London elections 2018: what Havering and Tower Hamlets have in common

by Dave Hill

From the On London Borough Elections Guide 2018:

The peculiar internal politics of Havering place the Conservatives in a strangely similar position to Labour in Tower Hamlets in being the biggest party, yet subject to attacks from across an unpredictable front formed from local forces driven by a communal politics deriving from the borough’s demographic and social distinctiveness. Clientelism, localism and being outflanked at its ideological extremes have all thwarted Conservative dominance. Also like Labour in Tower Hamlets, Havering Tories endured splits and defections before 2014, but have since then seen their local opponents suffer the same fate.

This the shrewd insight of Lewis Baston, my co-author of the Guide.

At first sight – and, indeed at second, third and fourth – Havering and Tower Hamlets could hardly be more different. Havering’s population is 83% white British and 30% over the age of 55, and 69% of its housing is owned outright or with a mortgage. Its residents voted by 69.7% to Leave the European Union and the biggest party on its council is the Conservatives.

By contrast, in Tower Hamlets only 31.2% of people are white British while 41.2% are Asian; only 12% are over 56 years old, while 40% are between 18 and 35; only 27% of homes there are owned outright or with a mortgage, while 41.6% are rented from the council or a housing association. Tower Hamlets was a 67.5% Remain borough and both its directly elected Mayor and its largest group of councillors are Labour.

Apart from the fact that both boroughs are in East London – and very different parts of it at that – the only thing they have in common is the habit of electing extraordinary mosaics of councillors from local independent parties, which intermittently disrupt the normal flow of big party politics, dissolve into arcane in-fights or, indeed, do both at the same time. They, of course, would say that they speak for local people with a directness and grassroots loyalty that no big party machine politician can begin to match.

There isn’t enough space here to even start to do justice to the proliferating, sub-dividing, territorially-feuding array of Residents Association councillors and candidates in Havering. Suffice to say that one bunch of them formed a coalition administration with the Tories in September 2014 and its been pretty much Game of Thrones between them and their fellow Residents ever since.

In Tower Hamlets, meanwhile, the bunch of councillors once loyal to deposed mayor Lutfur Rahman have since split into two bitter rival camps and as a consequence might smooth the path of Labour winning a majority of councillors, thus liberating the Town Hall chamber from its present, complex limbo of No Overall Control.

An interesting theme of borough elections night will be how resilient the local parties in these two boroughs prove to be and whether local independent or single issue candidates in other parts of the capital make an impact.

Merton Park ward in Merton has been returning Residents Association candidates and no other kind since a by-election in 1989 – they are part of the establishment. By contrast, a fledgling Kingston Independent Residents Group is seeking votes for the first time in the south west royal borough. And how might the three candidates in Westminster standing on the single issue of opposing the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street get on? On London will be reporting on them all.

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.

Borough Elections Guide 2018
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Lewis and Dave are available for hire as a double act, analysing Thursday’s results and what they might mean for local government policy in the capital. Email: davehillonlondon@gmail.com.

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