In next week’s local elections (3 May), some Conservative Councillors in solid Remain-voting suburban boroughs such as Richmond are worried voters will punish them for national Brexit policies. If that does happen though, which party will be the beneficiary? The South-West of London has long been a Liberal Democrat stronghold, with Council seats often switching between the Lib-Dems and the Tories as the political winds change. This time around though, the Labour Party might actually be the surprise winner in these neighbourhoods.
In the last few years the Liberal Democrats have lost several London councillors as they defected to the Labour Party. Perhaps most damagingly to the Liberal Democrats, one was a local heavyweight, the former deputy leader of Richmond Council and London Assembly Member, Cllr Stephen Knight, who stated in his resignation letter that ‘It is clear that Labour can, for the first time in 20 years, win a significant group in Richmond Council.’
In London as a whole, the Labour Party is resurgent. Last year Kensington and Chelsea returned a Labour MP for the first time ever, and there is the genuine possibility that Kensington and Chelsea Council might follow suit and change to Labour for the first time in its history. Labour holds 20 councils across London and the mayoralty under Sadiq Khan. Even the Spectator magazine is commenting that Labour will be the biggest beneficiary in London on 3 May.
In traditional Conservative / Lib-Dem suburban seats, the Labour Party is fielding a near full set of candidates, which surely is a sign of their confidence in some electoral gains. In some seats the Lib Dems have agreed a “stand-aside” arrangement with the Green Party, in perhaps another sign that they assess that Labour, not the Conservatives or the Greens, is the party to beat.
Labour has long held inner London seats. This historic election could be the moment that the party takes the outer boroughs too.