Predicting the outcomes of elections (or referendums) has been a mug’s game in recent years, with a succession of outcomes failing to match expectations formed from what appeared to be solid prior evidence. With today’s elections to London’s 32 borough councils, the case for caution is particularly persuasive: London-wide opinion polling on these contests can be imperfect pointers to voters’ intentions in individual parts of the metropolis, especially if the Liberal Democrats are a strong local factor, and a number of borough contests this year look very risky to call.
For such reasons, Lewis Baston and I have not made firm forecasts about today’s results in our ward-by-ward Borough Elections Guide, comprehensive though it is. However, because it’s fun and because I would feel like a coward if I didn’t, I have decided to stuck my neck out and make the Ten Perilous Predictions below.
Of course, some of them are more perilous than others (at least, I think they are) and you can bet that at least one borough result will take just about everyone by surprise (well, probably). I should stress that these are my predictions alone. Lewis, who is much wiser than me, has not collaborated in this foolish exercise. He has, though, been kind enough to offer a few sage observations on my prophesies, which I hope you enjoy in the spirit of reckless adventure in which they are made. And I hope very much indeed that a respectable number of them turn out to be right.
TEN PERILOUS PREDICTIONS
- Labour will win Barnet. Not by very much and I think they might do it the hard way. The antisemitism issue could even cost them a seat or two in wards where many Jewish Londoners live, but any such losses will be outweighed by gains in other wards. This is a view expressed to me by three separate Labour contacts in recent days, and I’m prepared to go with that. So that’s one Tory flagship sunk. However…
- Conservatives will win Wandsworth. Did I really just type that? I honestly don’t know if I believe it. Every bit of intelligence I’ve gathered suggests the borough is on an absolute knife edge. The truth is I cannot tell which way Wandsworth will go and have opted for a Tory hold through a combination of a coin toss and a hunch. Not very scientific. But fence-sitting is against the rules of this little game. [Lewis comments from his seat atop the metaphorical fence: “Coin tosses and hunches are all anyone has I think. Labour seem to be making some progress in the wards that will decide control, but it is quite possible it will come down to how the seats divide in split wards. It’s also possible, despite being a two party contest, that nobody will win and the scoreline will be 30-29-1, with the 1 being ex-Tory Independent Malcolm Grimston. The fun and games might then continue…”]
- Conservatives will win Westminster. It is remarkable that a Labour win has become taken seriously as a possibility during the campaigns. In our Guide, Lewis and I didn’t even list Westminster as a top tier contest, so strong was the Tory position at the start. My expectation is that Labour will do well, but not well enough to turn WCC red for the first time. [Lewis says: “Westminster has always been a bit of a stretch for Labour. It’s hard to know what is going on in such atypical wards as West End and Lancaster Gate, and where turnout matters so much, but I think Dave’s right.”]
- Labour will win Tower Hamlets Council. Not a very big deal of itself, because Labour’s John Biggs looks highly likely to be re-elected as the borough’s Mayor, with all the executive powers the post commands. But a majority Labour council makes life easier for him than an unpredictable No Overall Control one, which is the current state of play. Also, assuming Labour captures Barnet, a Labour council win in the East End will give Labour majorities in 22 boroughs, beating its highest previous total of 21 secured in 1971.
- Liberal Democrats will win Kingston. The On London Borough Elections Guide 2018 says: “The Lib Dem loss here in 2014 was fairly narrow and aggravated by scandal. It should be the easiest regain for them this time, having got back the Kingston & Surbiton parliamentary seat, which covers most of the borough.” Who am I to disagree?
- Conservatives will win Harrow. I’m mainly saying this in the hope of getting lucky and looking clever. I’m also following the reasoning that there’s usually one result that most people fail to see coming. In the Guide, Lewis and I ask if Harrow is the borough most likely to go against the pro-Labour London trend. The answer to that is probably yes and I’m told Labour locally have been fretful at points in the campaign. I doubt there will be much change overall, but I’m prepared to take a reckless punt that the Tories will just nick it.
- Labour will win Hammersmith & Fulham. Did anyone think they wouldn’t, especially after last year’s general election outcomes in the borough’s parliamentary seats? Well, elections here are closely fought and outcomes decided in a bunch of finely-balanced wards. Labour could win by a distance, yet the possibility of the Tories reversing the shock result of 2014 could not be ruled out when you looked closely at the stats. Even so, the big local and national issues both suggest a Labour hold.
- Liberal Democrats will win Sutton. They have a fat majority, but the Lib Dems here are vulnerable to the Conservatives for several reasons: local environmental troubles, the collapse of UKIP in this Leave borough, the time-for-a-change factor. A hung council looks possible. But I reckon the Lib Dems will hang on. [Lewis says: “If Sutton did come through for the Tories, it would be one of the largest turnovers of seats we have seen for some time in the capital. It could happen but I think the blue wave will stop short of the winning margin.”]
- Conservatives will win Hillingdon. Some people reckon Labour has a chance of winning here. It won’t happen.
- Conservatives will win Richmond. Some omens favour a Lib Dem comeback, not least due to the Brexit effect, and in this electorally volatile borough they might well emerge the winners. But their electoral agreement with the Greens looks risky and recent defections to Labour can’t have helped. All that said, I’m in guesswork country again (see Wandsworth). Gut feeling says the Tories will survive.
So there you have it, a mixture of considered judgements based on data and intelligence, random pin-tail-on-donkey techniques, and reprehensible attention-seeking behaviour. Take your pick, but, in some cases at least, don’t give a bookmaker your money on the strength of them.
There are some other election outcomes to look out for that seem probable or very possible: that Tories will again form the largest group on the extraordinary Havering council, but again have to look to a diffuse cacophony of Residents Association councillor grouplets, who disagree fiercely among themselves, in order to form a coalition; that Labour will wipe out the last vestiges of opposition representation in some boroughs, with Islington, Lewisham, Lambeth and maybe Haringey – and even Hackney? – joining Newham and Barking & Dagenham as “one party states”; that the Greens will end up with no councillors at all in London; that UKIP too will be obliterated.
Also, as implied above, the chances are that Labour will end up in control of at least 22 of the boroughs – an all-time record.
But we shall see. And we can start to see from about 2.00 am tomorrow, which is when Westminster is expected to be the first London local authority to declare its council results. On London will be providing live updates on council outcomes in all 32 boroughs and the four mayoral ones throughout tomorrow morning and beyond. See you in the small hours.
For in-depth detail on all Thursday’s borough elections, including ward-by-ward analysis and stats, buy the On London Borough Elections Guide, compiled by Lewis Baston and Dave Hill, for just £5. Individual borough profiles can be purchased for £1 each. Use the menu and the “buy now” button below. Delivery asap by email.