How will London’s Liberal Democrats be feeling on Friday morning after the borough results have come in? They might be very cheery, having kept hold of Sutton yet again and wrested control of both Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames back from the Conservatives. Or they might be very glum, having lost Sutton to the Tories and failed to replace them as the majority in those two leafier boroughs they regularly contest with them in the suburban far south west. A case can be made for both scenarios.
Sutton currently has a fat Lib Dem majority of 33 seats and the party has been in full command there since 1990. Yet there’s a long list of wards where, to varying degrees, potential exists for seats to change hands according to a range of variable factors.
In our Borough Elections Guide, Lewis Baston and I write: “The general sense of the contest is that the Conservatives will make gains but probably fall short of depriving the Lib Dems of their overall majority.” But we also note that some of the shine has gone off the Lib Dem administration lately – notably on environmental issues – and that the collapse of UKIP in this rare (for London) Leave borough could well boost the Conservatives. There are credible predictions of the borough switching to No Overall Control. It is unusual for such turbulence to be associated with places like Carshalton and Cheam.
Kingston looks to be the borough most likely to switch from blue to yellow on Thursday. The Lib Dems lost control four years ago by only a small margin and were not helped by their former leader having been imprisoned in 2013 for possessing images of child abuse. The current Tory majority is just six seats and they won’t be overjoyed by the formation of a local party, running as Your Kingston, whose candidates include two defectors from their own councillor ranks.
That said, Kingston leader Kevin Davis is insisting that local issues are counting for far more on the doorstep than Brexit in this 63% Remain borough and stressing the virtue of his council tax freeze, comparing this with its rise under the Lib Dems. For their part, his opponents are claiming there is growing concern about the height and pace of development and the future of green space. They will also be trying to eradicate the borough’s two Labour councillors from Norbiton ward.
It looks tougher for the Lib Dems to prevail in Richmond, though this borough of tranquil spaces can be volatile politically, with its strong local activist traditions, and has often been characterised by large allegiance swings. Attitudes to Heathrow expansion tend to be less balanced here, as the kinds of people who live in Richmond aren’t much in the market for the employment Heathrow provides. Brexit could play a big part here too, and not to the Tories’s advantage.
Much may depend on the vigour of the Lib Dem effort locally and the effectiveness of their electoral arrangement with the local Green Party in some wards. In our Elections Guide, Lewis and I write: “In term of the big picture, a lot of Richmond wards can seem to swing together, so the overall composition can flip between large Lib Dem and Conservative majorities”. The Tory majority in 2014 was 24.
Photo: Kingston upon Thames Civic Centre (by Lewis Baston).
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