18 May 2018

Local Elections - not revolutionary but significant

by Christian Cosby

How have the local elections results impacted on the Mayor’s relationship with the boroughs, especially the Labour ones? This has been one of the most asked questions since the election a fortnight ago. In 1918, when the Labour first came to be in its current formation, the Manchester Guardian wrote “the changes of machinery are not revolutionary, but they are significant…these principles are definitely Socialistic” – there are some parallels with the new political settlement in the capital today.

These elections were by no means a bad set of results for the Mayor. The Labour hand was strengthened in the pro-development Labour boroughs (think Hounslow, Redbridge, Ealing), while those reluctant boroughs (Hillingdon, Havering and Richmond upon Thames) have opposition parties at the helm therefore making political battles over development a less risky option for the Mayor.

A worst case for the Mayor would have been Labour winning Wandsworth and Westminster by small margins. We have seen in Hammersmith & Fulham for the last four years a Labour administration unable to make bold decisions on planning; had this have been repeated in Wandsworth or Westminster, it would have been difficult for the Mayor to intervene.

So when does Sadiq change gear on planning?  There are two hurdles to overcome. Firstly he has his own trigger ballot to navigate. The trigger ballot is the process by which a candidate is reselected by the Labour Party. All politicians in Labour have to go through this and it’s an issue you will read A LOT more about during Labour Conference in September as Momentum look to change these rules.

Until that process is complete (mid-June to August) expect rhetoric that would appeal solely to the base of the Labour Party. You campaign in poetry and govern in prose – remember comments are for that audience alone.

Secondly there is the aforementioned Momentum factor. These elections did change things but the change was inevitable; the 2014 intake of London Labour councillors were the last to be elected before the Corbyn Revolution, selected and elected by a very different Labour Party. The pressure on the new Labour groups now comes from a Party membership very much on the left, with Haringey an example at its most extreme. But also we have seen close battles across the capital and the loss of a very pragmatic leader in Enfield, home to the huge Meriden Water development.

But not all local Labour Parties are a hot bed of left v centre; there are many other factors at play here. Community politics is key; you have to understand these divisions and understand them early. Sadiq certainly does. He also understands that the once his reselection process is complete, he needs to work with groups that will be under pressure from a nimby-leftism that values “placemaking” just as much as thousands of affordable homes. It’s a tricky circle to square especially when you’ve given yourself little wiggle room with a London Plan that is designed to be prescriptive enough to challenge Hillingdon as much as it is to encourage Hackney to deliver. Jules Pipe announced today that significant changes to the London Plan were unlikely.

So it’s fair to say that although there wasn’t revolutionary change in London, there was significant ideological movement and the new pressure the Mayor and the industry faces is, if not Socialist, definitely Socialistic. 

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