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London elections: movement below the surface

John Dickie, Director of Strategy and Policy, London First

For some, it was about the bins. For others, Brexit.

One of the most depressing things about being a councillor seeking re-election is that your local record, no matter how compelling, is often as nothing compared to how the voters feel about a complex cocktail of national issues: whether Windrush, the customs union or funding for the NHS.

And even when local issues are salient, it tends to be, bluntly, the failings that matter: not emptying the rubbish for a couple of weeks outranks managing to maintain children’s services in the face of substantial funding cuts.  And of course few voters do any cross-border shopping to compare their council with others.

So I wish capable, hardworking – and defeated – ex-London councillors well. But them’s the breaks.

Most London boroughs counted overnight, with a dozen counting today. So far only one Council has swapped hands, with the Lib Dems winning back Richmond with a substantial swing from the Conservatives.  Labour did not come close to taking Westminster from the Conservatives – always a very high hurdle to surmount; nor did Labour take Wandsworth – although here they reduced the majority to 33:27. More troublingly for the party they also failed to take Barnet from no overall control.  It is now Conservative, with Labour’s failure being attributed to charges of anti-Semitism.

Of the council’s reporting today, only Kingston looks vulnerable to changing parties – with the Lib Dems optimistic of winning back control from the Conservatives given their strong overall performance in South West London.  The Mayoral election in Tower Hamlets is also difficult to call, given the role that has been played there by local independents.

Looking into the details, the picture overnight is of Labour making incremental gains in most boroughs and being around 30 seats up with the Lib Dems up 20 at nearly 100, driven by winning Richmond, and both at the expense of the Conservatives who are down nearly 50 on 270.  Labour might well end up with its highest ever number of councillors in London, even though it will control no more councils.

And this matters, as it’s not just the shifts in party control that changes councils’ policies. The composition of each Council’s majority political group will have changed: new recruits, more – or fewer – members. Perhaps a sense of ennui about the outgoing leadership…certainly a change to important committees, like planning, which reflect the overall party balance of the Council This often take a few weeks to play out, before we know who the new Leaders, Cabinets and Chairs will be who will be driving London local government for the next four years.

So, if you haven’t already done so, please register to join us at our members’ briefing on what the election outcomes mean for London business on 13 June, with Professor Tony Travers, LSE; Katy Balls, Political Correspondent, The Spectator; Tom McTague, Chief UK Correspondent, Politico; and Dave Hill, On London.  Further details here.

If you have any queries in the meantime, please let your member manager know.

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