Borough elections 2022: Will London sink Boris Johnson in May?
Job gains in flagship districts would be bad news for the Prime Minister, although London’s Tories are also hoping for triumphs
Political scientist Robert Hayward made headlines last week with predictions that the Conservatives could lose control of four of the seven London boroughs they currently hold, which would result in Boris Johnson’s resignation as Prime Minister. The Tory Lord said Wandsworth was “almost certain” of being captured by Labour, with Westminster and Barnet at risk and perhaps Hillingdon too.
Only the latter has failed to be called a “Tory flagship” at any point in its history. Should two of the four be sunk, the former Tory mayor could struggle to stay afloat. In Hayward’s view, such losses in the capital would be replicated elsewhere, leading both Conservative Party members and MPs to question whether Johnson should remain their leader. Since then, a YouGov poll for Sky News has revealed that a third of Tory base thinks Johnson should step down as their leader and almost half think Chancellor Rishi Sunak would do a better job.
How are the chances? Hayward knows his stuff but Johnson’s national position could recover in the coming months and there are local factors at work in several London boroughs that are likely to work in the Conservatives’ favour.
In Wandsworth, for example, Labor recently retained a one-vote by-election seat, having won it earlier with ease. Party councilors were at odds, resulting in Leonie Cooper being ousted as group leader and replaced by Simon Hogg, who led the 2018 Labor challenge. They reduced the Tories’ majority to seven seats, although one or two local Conservatives felt this should have been done better, and there is a touch of Long Corbyn about the concerns of some of their councillors.
Arguing with a columnist for Continuity Jeremy newspaper about the Nine Elms Sky Pool is an odd way of wooing mainstream Tory voters. In other news, I recently wrote about having to dodge when a young racing cyclist hit a sidewalk to avoid a red light. According to one of the Wandsworth comrades, this betrayed a deep dislike of women on my part. You might think attributing misogyny to a 63-year-old grandpa because he prefers not to be mowed down by a man about a third his age on a speeding bike is a bit of an overstatement. Wandsworth voters might find such thinking equally odd.
Westminster Labor’s challenge is the well-known challenge of unequal distribution of support. Local members can show you remarkable graphs tracking a general drop in Tory votes – Labor almost won the popular vote last time out – but they know better than anyone that this is not the same as winning many more seats. Few in Westminster are truly marginal and Labor will need more than a few to seize control of this long-standing jewel in the London Tory crown. Nevertheless, they tell a lot about the Marble Arch Mound and there are experienced operators in their ranks. Strange things have been happening and central London is a strange place right now.
Barnet, briefly the “easyjet council”, was at the top of Labor’s target list in 2014 and 2018, but the party fell behind on both occasions. But four years ago, the Tories had “Jeremy” to bail them out and long-term demographic trends are not in their favour. In addition, border changes have an effect. That said, as in some other outer London boroughs, passions have been kindled in Barnet over Transport for London wanting to build flats in station car parks and how other ‘local character’ and development issues need to be carefully addressed by Labor and Tories alike.
As for Hillingdon, contrary to some expectations, the Conservatives slightly strengthened their position in 2018. It would be a big deal if Labor kicked the Tories out of there, but consider a recent Focaldata poll that showed Prime Minister Johnson is on track to lose his seat in Parliament in that precinct.
Meanwhile, there’s a very different side to this year’s county election, in which the Conservatives are the hunters and the workers are the game.
In Croydon, where a first directly elected mayoral contest will be held, the Tories hope to capitalize on Labour’s recent financial management woes and continue in the glorious tradition of Shaun Bailey to pretend that Sadiq Khan is about to force all motorists to pay to get the to cross the Greater London border. It’s a worthless scary story. Are they really going to peddle it until Election Day?
Labor could also be on the defensive in Enfield and Harrow and the Tories will be hoping to bite that resilient but not indestructible Liberal Democrat stronghold of Sutton. Elsewhere, the distinctive local politics of Tower Hamlets and Havering might evoke their own intriguing contests. On London will be producing plenty of coverage of the upcoming campaigns, and Star contributor Lewis Baston will be providing more detail shortly.
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