What’s going on with the London Elections?

On Friday our Nudge Knowledge panel of experts navigated this political labyrinth

Pollsters, pundits, politicos and politicians are focusing their attention on the election for London Borough Councils next month. Current predictions (including our own) tend to indicate Labour will make significant gains across the Greater London area. If these predictions are accurate, where will the wins and losses be, why and how?

The 2017 General Election has thrown everything up in the air. Likewise, Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty, burgeoning crime rates, Brexit uncertainty and tragic events like Grenfell have an enduring impact on London politics. In our estimation – based on thorough statistical analysis – London is swinging to Labour. This has often been said before, but this time it appears to be more pronounced. In essence, London is increasingly becoming a Labour city. We predict it is possible eight, or as many as twelve, London councils could lack even a single Conservative councillor.

Our expert panel was comprised of Roger Evans, former Deputy Mayor of London, Dave Hill, award-winning Guardian journalist and editor of the On London website, Alex Wilson, former election statistics specialist at the Conservative Party and David Park, Managing-Partner at Nudge Factory. They explored the policy and statistical considerations for Thursday 3 May.

Many London political commentators say ‘the ones to watch’ are the Liberal Democrats, as a part of their campaign to build themselves up again into a national political force. Even though they have suffered devastating political setbacks in the most recent elections, these plucky underdogs may have the opportunity to utilise their outspoken Remain/pro-EU message at the polls – especially with EU nationals. Elsewhere, UKIP and the Greens are very thin on the ground and both are likely to get wiped out on the London political scene. Looking across all the parties, it is striking that the 2018 London elections have the smallest number of candidates since 1990.

At this stage, of the 32 London Boroughs, we statistically predict 23 local authorities going to Labour control, five to the Conservatives, two Liberal Democrat gains and two to No Overall Control. Roger, Dave, Alex and David discussed the complexity of this round of elections, because there are also elections for directly elected mayors in Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets. Labour is traditionally very strong in borough-level mayoral elections but Tower Hamlets is the one to keep an eye on. Dave Hill gave a detailed account of the internal factionalism in the Labour Party, which is in part an expression of the ‘mainstream centrist Labour’ versus ‘Labour Momentum’ debate, adding to the broader complexity of the party’s prospects. This runs alongside a very diverse population in that particular borough and London as a whole.

Former MP John Biggs is the current mayor in Tower Hamlets, but independent candidate Rabina Khan will fight hard with the considerable backing of controversial former mayor Lutfur Rahman and his supporters. The panel also considered the highest profile causality of Labour’s philosophical soul-searching via Sir Robin Wales in Newham after his shock de-selection as their mayoral candidate, after sixteen unbroken years in the job.

Boundary changes are relatively rare in the context of London elections, with council wards providing the building blocks for parliamentary constituencies as well as local authorities. The London Boroughs of Bexley, Croydon, Redbridge and Southwark are implementing changes to ward boundaries; despite this we do not predict any changes in political control. That being said, in Boroughs like Croydon it may make the election in certain wards more competitive in general terms between Labour and the Conservatives. It should be noted that Bexley is the only council to have a reduced the number of wards. The Conservatives will feel a slight squeeze in this borough but will retain control.

Our panel discussed the impact of Brexit in detail, an important consideration given London voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union at the referendum. Former Conservative strongholds are likely to lose out; namely Wandsworth, Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea. Labour is on the march in these boroughs but whether this leads to a breakthrough it is too early to say. Emotive campaigning seems to favour the Labour campaigns in these areas. A lot of noise has been made about Wandsworth for a big Labour gain. Kensingston and Chelsea is likely to remain in Tory hands, with Wandsworth well up for grabs.

However, with the volatile nature of politics at the moment – and an electorate somewhat fatigued with elections per se – anything could happen. The Liberal Democrats are flexing their pro-Remain muscles in Richmond-upon-Thames and Kingston-upon-Thames with wins predicted in both councils. In particular, the panel examined how vocal Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable has been on this very topic. Interestingly, despite being a Leave borough Sutton could itself as a No Overall Control council, despite being a current Lib Dem fortress in local government.

In our summary, the panel was settled on the prospect of a very bad night for the Conservatives. We believe London is turning red but we should be alert to some surprises on 3 May.


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