Local elections 2018: Tory anxiety as major defeats predicted in London
Labour seem to be on course to paint London red once again, but if the last few years have taught us anything, no election is a foregone conclusion, says Dods Monitoring Consultant, Kerri Blyberg.
On 3rd May, voters will go to the polls to elect over 4,000 councillors across England. Yet while over 150 councils have council seats up for grabs, all eyes will inevitably be on the 32 London boroughs, with expert polling and media speculation pointing to a significantly different local government landscape once the ballot papers have been counted on May 4th.
In February, YouGov suggested Labour were on course for a landslide victory in London, with a poll finding 54 per cent of voters in the capital would vote for the party, compared to only 28 per cent signalling support for the Conservatives.
More recently, one damning analysis has suggested the Tories could be on the cusp of a record all-time low in local elections, returning less than 519 councillors in the capital.
Pollster predictions aside, recent history also tells us Labour is set for a big win, having won 43 per cent of the popular vote in London in 2014 – their highest result since 1973. Since then, demographics have further shifted in Labour’s favour, and the party will surely be hoping that millennials will help them build on last year’s general election surge.
Boroughs anticipated to change hands include Tory strongholds of Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster while Kensington and Chelsea could also be under threat post-Grenfell.
Such high-profile defeats could also strike fear in the faces of Conservative London MPs anxious over the future of their own seats, and some have suggested a complete electoral disaster could see calls to mount another leadership challenge against Theresa May.
Further predictions of doom and gloom for the Tories in London has stemmed on the back of ‘bombshell’ research from Lord Ashcroft which found that only 18 per cent of voters in blue boroughs thought its council delivered on claims of lower bills and better-quality services.
Crucially, the survey results signposted local health services, housing and crime as the top issues cited by respondents as influencing how they intend to vote. More interestingly, housing was the biggest single issue for voters aged up to 49. Is the prime minister about to see history repeat itself, with the younger generation set to punish the Tories once more for failing to tackle the housing crisis?
London Mayor Sadiq Khan certainly thinks so. Back In January, he published damning research which found Labour councils in the capital had built on average nearly 70 per cent more affordable housing than Tory-led boroughs since 2013.
However, the Tories have hit back, with Paul Scully MP, Conservative Vice Chairman for London accusing the Mayor of reneging on his own electoral promises and failing to deliver on the social housing front.
And the tit-for-tat shows no sign of stopping. With media attention firmly latched on to the current crime epidemic sweeping London, Labour will be keen to remind voters of the claim that the Tory Government’s cuts to police funding are to blame.
But its not just Labour who present a threat. Conservative peer and elections analyst Lord Hayward predicts Kingston is likely to be claimed by the Liberal Democrats.
Senior Tories are reportedly nervous of a potential Lib Dem revival, with the party seeking to capitalise on the frustrations of EU nationals – who weren’t able to vote in the Brexit referendum – and Remain voters over the Government’s chaotic handling of Brexit and Labour’s inconsistent approach.
The party has embarked on a sizable social media campaign, delivering targeted adverts in 21 European languages to the feeds of European nationals living in England. Paired with a recent bout of council by-election success, and a reputation for committed door-to-door campaigning, the party are optimistic they could re-take Richmond and Kingston, as well as picking up seats in Islington.
Indeed, aside from the domestic influencing factors, Brexit will have an inevitable impact, and pro-remain boroughs could turn their backs on the Tories. It will also be interesting to keep an eye on Momentum’s influence, with Haringey an obvious one to watch for its likely influx of more left-wing councillors.
In addition to a fresh batch of councillors, Londoners will also go to the polls for new directly elected mayors in Newham, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Hackney – all four of which are currently in Labour hands. Having won the mayoralties comfortably in 2014, Labour are favourites to win again, with the only real item of interest being that long-standing Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales has been de-selected.
Certainly, Labour seem to be on course to paint London red once again, but if the last few years have taught us anything, no election is a foregone conclusion.
*This article is part of a series of articles ahead of the 2018 Local elections. Get in touch to find out about our Local Government Information Products and Services.*