The last time elections took place for the 32 London boroughs was in 2010 on the same day as the General Election.
It is obvious that Labour will be expected to improve their performance to be regarded as having a serious prospect of victory in the General Election next year. Of course they have already failed in the key test of the election for Mayor of London which took place in 2012.
Naturally, given the tiresome game of expectation management, Labour wish to avoid being to bullish. They would hardly make their open ambitions too extravagant. On the hand they could scarcely claim that a repeat of 2010 would be a satisfactory outcome. So the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan last month offered the following list:
- Tower Hamlets
Only Croydon and Barnet from this list are currently under full Conservative control. Croydon was a close battle last time – the Conservatives are on 37 against 33 from Labour. Barnet sounds like a more ambitious challenge for Labour. There are 38 Conservatives against 22 for Labour and three for the Lib Dems. In the only Lib Dem ward, of Childs Hill, the result last time saw the Conservatives only a short distance behind the Lib Dems with Labour much further off. So the Conservatives may well gain this ward from the Lib Dems. Also the Conservative council is cutting the Council Tax by one per cent this year and last month a Labour councillor (and former London Assembly candidate) Cllr Ansuya Sodha defected to the Conservatives.
Redbridge is a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition. Merton has a minority Labour administration. Harrow was a Labour council but now has a minority Conservative administration. If Labour win in Harrow they will merely be getting back to where they started in 2010.
Dislodging the independent Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman – an ally of Ken Livingstone – would be noteworthy but not a particular measure of how Labour are performing relative to the Conservatives.
So of the targets Labour have set themselves only one – gaining Barnet – would really be impressive. They could point out that in 2005 they still won a General Election despite having earlier lost control in Barnet.
What about Wandsworth? Mr Khan is the Labour MP for Tooting. The Battersea constituency is supposedly a Labour General Election target. Yet the council isn’t even a Labour target. Of course not. Even in 1994 Labour couldn’t take this borough when the number of Conservative councils nationally was reduced to a handful. That is because Wandsworth provides residents with excellent services and a low Council Tax.
What about my own council of Hammersmith and Fulham? Before 2006 this was a well established Labour council with a clear majority. What does the Labour MP for Hammersmith Andrew Slaughter think of his boss leaving it off the list?
Mr Khan spends lots of time denouncing Wandsworth Council. Mr Slaughter spends even more time attacking Hammersmith and Fulham Council. But do they really mean it? Or deep down do they realise that a radical approach, demanding rigorous value for money is actually rather popular with residents?
I’m certainly not complacent. I gained my own council seat from Labour eight years ago. As noted above Labour might well wish to play down their prospects. Yet – Barnet aside – they are setting the bar low.