The latest in our series of blogs looking forward to the upcoming May local elections today as Account Manager, Billy Greening reviews the battle in the London Borough of Wandsworth.
Current status: London Borough of Wandsworth Council CON majority (32 Conservative councillors, 26 Labour councillors, 1 Independent)
The battle of Wandsworth
Wandsworth is a fascinating part of London, against the trend of a Labour rise throughout the capital, Wandsworth stands alone and has been controlled by the Conservative Party since 1978. This is largely down to the local services the council provides whilst still boasting the lowest average council tax in the country. The council was even able to cut its share of taxation this year. In spite of all the Labour gains in London, the Conservatives have been steadfast here. Nevertheless, that might, finally be about to change …
The two party leaders, Conservative Ravi Govindia, and Labour Simon Hogg, have set out the stalls to local voters. Last week, Labour pledged to match the Conservatives promise cut to council tax. Nevertheless, like all local elections this is not being held in a bubble. Labour are campaigning hard on the current national picture
All three parliamentary constituencies are now held by Labour, the Conservatives lost Battersea in 2017 and the only Labour gain at the 2019 General Election came in Putney two years later. Even at the last set of local elections held here in 2018, Labour won more votes but the Conservatives, due to the electoral boundaries, won the most seats.
This part of London is home to Conservative party voters that would be considered as ‘One Nation Tories, or ‘call me Dave voters’. The area voted to remain in the referendum and voters are turned off by the rhetoric of the Prime Minister.
Wandsworth has been transformed over recent years, the rise of Battersea Power Station, an Apple campus, the Nine-Elms development featuring the extended tube line as well as the United States Embassy and sky pool are a testament to how much the area has developed and grown.
The local Conservatives
The battle is a great example of local vs. national, can Labour win out against a popular local Conservative group that has presided over vast economic and social regeneration over the backdrop of partygate?
This is why, in Wandsworth, as well as at least seven councils across the country, the Conservative candidates will be on the ballot as ‘Local Conservatives’. It shows the satisfaction with the current administration running Wandsworth that in the Bedford ward by-election held in November, the Conservatives came withing one vote of gaining the seat from Labour.
It could not be clearer that the local party is desperately trying to distance itself from Boris Johnson, Instead, the Conservatives campaign is about a 40-year strong record on housing, an economic recovery, local living standards, weekly bin collections and value for money council tax.
Local pollsters are saying that the council will fall for the first time in over 40 years, the changing demographics and the tiredness of the current government mean that, at long last, Labour are set to gain the council.
Some ward boundary changes, reduce the number of councillors by two down to fifty-eight but increase the number of wards mean that nothing is certain. The creation of a new ward for Nine Elms has promoted speculation about who will voting in the new ward, and how they might vote. The changes are neutral, but in a borough where every seat matters, nothing can be left to chance.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan won a majority of the wards in the 2021 Mayoral elections. If, somehow, the Conservatives do manage to hold on here, it would be a significant blow to Labour and deny Keir Starmer a real coup in the capital. Nevertheless the current pressure from the cost-of-living crisis and lockdown parties suggest that finally, Labour should win this time.
The Green Party & Liberal Democrats are also running candidates in every seat (except one). It will be interesting to see how many voters shift away from the two main challengers. Will the Greens pick up voters from dissatisfied left-leaning Labour voters? Will the same happen with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats? Neither will win a seat, but even a handful of voters can decide the outcome of the whole borough.
The ‘partygate’ scandal may well be the catalyst the borough needs to swing to Labour. The Conservatives have largely written off winning London back as a city, but should this happen, it will be a huge dent to the current Prime Minister and former Mayor of London’s premiership.
It might not be fair on local Conservatives who are highly regarded, but that’s politics.
Certainly one to watch on May 5th.