As we enter the final few weeks before the local elections in May, Sam Wilson, Cascade Business Director, takes a look at what to expect in the London Borough of Lambeth…
It’s now only 21 days until voters go to the polls across London, amidst a turbulent political landscape pockmarked by party gate, levelling up (or down depending on how you view it), the rapidly growing cost of living and the conflict in Ukraine.
Whilst these issues will likely be discussed on many doorsteps across the capital and by candidates of all political persuasion, there are only a handful of boroughs where control of the council realistically has the potential to shift – Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster to name just three which will be hotly debated right up to polling day.
Changing of the guard
But in many other London boroughs it’s a case of ‘changing of the guard’, where the current administration is expected to retain control and it’s the faces of the politicians that will change. Spurred by boundary changes across the borough, Lambeth is a keen example of this narrative playing out – with 21 out of the existing 55 Labour councillors stepping down this year. Reasons will vary; some may have loftier political aspirations, others’ circumstances might have changed during the pandemic (as many of us have), they might have already stepped down amidst controversy or simply served their community for over two decades and need a break – the latter being the case for one of my much-valued and community-focused ward councillors in Streatham South.
Some well-known councillors are standing aside in May, including former leader Jack Hopkins and three current cabinet members: Matthew Bennett (current Deputy Leader and portfolio holder for planning), Andy Wilson (portfolio holder for finance) and Lucy Caldicott (portfolio holder for health and social care). Other notable retirees include former Chair of Planning Committee Clair Wilcox, who steered the committee since 2014, twice-Mayor Chris Wellbelove and former deputy leader Jenny Braithwaite.
So barring an (earth-shattering and unforeseen) shock, Lambeth will continue to be a Labour-run Council in May but there will be a new Cabinet unveiled at the Full Council after the election and likely a raft of changes to the Planning Applications Committee. Expect tenured members Jim Dickson, Danny Adilypour and Ed Davie to feature in Claire Holland’s Cabinet alongside some fresh faces.
Having become Leader in 2021, Councillor Claire Holland quickly placed environment front and centre of the Council’s agenda over the last 10 months and in the Labour Group’s 2022 manifesto ‘On Your Side’, having presided over Lambeth being the first local authority in London to declare a climate crisis in January 2019 whilst she was portfolio holder for the environment. That being said not all environmental initiatives have been welcomed and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) introduced during the pandemic have divided opinion across Lambeth, whilst fly-tipping is an ever-present issue in parts of the borough.
A green-fingered approach makes sense when you consider the biggest political challengers in Lambeth are the Green Party. With a long-time foothold in Streatham St Leonard’s ward since the Liberal Democrats were ousted in 2014, the Greens will look to grow their numbers from the current five councillors and strengthen their position as the main opposition to scrutinise Labour.
But, again, there are changes afoot in the Green Party ranks, with former Lambeth Green Party Leader and one-time co-Leader of the National Green Party, Jonathan Bartley, also stepping down. He is expected to be replaced as opposition leader by Councillor Scott Ainslie, a charismatic former MEP and parliamentary candidate who is well-regarded in Streatham.
The lone Conservative councillor in Lambeth, Tim Briggs, will likely seek to distance himself from events playing out in Westminster and instead continue his campaigning against LTNs when he stands in the new two-member ward of Clapham Common & Abbeville, alongside Vauxhall resident David Frost who polled fifth in 2018. Infrastructure campaigner and chair of Streatham Conservatives, Neil Salt, is standing once again, albeit in a new two-member Streatham Hill East, where the difference between Council Tax with neighbouring Wandsworth will be a hot topic.
After a dismal showing in 2014, the Liberal Democrats came back with over 12% of the vote but it wasn’t enough to secure any seats. Look for them to make a push in Vauxhall and Knights Hill where they are standing ex-Lambeth councillors in a bid to gain traction.
Local issues will undoubtedly come to the fore as we approach 5 May – expect council housing maintenance, LTNs, fly-tipping and environmental issues to feature heavily – and don’t be surprised to see some split wards come 6 May.