London local elections 2022 – our forecast

Croydon – Conservative Mayor, Labour council majority

Arrangements to control the council were upended when a directly elected Mayor system was adopted by referendum. The campaign for a Mayor, while non-partisan, was strongly supported by Conservatives from the south of the borough – where the Conservatives are heavily supported but find themselves in a borough in which the north delivers enough Labour councillors to outvote them. On three occasions Labour has won a council majority despite the Conservatives winning more votes, and with the council’s well-publicised financial difficulties the Conservatives are campaigning strongly for their group leader Jason Perry in the Mayoral election. Although the executive will be appointed by the Mayor, 70 councillors are elected separately and we expect Labour will retain a majority of them. Croydon’s planning and other committees depend on the majority among councillors. Labour has chosen former Assembly member Val Shawcross (who was Croydon council leader 1997-99) as its Mayoral candidate; she had no part in more recent administrations. She faces a tough fight, and will need to ensure a high turnout in the safe Labour areas. The result is on a knife-edge and may go to second preferences, but we narrowly tip this borough for an upset on the Mayoral contest, alongside a majority of Labour councillors.

Sutton – Conservative gain

36 years of continuous Liberal and Liberal Democrat rule in Sutton are likely to come to an end in May. The council leadership’s support for the Beddington Energy Recovery Facility (which everyone calls an incinerator) remains highly controversial, and the council has recently hit financial difficulty over its decentralised heating network. Sutton’s Liberal Democrat base has been slowly cut away and the party no longer has the local MP. The GLA elections showed the party struggling to get over 25% of the vote. Several leading councillors are standing down – never a sign of confidence. While the Liberal Democrats will fight a strong campaign, they have to defend against Independent, Labour, and Conservative attacks. The Conservatives need to make five net gains, but could achieve them just in split wards while many others look vulnerable.

Wandworth – Labour gain

What was in recent memory a Conservative and Thatcherite flagship now looks much like most other boroughs, largely because a decade of funding cuts forced dramatic economies on them all. For that reason the ‘Wandsworth effect’, which gave Conservative majorities in local elections even when the party was losing nationally, is eroding. The Labour opposition is insistent it will match the Conservatives on tax, but has a criticism based on the council’s attitude to development. There have been some internal problems for the challengers – feuding between left and right, and the Labour group dumping Leonie Cooper for Simon Hogg as its leader. We think the new ward boundaries
help Labour and tip them to win.

Barnet – narrow Conservative hold

Labour came within one seat of winning Barnet in 2014 but in retrospect, it may not have been smart to raise expectations of winning the council with the highest percentage of people defining themselves as of the Jewish faith in 2018 with Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader – and the party went backwards. But Corbyn has now gone, the new ward boundaries help Labour, so a recovery is likely. However the 2021 GLA results were good for the Conservatives here.

Harrow – narrow Labour hold

Although the last three elections have all returned small Labour majorities, Harrow is not a natural Labour borough and it took until 2018 for Labour to secure a popular vote lead. The Conservatives (led by their streetfighting London Assembly leader Susan Hall) are fighting a very strong campaign, highlighting unpopular housing developments, and the party has been making headway in the large Hindu community locally; they were well ahead in the GLA election. Ward boundary changes again help Labour.

Tower Hamlets – Labour narrowly hold the Mayor, Labour council majority

John Biggs is defending the Mayoralty he won in 2015, but more than five years have now passed since his predecessor Lutfur Rahman was reported personally guilty of electoral corruption. Rahman is again eligible for election and is standing in what many fear will be an unedifying grudge match. Rabina Khan, who was his deputy Mayor, is now the Liberal Democrat candidate; former Conservative councillor turned Independent Andrew Wood has also announced he is standing for Mayor. Will lingering concern about Rahman help John Biggs win a messy Mayoral race? Labour will certainly be challenged by Rahman’s supporters in some of the heavily Bangladeshi wards, but ought to be able to keep a majority on the council.

Westminster – Narrow Conservative hold

Continuous Conservative control for 60 years, a reputation as a Conservative flagship and a large Conservative majority disguise the fact that Westminster is no longer safe for them. Labour tends to win the popular vote in general elections and took the lead in the GLA election last year. Unfortunately the party has the reverse problem to Croydon – piling up votes in northern wards while the Conservatives win marginals. But has bad publicity over wasting money on the ‘Marble Arch Mound’ destroyed the previous electoral advantage of the lowest council tax?

Barking and Dagenham – Labour hold

By election day, it will have been 16 years since any non-Labour councillor was elected here. Although there was a massive pro-Conservative swing in the Mayoral election, there is no realistic chance of Labour losing.

Bexley – Conservative hold

South-east London contains most of the areas which are an exception to the stereotype of London abandoning the Conservatives. As the Old Bexley and Sidcup byelection showed, the party’s lead can be eroded but not eliminated.

Brent – Labour hold

When Labour used to win Brent in the past, it would generally be a narrow result. In the 2010s that has moved to landslide territory with the Conservatives holding one or two wards at most. Although a byelection was lost to the Liberal Democrats in early 2020, council control is not on the table.

Bromley – Conservative hold

The Conservative administration were in some difficulties at the last election with some councillors standing as Independents. Since then things appear to have stabilised and it is difficult to see how they can be challenged in more than a handful of wards.

Camden – Labour hold

Always one of the most lively local political scenes in any inner London borough, attention is increased by the fact that it is Keir Starmer’s home seat. Camden’s Labour leader Georgia Gould has proved sensitive and attentive to its problems and is a good fit; she may even gain seats.

Ealing – Labour hold

When Ealing Labour councillors sensed the council’s low traffic neighbourhoods were becoming electorally unpopular, they deposed the council leader and gave themselves a new start. The new leadership of Peter Mason seems to be steering a good course for re-election.

Enfield – Labour hold

Nesil Caliskan, who took over as leader immediately after the 2018 election, has been a controversial choice and her firm policy stances did not go down well with all of the Labour councillors – seven of whom have left the party. However the electoral history of breakaway local groups in London isn’t encouraging.

Greenwich – Labour hold

One of the factors behind 50 years of continuous Labour rule in this borough has been very centralised decision-making, which has kept it together (while not making for a happy Labour group). It is difficult to see how any other party can come close to challenging.

Hackney – Labour hold Mayor and Council

Labour has held the Hackney Mayoralty since it was established, and has won on first preferences in the last four campaigns. Philip Glanville has no effective challengers. On the council, the Conservatives can only win wards dominated by Orthodox Jewish communities in Stamford Hill.

Hammersmith and Fulham – Labour hold

Labour won unexpectedly in 2014, then turned what had looked like a marginal council into a stronghold in 2018. When even the Cameron-led Conservative Party lost here, today’s Boris Johnson-led party is not going to get anywhere unless Labour lets them back.

Haringey – Labour hold

Much attention was paid in 2018 to the internal Labour politics which had resulted in many moderate councillors being deselected and replaced by much more left-wing candidates. Labour ended up losing seats. The new ‘Corbyn Council’ rhetoric did not last and neither did its leader, being deposed in 2021 by Peray Ahmet. While Haringey remains very much on the left, Labour will be helped by more serious and thought-through policies – and the London Region of the party has taken over its candidate selection resulting in tension with activists, but a chance for a more moderate
2022 intake.

Havering – Conservative-led coalition

The Conservatives control through a deal with one of the many Residents’ groups on the council. While the GLA results were very good for the Conservatives, it may not have much significance against locally based Independents. However Havering is the sort of leave-voting area which has been difficult for Labour to win and we think it highly likely the Conservatives will be the largest party, giving them a lead in proposing deals to the others.

Hillingdon – Conservative hold

Labour had a disastrous 2018 election in this once marginal borough, after talking it up as a possible gain. Interest in 2022 is likely to be increased by the fact that it now includes the Prime Minister’s constituency, but there is no reason to assume a Labour breakthrough is likely. Meanwhile the council has gone on a crash diet and will reduce from 65 to 53 councillors.

Hounslow – Labour hold

Labour has a large enough cushion in its safe wards in Heston, Feltham and central Hounslow to withstand a sizeable loss of support. The signs are that the Conservatives are making advances among the Hindu community but it will not be enough to make Labour nervous of losing what has been a well-run council. With Steve Curran stepping down as leader, as a result of a cancer diagnosis, there will be an inevitable fight (within the Labour party) for who leads the council.

Islington – Labour hold

Any council in an area with the socioeconomic composition of Islington would probably be inclined to Labour; the surprise is that it was out of the party’s hands only twelve years ago. Since then its Labour leaders have aimed at competence and their biggest electoral challenge is likely to be from the Green Party.

Kensington and Chelsea – Conservative hold

Added to Labour’s official target list in 2018 only because revulsion over the Grenfell Tower fire overcame psephological logic, K&C ended up with only one seat changing hands (which would probably have gone anyway). The wealthier parts of this borough will keep voting Conservative locally whatever their views on the national party.

Kingston upon Thames – Lib Dem hold

Liberal Democrat control of Kingston was lost in 2014 but the party won in a landslide in 2018. Despite some difficulty over the leadership (two successive leaders being deposed in internal coups), the party seems to have an effective campaign team and local MP Ed Davey is now the party’s leader. We think they are likely to retain control.

Lambeth – Labour hold

To the disgust of local left-wing activists the Labour council leadership in Lambeth has been a firmly moderate one, and as such has been more in touch with the local population. The Green Party now form the main opposition but their challenge is only effective in a few wards.

Lewisham – Labour Mayor and Council

One of the boroughs with a directly-elected Mayor; when Damien Egan took over from Steve Bullock in 2018. Egan has some internal dissent and the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are causing problems, but are unlikely to result in a change.

Merton – Labour hold

It may have been quite a shock for Labour to lose seats to the Conservatives here in 2018 – a reverse slightly disguised by simultaneous Liberal Democrat gains from Conservative. Merton is a sharply divided borough and it’s difficult for any party to win a landslide, but Labour have enough safe wards in Mitcham to make them un-challengable in 2022

Newham – Labour Mayor and Council

Rokhsana Fiaz successfully challenged Robin Wales for the Labour selection in 2018 and easily won the election. She has just been deemed reselected as the Mayoral candidate by the London Labour Party despite credible challengers, a decision which has led to resignations. Despite the difficulty she is likely to be reselected easily, and the only question is whether Labour can maintain its 100% share of councillors.

Redbridge – :Labour hold

Demographic change has turned this outer East London borough from a naturally Conservative area to a safe Labour one in a very short space of time. Labour, which had never previously won a majority, took control in 2014 and won a landslide in 2018. If there is a way back for the Conservatives it is not yet apparent.

Richmond upon Thames – Lib Dem hold

That the Liberal Democrats should have recaptured this borough in 2018 was not a surprise (it has changed hands at four out of the last five sets of elections), but their large majority was. One factor helping was a Lib Dem/Green deal which gave the Greens four seats in shared wards, and ensured no competing Green candidacies elsewhere. For the Conservatives to come back the council leadership would have to have become very unpopular, and it has managed to avoid it.

Southwark – Labour hold

There was a very modest Liberal Democrat revival in 2018 but Labour remain dominant in all but a few wards in the north of the borough. A new leadership under Kieron Williams has taken over and is trying to avoid some of the controversies over council regeneration schemes. This will make things easier for him at the polls.

Waltham Forest – Labour hold

The demographic trends favour Labour in a borough they already control overwhelmingly. A new leader (Grace Williams) has settled in well, although there are reported to be problems with candidate selection. We think they are unlikely to cause problems in the wider electorate.

Corporation of London – All party / independent hold

The ancient council running the ‘Square Mile’ in the centre of London is holding elections for 100 ‘Common Councilmen’ on 24 March, having delayed them from 2021. Its electoral system allows some non-resident city employees to have votes, and almost all candidates run as independents (although some co-ordinate their campaigns). The Labour Party has also run candidates and now has a small group of Councilmen. Labour’s candidates look likely to get to the mid-teens, so the Corporation is likely to continue as previously.

A bit about our forecast

Thorncliffe’s combined team have extensive knowledge across the 32 boroughs and one mediaeval corporation which provide London’s local government. Co-ordinated by head of research and psephology David Boothroyd, we have combined that knowledge to give an overview and forward look at the 2022 round of elections.

As we wrote in 2018, our look forward at possible election results must include a massive disclaimer. They are not results or estimates. Our analysis was made in February 2022, and is subject to the vagaries of turnout, local factors, and the campaigns over the next few weeks. You should not base any decisions on these projections. These are a guide

That being said, our previous form speaks for itself. Four years ago, we were right in more boroughs than other predictions, correctly identifying that Richmond was heading for the Liberal Democrats and Labour was going to keep hold of Harrow. In 2014 we were correct in predicting control of 30 out of 32 boroughs, and in 2010 we spotted the trend that allowed Labour to regain Southwark and Islington from the Liberal Democrats despite ‘Cleggmania’.

Whilst David Boothroyd should not be identified as the author of this pamphlet, given it is a combined exercise, neither are the predictions a corporate view. They are merely demonstration of what we do best – local politics.

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