As the home of the historic Elstree studios where Strictly Come Dancing is filmed, the Conservative administration for Hertsmere Borough Council will be hoping for a good score from the public on 4 May. Traditionally, Hertsmere is a safe Conservative local authority and we expect it to return a reduced Conservative majority following this year’s all-out elections.
The last all-out election in 2019 saw Labour and the Lib Dems eat into the Conservatives’ commanding majority. While Labour made gains in Potters Bar Furzefield and Borehamwood Kenilworth wards, the Liberal Democrats won representation on the council for the first time in 12 years by gaining all three seats in Bushey North ward. This resulted in a council composed of 29 Conservatives (down five), seven Labour (up three), and three Liberal Democrats (up three).
The results of intervening council by-elections and the 2021 Hertfordshire County Council elections, which saw Labour make additional inroads in Borehamwood and the Liberal Democrats expand their presence in Bushey, further demonstrated the ability of these parties to win representation in these areas and provide a base from which to challenge the Conservatives.
While Labour no doubt has scope to make further gains and increase their share of the vote in Borehamwood and parts of Potters Bar on the back of the national poll trends away from the Conservatives, it may prove harder for the Liberal Democrats to make gains in other parts of Bushey, having largely won in Bushey North ward in 2019 on the back of opposition to Watford FC building a new stadium at Bushey Hall Golf Club.
Moreover, while the Lib Dems have chosen to only field one or no candidates in wards in Borehamwood and Potters Bar, improving the possibility of Labour gains against the Conservatives in these areas, Labour is fielding a full slate of candidates across all wards, including in Bushey, which will likely have the effect of splitting any anti-Conservative vote and hampering potential Liberal Democrat advances.
As with most local elections, planning and development matters are likely to play a part and planning politics in Hertsmere has seen intensive controversy in recent years. Efforts to formulate a new Local Plan were halted in 2022 after thousands of objections to the council’s Regulation 18 consultation led the Conservative administration to withdraw the Plan and restart the process.
It should be noted that Hertsmere is a location which is home to numerous film studios and these include the new Sky Studios at Elstree which are currently under construction. This focus on television and film is matched by the interest and enthusiasm of Council Leader Morris Bright who is a known authority on classic UK television and film.
It should also be noted that Hertsmere is home to one of the largest Jewish populations in the UK and this should assist the Conservatives who have strong support in the local Jewish community. However, it should also be noted that a number of senior Labour councillors in Hertsmere are also Jewish and the national Labour Party is seeking to break with the Jeremy Corbyn leadership which undoubtedly impacted the Labour vote in areas with large Jewish populations.
While the Conservatives only need to lose ten seats in Hertsmere at May’s elections to lose control of Hertsmere Borough Council, the most likely scenario is the Conservatives emerging with a reduced majority.