As we begin the New Year, attention has already turned to the 2023 local elections which will be a pivotal occasion both locally and nationally. This year’s local elections are set to be the biggest in four years, with more than 150 councils in England holding elections and a high proportion of these being ‘all out’ – with all councillors across all wards up for election. They have also been billed the first major key test for Rishi Sunak since entering Number 10 and potentially existential if he fails to improve the Conservative’s fortunes.
One place where elections won’t be taking place though is in London, which went to the polls last May. Nevertheless, the political scene in London has not been quiet and more than six months on from its own local elections there is much to note about happenings across the capital, against the backdrop of ongoing parliamentary selections and boundary changes..
Changes in the leadership of East London councils Barking and Dagenham and Redbridge are brewing, following the successful selection of council leaders Darren Rodwell and Jas Atwal to the safe Labour parliamentary seats. While there is no definitive date for the next General Election, it is likely that both council leaders will soon vacate their positions to allow enough time for campaigning and a smooth handover. Having steered these councils since the early 2010s, it will be interesting to see what, if any, new approach their successors take.
The Labour parliamentary selection process has had moments of high drama in the past few months, particularly in Kensington and Chelsea where Labour group leader and former North Kensington MP Emma Dent-Coad failed to make the party’s shortlist. While it can be said that this demonstrates a ‘purge’ of the Labour left under Keir Starmer, the infighting and dysfunction that has occurred during Dent-Coad’s leadership of the Labour group cannot be ignored. It is also worth noting that it remains the only Labour group in a central London borough not to be in power (except, recently, in Tower Hamlets).
Over in Kingston upon Thames, spotlight has been on the Lib Dem council’s draft Local Plan, which proposes taller buildings and a revamp of key town centre sites and car parks. However, opposition to the construction of more high-rise buildings and town centre densification runs high in the leafy southwest London borough. In the face of this and with the ruling Lib Dems having lost a seat to the independent Kingston Residents Group in a November by-election, will the administration shirk from this approach to development?
Proposed boundary changes, due to come into force before the next General Election, could also have implications for London politics at a local and parliamentary level. On the whole, this looks set to benefit Labour with two new seats created in areas which have traditionally voted for the party.
It is highly likely that Rokshana Fiaz, the directly elected mayor of Newham, will seek the nomination for the proposed new seat of Stratford and Bow. However, the selection process is likely to be complicated by the fact that the local Labour branches in Newham remain suspended over malpractice, and the internal party infighting which informed her election as mayor will likely occur during the election of a potential successor.
Elsewhere, the confirmation of Sadiq Khan as Labour’s candidate will see him seek an historic third term as Mayor of London at the 2024 elections, set to be the first mayoral election held using the first-past-the-post electoral system and with new voter ID laws. This looks set to disadvantage Khan as he’ll no longer benefit from the second preference votes from Green Party and, to a lesser extent Lib Dem supporters. In addition, it is expected that the need for photo identification will disenfranchise those who traditionally vote Labour. Notwithstanding the lack of announcement of a Conservative candidate yet, it would be a tall order for the Conservatives to unseat Khan considering how far they have fallen behind Labour in the capital.
This represents just a few examples of the happenings in London. Over the next few weeks, Cratus is hosting a series of CPD sessions with more on politics and planning in London, including the impact of the parliamentary selections, national government policy, and the state of the boroughs since the May 2022 local elections