In the second of our series of blogs on the forthcoming local elections in May, Business Director Simon Petar takes a look at Westminster City Council…
Westminster City Council represents the classic example of the struggle the Labour party will face at the next General Election. The ability of Labour candidates to pile up votes by the hundreds in a number of local wards is impressive. The issue, however, is those votes are piled high in many of the areas they already have support. That said, if the Prime Minister’s woes worsen, and let’s face it, they will, there is a real chance that Labour could make significant inroads into the existing Conservative majority at Westminster City Council on the national swing alone.
We are already seeing the core election narrative from the Labour group – leaflets to residents, community groups and business forums have all tried to link historic planning applications as ‘evidence of the cosy relationship’ between developers and councillors.
The controversy surrounding the ‘Marble Arch Mound’ is further tainting the Conservative council’s leadership’s image and, for Labour, is rearing itself up as a clarion call of Tory waste. It was due to cost just over £3 million, it ended up costing twice that, opened unfinished and was slated as “London’s worst tourist attraction”. Now, 6 months and one Deputy Leader resignation later, it is being demolished. Campaigning by opposition parties on this example of public sector waste is likely to be seen beyond the boundaries of Westminster.
Pre boundary review, the Conservatives had 41 seats, Labour 19. With 6 fewer seats to fight for, it’s unlikely the seat distribution will change significantly. However, we do have 4 wards that are genuinely marginal and Labour has a chance of benefiting.
The wards in question:
- Maida Vale
- Church Street
- West End.
Each of these wards could see new faces as the lowest elected margin for each of these wards was under 80 votes.
The impact the boundary changes will have is a story of known unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld once famously said, as the Labour groups will be adjusting their election strategy from yesteryear.
The most interesting ward is arguably the West End Ward, right in the heart of Soho. Unexpectedly, Labour’s Pancho Lewis will not be contesting the election, instead, Labour will be pinning their hopes on international disputes barrister, Paul Fisher, former candidate, Patrick Lilley, and respected Labour human rights activist, Jessica Toale. With long standing Conservative Councillor Glanz standing down, who himself only had a slim majority of 26 votes, this seat is firmly in the sights of Labour. The boundary changes will impact and will be the difference for Labour as Fitzrovia has been added to the ward and that is not natural Labour party territory.
The same can be said for Bayswater Ward, as it will absorb parts of Lancaster Gate Ward which have consistently voted Conservative. However, the opposite can be said for Vincent Square, a marginal ward with a Conservative majority of 316 votes, as it will gain a housing estate from St James’ Ward adding to its already large amount of housing estates.
Labour had high hopes for Churchill ward but, under the new ward boundaries, we will see this ward predominately absorbed into the new Pimlico South ward, with a small portion of the old ward joining Pimlico North. In short, this means where Labour had hoped to take a bigger cut of the electoral spoils will not be as straightforward as they thought, even in a ward with large estate regeneration programmes like Ebury Estate.
A closely watched and hotly contested council at the heart of British politics, both Labour and the Conservatives will battle it out for Westminster under the gaze of the national press. However, the often talked about earthquake when Labour snatch this one from the Tories still seems to be a way off… for now.
Cascade will be monitoring all of the key races in the coming months and we look forward to sharing our insights from around London as the election campaigns begin to pick up pace.