figures.
It was revealed that Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid was forced to surrender £72 million in affordable housing funds due to a failure to spend it. Overall, the department had an underspend of £817 million sent back to the Treasury. The unspent money included £65 million for London and £329 million for “starter homes” programme for first-time buyers.