|Could the Tories Really Lose in Wandsworth?|
Our exclusive analysis considers the chance of Labour gaining control of the Council
A number of national commentators, including most recently the Financial Times, have speculated that 40 years of Conservative control of Wandsworth Council is about to come to an end.
The possibility of a Labour victory on 3 May have been raised by both national and London-wide polls that show that the Conservatives could be at risk in all the inner London boroughs they currently hold.
Some political analysts are claiming that a defeat in the flagship borough of Wandsworth would be so symbolically significant that Theresa May would have to step down.
Local issues such as affordable housing, particularly in the many local luxury developments, a third runway at Heathrow and intense local opposition to Brexit have come to prominence since the last borough elections in 2014.
PutneySW15.com has carried out a analysis on a seat by seat basis of the local borough election which gives a far more detailed picture than any other coverage.
The number of seats that Labour needs to win to oust the Tories is twelve. There are sixty council seats in Wandsworth and Labour currently hold 19 with the Conservatives on 39 (two Councillors having been elected as Conservatives have left the party). Our analysis shows that they would require a swing of over 9% to gain the final seat that they need. Assuming a uniform swing to Labour from the previous election they would gain control if they won two of the three seats in Southfield ward.
These figures suggest that key battleground wards in the election include West Hill, Southfields, St Mary’s Park, Nightingale and Shaftesbury. Labour need to be winning some or all of the seats in these wards if they hope to gain control. In each case just a few hundred votes changing either way will determine the outcome. If Labour get a swing in their direction a few percentage points more than they need then even Council leader Ravi Govindia’s seat in East Putney could be at risk.
The methodology used is to look at each ward on a seat by seat basis. Each ward has three seats and the top polling Conservative successful candidate in 2014 is compared to the top polling unsuccessful Labour candidate. The process is repeated for the second and third candidates from each party excluding successful Labour candidates from 2014. This gives a vote difference and percentage swing needed for every seat in the ward designated as 1, 2 or 3. For example in a seat with the three Conservative Councillors the third placed Labour candidate from 2014 would need to exceed the vote of the first place Conservative Councillor for seat number ‘1’ to be taken.
One factor that may have a significant impact on the result is the number of EU citizens registered in the key wards. Under current electoral regulations, anyone from an EU or Commonwealth country who lives in Britain is entitled to vote in local elections. Wandsworth Borough voted 75% to Remain in the European Union during the 2016 referendum and many voters will be using the local election to make a point about the direction that Brexit is currently taking. Wandsworth Council have confirmed to us that at least 26,000 EU citizens are registered and eligible to vote in the borough on 3 May although we don't have the breakdown on a ward by ward basis.
The population who were EU passport holders in key battleground wards was as follows:
Age demographics is also likely to have a significant impact on the result. Wandsworth in general has a much younger population than the national average and this is particularly pronounced in some of the key wards. Polling suggests that the younger age groups are far more likely to have voted Remain and have seen a greater shift to voting Labour. The median age of key wards in the borough is around 32 compared to 39 for England and Wales. In West Hill ward over half the population is aged between 18 and 44 compared to a national average of 36.7%. Only 13.3% of the ward's voters are aged over 60 compared to a national average of 22.3% in 2011. This kind of population make up is mirrored in all the key wards in the area and it can probably be presumed that the average age has fallen further due to immigration and the kind of housing stock that has been added since 2011. With most new units built over the last six years ago being flats it is probable that a preponderance of people moving in are younger than 45.
Other factors are likely to come into play including the number of candidate standing. The Liberal Democrats in Wandsworth have announced that they intend to run a full slate of candidates i.e. three for every ward. In 2014 they didn’t contest every seat including in some of the key Labour targets. For example they fielded only one candidate in St Mary’s Park and Shaftesbury wards and two in Nightingale. The impact of extra Liberal Democrat candidates is difficult to predict. It could be argued that they will split the anti-Brexit vote or that more Conservative voters will be persuaded to vote Liberal Democrat as a protest rather than Labour.
Independent candidates standing in vital wards are also likely to have an impact on the final result. Malcolm Grimston who represented the West Hill ward for the Conservatives for 20 years will be standing as an independent. In Shaftesbury ward James Cousins, who was elected as a Conservative in 2014 has defected to the pro-EU Renew party and plans to contest the seat for them.
Cllr Grimston says, “This could be the tightest election since 1986. National factors do play an important part and we don't yet know how recent rows about anti-Semitism and Russian nerve agents will play out, if they are even remembered by May 3. But at the end of the day I believe local elections should be decided on local issues.
“Like most councils Wandsworth does some things well - our schools are superb - while in other areas (notably caring for the most vulnerable in our midst) we lag well behind Richmond, Merton and Lambeth, for example.”
Cllr Cousins says, “With both parties polarising the political debate by moving further to their extremes, I joined Renew because it offered a strong centrist alternative and was campaigning to stay in the EU, an important issue not just for the tens of thousands EU citizens in Wandsworth, but also to the overwhelming majority of Wandsworth voters who know we would have a much better future as a full partner of the EU than we do with the badly-negotiated deals we're heading for now.”
He continues, "I left the Tories because it was clear to me they lacked a positive vision for the borough and were increasingly following an agenda that put developers needs before residents."
"Wandsworth Conservative campaign is focused on the record of delivery and the achievements of each and every member of the Conservative Group – I remain confident that Wandsworth Conservative councillors will be returned in each of the 15 wards that currently have a Conservative representation on the Council.
"We will soon be publishing the manifesto which will lay out our plans for next 4 years and beyond. You rightly mention low tax and responsible financial stewardship. Our core belief is that only a party that budgets carefully and responsibly can be trusted to deliver the kind of improvements that deliver real benefits to people’s daily lives."
April 4, 2018