Enfield: Limited joy for both main parties in Labour by-election hold

Enfield: Limited joy for both main parties in Labour by-election hold

Labour held its seat in Enfield’s Bullsmoor ward yesterday, a contest caused by the resignation of Erin Gunes from the council after she decided to move out of the borough with her young family after less than a year in post. Her replacement is young activist Destiny Karakus.

There was a time when Enfield called itself the Top London Borough due its northernmost position on the London borough map. Bullsmoor is on the northern edge of Enfield and therefore of London as a whole. The Greater London boundary runs along the along the line of the M25, which is buried in the Holmesdale Tunnel through more than half of the ward. Two other roads run across the border into Hertfordshire: the A10 Great Cambridge Road, which has a junction on the M25, and the old north road, here called Hertford Road. There is a green space on top of the motorway tunnel, its emptiness recalling sections of Berlin where the Wall used to run.

Although it lies at the edge of the capital, Bullsmoor is not a leafy suburb. For the most part it is urban and working class. The town centre of Enfield contains clear social gradations between the wealthy Highlands and Chase areas to the west and the lower-lying parts around the Lee Valley and Enfield Lock to the east, and Bullsmoor is most of the way over to the east.

There is a council estate there off the Great Cambridge Road and an owner-occupied area around Turkey Street station. Intriguing place names are a local feature. The ward includes part of the Freezywater neighbourhood over by Hertford Road. This part of north London is distinctive for its Turkish and Cypriot population and Bullsmoor has an eastern Mediterranean aspect. Like a lot of similar outer London areas, it has also become more generally ethnically diverse. The latest Census figures indicate that the proportion of residents describing themselves as White British has fallen to around 30 per cent and those in the Black, Black British, Caribbean or African category now account for 20 per cent.

Enfield local politics has been disputatious lately and the council, Labour-run since 2010 after an eight-year spell under Conservative control, is the object of frequent criticism. In contrast to the trend in most London boroughs and confounding friendly demographic trends, Labour lost ground to their main opponents in 2022 largely because of local issues. Boundary changes muddy the picture, but the Tories finished eight seats up and Labour eight seats down compared with 2018. There was a swing in the Tories’ favour of more than five per cent.

Five candidates stood in the by-election, the representatives of the four principal London parties being joined by John Dolan of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Short statements from each published in the Enfield Dispatch give a flavour of the arguments being put to the voters. Local environmental issues such as fly-tipping and an incinerator proposed for Edmonton – always a hot topic in local political campaigns – featured, as did council tax levels and policing.

Labour’s Destiny (pictured, from her Instagram) was to win Bullsmoor with 1,056 votes and 56 per cent of the vote. Her main competition came from the Conservatives’ Christine Bellas (686 votes, 36 per cent). This result represents a swing of just over one per cent from Labour to Conservative since May 2022. The other candidates polled poorly. Enfield tends to be a two-party borough and this was very much reflected in the by-election outcome. Green candidate Isobel Whittaker came third with 81 votes, ahead of the 51 votes for Liberal Democrat Tim Martin and 20 for TUSC’s Dolan. Turnout was par at 26 per cent.

Being a relatively poor ward which forms part of larger urban area reaching up to Waltham Cross and has a high level of car dependency – over 40 per cent of people there commute to work by car, a very high proportion by London standards – Bullsmoor is the sort of place where the Conservative campaign against Sadiq Khan’s planned expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone should have its greatest traction.

But the undramatic by-election result, coming on top of the Tory vote slipping in Hounslow’s Heston West in March, suggests again that London Tories are overestimating the importance of the issue. It might motivate people who are already committed to the party and set online local discussion forums fuming, but they are not taking outer London by storm. It could be that those living close to main roads in Heston and Bullsmoor see the attractions of cleaner air as clearly as owners of older cars and vans see the ULEZ as unwelcome.

On the other side of the coin, the result was less than fantastic for Labour. The Conservative share of the vote rose more than theirs and the 2022 comparison point was not as strong for Labour in Enfield as in much of the country. One cannot find any evidence from the Bullsmoor result, even taking account of an unpopular council and an unwanted by-election, of Labour being about to sweep the nation.

Local by-election results contrast with Labour’s reduced but still strong national opinion polling lead and suggest projecting big gains for the party in the forthcoming local elections elsewhere might be incautious. Bullsmoor has had its say, and in two weeks’ time we will hear from the England on the other side of the subterranean M25 below the Holmesdale open space.

Follow Lewis Baston on Twitter.

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Categories: Analysis

1 Comment

  1. Paul Conlan says:

    Good analysis. I think you are correct to point out that the Tory performance in local by-elections suggests that their vote is holding up better than national opinion polls would suggest. This could give them some grounds for optimism, but people sometimes vote differently in local and national elections and the turnout is very different so it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that the polls are wrong (although they could be of course).

    I think you are also right about the effect of anti-ULEZ campaigning being mainly to motivate the Tory core vote rather than to broaden their appeal. Having said that, I know of at least one ex-Labour member and Corbynite who became a pro-car activist and Tory voter at the last local elections so anti-ULEZ, anti-LTN, pro-car populism does have, for some people at least, a Brexit type effect that propels them across the political spectrum. It looks like being a major feature of Tory campaigning at the Mayoral election next year so the potential of its appeal may be put to the test.

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