The word “meltdown” has appeared quite frequently in recent weeks when predicting the results for the Conservatives in the local elections in London. For instance, in February it was reported that a YouGov poll for Queen Mary University showed the Conservatives were “on track to lose strongholds in Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet”.
On this site we offered a note of caution. “The local election results in London will provide a mixed picture,” was our prediction. We said that both Wandsworth and Westminster would be held by the Conservatives. They were. In Westminster it wasn’t even close – the Conservatives only lost three seats to hold on by 41 to 19.
But we added that the key “prediction is unpredictability – uneven and unexpected results. Gains here, losses there.”
Certainly in some London boroughs the results were very bad for the Conservatives. For example, in Hammersmith and Fulham the Labour Council increased its majority, gaining nine seats from the Conservatives. That particular set of results is at the forefront of my mind – as my seat was one of those that was lost.
By contrast, in Hillingdon the Conservatives gained four seats. Labour predicted they would win here. In the end they had 21 seats to 44 for the Conservatives.
Then we had the high profile contest in Barnet. The Conservatives gained six seats – five from Labour, one from a Lib Dem. Some were surprised by this. Last time around the Conservatives won 32 seats, to the 30 won by Labour. A mild thaw would have enabled a Labour victory, never mind a “Tory meltdown”. But Labour has been tarnished with anti-semitism. This is not just of concern to the many Jewish people in the borough – but to their non-Jewish friends and neighbours. As we said in March “it should not be assumed that only the Jewish community are affronted by Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on this issue.”
In Ealing we lost four seats. But in Enfield we gained five. In Camden we lost five. But in Havering we gained three. The pattern is that there was no pattern.
We had the Lib Dems gaining Richmond – but losing nine seats to the Conservatives in Sutton. Trying to make extrapolations in different London boroughs from vote shares were shown not to work. That is because Richmond and Sutton are different places with different issues.
Certainly in some places Brexit caused difficulties for the Conservatives. But that is not the main problem for the London Tories. If only it was then it would sort itself out. Once we have left the European Union, increasingly that reality will be accepted. The benefits of self-government and wider trade opportunities will be proven to be real. The suggestions that those settled in west London from France or Italy will find themselves unwelcome will be proved groundless. So Polling Day yesterday was Peak Remoan.
The much harder problem is the thwarting of the ambition of younger Londoners for home ownership. I was embarrassed during the local elections campaign to be asked by housing association tenants why the promise to provide them with the right to buy had been delayed. But getting on with that should be just the start. The Government provides huge subsidies to Transport for London. Should not TfL be obliged to sell some of its 5,700 acres to increase the housing supply? If it was required to be attractive terraced streets and mansion squares of classical beauty it would be hugely popular.
So there are still great difficulties for London Conservatives that are London wide in nature. But our fortunes also vary greatly from one borough to another. That is right and proper. It may not be easy for a councillor who has lost his or her seat to celebrate local democracy. Yet it is right to do so.