This week in the key London boroughs:
The Evening Standard published a You Gov / Queen Mary University poll of London voters that suggests the “Brexit backlash” from voters will continue. The Conservatives would lose control of Barnet, Wandsworth, and Westminster to Labour. Conservative-controlled Hillingdon and Bexley are ranked as “close”, with Lib Dems causing concern in Kingston and Richmond. Overall, the poll shows Labour on 54% with Conservatives on 28%. If this was achieved, Labour’s result would be the best result for any party in the capital since 1968.
It was revealed in national newspapers that Westminster deputy leader Cllr Robert Davis was entertained by developers hundreds of times in the last three years. Until last year he was the chairman of the planning committee in the borough, which is expected to be a key electoral battleground this May. His declarations of interest include dinners at famous London spots like The Ivy, The Ritz, Claridge’s, the Grosvenor Park Hotel, and Annabel’s. He also received tickets to West End shows, Centre Court Wimbledon tickets, and ten free foreign trips including to France, America, and Switzerland. Cllr Davis told the Guardian everything was transparently declared and the “sole purpose” of the hospitality “was to ensure and encourage the right kind of development in Westminster and ensure that anything put before the council was going to benefit the city as a whole”. He later referred himself to the standards committee.
Barnet Labour and Conservatives engaged in a protracted Twitter argument after a Labour candidate for the highly marginal Childs Hill ward conducted a poll asking, “Is driving short distances in London (apart from medical need) socially acceptable?”. Barnet deputy leader Cllr Dan Thomas and Garden Suburb ward councillor Gabriel Rozenberg waded in to berate Anne Clarke for “attacking local people who drive” and being “out of touch with Barnet residents”. Cllr Thomas promptly deleted his Twitter account once the spat was covered by the local press.
Westminster’s opposition Labour group of councillors announced a key pledge for the upcoming elections: no more tall buildings beyond existing clusters, or intensification of towers in existing clusters. Westminster Labour Group leader Cllr Adam Hug said, “Instead we will look to work with local people about how to deliver well-designed, lower-rise high-density schemes that benefit our residents as well as our business communities.” The Conservative administration questioned the very contention that the council had proposals on tall buildings, and said further consultation would take place later this year.
Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales and his primary challenger Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz both gave interviews to former Guardian blogger Dave Hill. In his interview, Sir Robin claims he was the victim of a stitch-up over the original selection trigger ballot in 2016 which was subject to legal challenge. He set out his stall to fight on his record, suggesting that much of the 2017 Labour manifesto could have been taken from policies in Newham under his leadership. Cllr Fiaz’s interview focused more on introducing her as a person, as she has only been a councillor since 2014. There was also a lengthy section on her contention that existing residents feel that they have not benefitted enough from gentrification, as well as a commitment to run things more “collaboratively”. One big-ticket idea is a referendum on the mayoral system: Cllr Fiaz suggested this might not be the best system in a borough so dominated by one party. Meanwhile, a series of banners promoting Newham successes and displaying Sir Robin prominently were removed throughout the borough after complaints that these may unfairly influence the internal Labour selection process.
Richmond’s conservative leader Paul Hodgins took the unorthodox step of writing to his Labour counterpart in Hammersmith and Fulham, Steve Cowan, to offer to “take control of Hammersmith Bridge”. Citing the “tremendous impact” the bridge is having on Richmond residents during the £27 million repair, Cllr Hodgins said his council being in control of the bridge would benefit Richmond residents greatly. Hammersmith and Fulham Council seemed nonplused, saying: “We’ve worked very closely with Richmond Council on all recent closures, including holding meetings at their council offices”.
Conservative-controlled Wandsworth’s famously low council tax is set to increase by the very slight amount of an average of £8.40 a year. Councillors will meet on 7 March to formally agree to add a 2% adult social care precept to residents’ tax bills but will freeze the main component of council tax for another year. The borough’s council tax will remain the lowest in the country, at £428.42 for a Band D property.
Beyond the boroughs
City Hall announced that the 11,000-home Barking Riverside regeneration is to receive an injection of £500 million for transport links, parkland, and other community facilities. The money is from the GLA and the housing association L&Q, though the GLA’s press release offered no further break-down of the financing.
The government was forced to respond to grime artist Stormzy’s Grenfell-related lyrics in his Brit Awards performance on Wednesday evening. Stormzy rapped, “Yo, Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell…You should do some jail time you should pay some damages, we should burn your house down and see if you can manage this”. Theresa May rejected the criticism, saying the government committed £58 million and pointed to the public inquiry she set up. Stormzy’s performance had a galvanising effect for Labour activists, with Jeremy Corbyn among those to tweet his support.