From the On London Borough Elections Guide 2018:
Little Venice has been Labour in the past but the Conservatives have not been seriously challenged since 1990. It is south of Maida Vale, covering the canal junction that gives the ward its name and some attractive but much subdivided properties around Warwick Avenue, plus a more working-class corner to the south at Paddington Green where the Westway meets Edgware Road. For Westminster, there are fairly high levels of owner occupation (40%) and the complete lack of swing between 2010 and 2016 also suggests that the Conservatives are well placed to hold the ward. But despite the sizeable Conservative lead in 2014, the contest in Little Venice is being taken seriously.
That Paddington Green corner was where, on Thursday evening, I linked up with Labour’s Little Venice canvassing team. It gathered on the forecourt of the local City of Westminster College campus, an elegantly wonky, RIBA award-winning building put up in 2011, which faces on to the charming Paddington Green itself.
The Labour crew was quite distinguished. It contained the council’s Labour group leader Adam Hug, his long-time predecessor Paul Dimoldenberg, Karen Buck MP and Murad Qureshi, who unluckily lost his Londonwide list seat on the London Assembly two years ago because his party was so successful at winning Assembly constituency seats. He is now one of Labour’s three Little Venice candidates.
The fact that Labour has an outside chance of wresting control of Westminster from the Conservatives for the first time in its history is remarkable and was pretty much unthinkable until very recently, even given Buck’s decisive general election hold in Tory target marginal Westminster North last year and the big dent made in the Tory majority in its posher parliamentary neighbour, Cities of London & Westminster.
But an outside chance it is. Sage observers have remarked that Labour expectations have not been managed well. The consequence is that if Barnet, Wandsworth and, yes, even Westminster are not wrenched from Tory hands, there might be a sense of disappointment, even if Labour gains scores of seats across the capital and, as looks likely, takes council chamber control of Tower Hamlets, where it already has the mayoralty.
So what will happen in Westminster? At present, the Conservatives hold 45 council seats to Labour’s 15. It was 44-16 four years ago, but one of those Labour councillors has since turned blue. That seat, in marginal Churchill ward, looks likely to be won back. Maida Vale ward, which adjoins Little Venice to the north, returned two Tory councillors and one and one Labour one last time, so there are big hopes of two Labour seat gains there. But after those the climb looks steeper. A case can be made for up to eight clean-sweep, three-seat Tory Westminster wards being marginals, but Labour would need swings of 9% and more compared with 2014. Little Venice is in that Big Swing territory.
The local ground force travelled hopefully but realistically through streets with fine variegations of housing of different kinds: on one side of Porteus Road, handsome old mansion blocks; on the other, the slightly dowdy 1960s John Aird Court where a “three-bedroom apartment” is currently on sale for £650,000. “Lots of right-to-buy here and some Air BnB,” I’m told. Outside, a small boy appeared in the space between two parked cars and urges us to come to his cake sale. “Cupcakes, Mini Rolls,” he mentioned, temptingly. He was given a pound to show support for local small enterprise, but the Labour crew had to start knocking on doors.
John Aird Court is a low level, two-block estate with an attractive garden on the Harrow Road side and stairways that made me think of Fablon and a recent re-run episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). It was quiet on the steps and landings. Knock, no one home. Knock, no one home. A beardy young white man in shorts scuttled up then scuttled down again. Then, one household, Asian, revealed that it always votes Conservative, which was at odds with prior intelligence. But another knock that’s answered brought good cheer. “We just might make history,” says Hug. “Yes, the election is next Thursday.”
Turnout, as ever, will matter greatly. These are experienced campaigners and they’re not carried away, but sometimes excitement shows: we could have the numbers we need; this is the best campaign set-up in memory.
Other evidence supports the view that Labour will at least make several seat gains. Among Conservatives there have been de-selection rifts and Twitter spite. Complaints about over-development in the posher neighbourhoods could make an unhelpful difference for the Tories too, as could Brexit. One senior local Labour figure says the Windrush issue is not only galvanising Westminster’s black and Asian voters, but its non-UK EU residents too – they wonder what the scandal says about Tory attitudes to them, at least at national level.
There are also single wild cards being played in three strongly Conservative wards in the form of candidates for the Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street. Might Tory voters who live in Bryanston & Dorset Square, Marylebone High Street and the just about marginal West End and are unhappy with Sadiq Khan’s plans put their third cross next to one of those names, all of them familiar neighbourhood activists, and disrupt the usual Tory clean sweeps?
To close, another snippet from the Borough Elections Guide:
Labour will need to be very good at targeting and benefiting from local issues. It is quite possible for them to win the popular vote in Westminster but for the Conservatives to still retain control of the council; this would actually happen if the 2017 general election voting pattern were repeated.
Yes, a Labour win would be an earthquake. But big tremors could be on the cards.
For in-depth detail on the borough elections, including ward-by-ward analysis and stats, buy a copy of 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.
Dave and Lewis are available for hire as a double act, both before and after the elections. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.