Local Elections 2018 Preview: Wandsworth
Current Make Up: Conservative 39, Labour 19, other 2 (elected as Conservatives in 2014)
Projection: Slim chance of Labour gain
One of Labour’s key target boroughs in London – along with Barnet and Westminster – the south-west London borough of Wandsworth has been Conservative-run since 1978. If Labour gain control on 3 May, this will be of huge symbolic importance in the capital and will cement the dominance of Labour in central London. Wandsworth has long been a showpiece borough for the Conservatives, with historically voters frequently splitting their vote between Labour for Westminster elections and Conservative at local level. One reason for this has been Wandsworth’s low levels of council tax, particularly compared with neighbouring, Labour-run Lambeth – a fact the local Tories have been campaigningon for decades. So, what are the prospects for a Labour upset?
Threats for the Conservatives:
- The upswing in Labour vote in London. At the 2017 election, Labour increased its vote share by around 10% across Wandsworth, and Labour now holds two of the borough’s three constituencies, increasing its majority in Tooting and gaining Battersea, while Justine Greening’s Conservative majority was reduced to 1554 in previously safe Putney.
- Wandsworth’s high Remain vote of 75.03%, and high number of non-UK EU citizens. All opposition parties are targeting both Remainers and non-UK EU citizens, who can vote in the local elections. Of the two incumbent former Conservative councillors who have left the party since 2014, one is standing for the new local anti-Brexit party Renew, who are fielding seven candidates in the borough.
- Labour activist strength. As in the 2017 election, Labour’s increased membership and activist numbers could have an effect in increasing turnout where needed. These campaigning techniqueshad an impact in what were considered safe Conservative seats in 2017 – including Battersea. The borough is a key target, with campaigners focusing resources there over safe neighbouring boroughs.
- The end of the Wandsworth exceptionalism? Will concerns over large private developments – particularly around Battersea Power Station/Nine Elms development in the north of the borough – the high numbers of private renters, and cost-of-living concerns particularly over housing finally outweigh the reputation of the Conservative council as an efficient low-council-tax haven and swing the vote to Labour?
Difficulties for Labour:
- The historic dominance of the Conservatives and high bar to cross. Labour needs to pick up 12 seats to gain an outright majority (compared with their other target of Barnet, where the Conservative majority is one). Dave Hill and Lewis Baston’s analysis of Wandsworth wards at On London has identified five seats they are likely to gain if the swing to Labour matches the 2017 election, and a further three (in West Hill ward) that would be possible with a particularly good night for Labour, but gaining more would require a vote increase well ahead of Labour’s current polling in London.
- The possibility of the non-Conservative vote being split. If the other parties, including the Lib Dems and Renew, are successful in targeting EU citizens, it could limit Labour’s success. The independent former Conservative Malcolm Grimston is also standing in the key West Hill ward, which Labour needs to win.
Author: Alice Park is Editor of Democratic Audit UK.