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by GK Strategy 12th April, 2017

Local Elections: What will London look like post-May?

There are three weeks to go until the local elections, which will see 4350 seats in 150 councils come up for re-election.

This is the largest number of seats that have been up for election since 2015, and there has been much discussion about whether Labour will break into unchartered territory in London in the wake of voting intention polling putting them on 54% to the Conservatives’ 28% and the Lib Dems’ 11%.

However, predicting local elections is never that easy.

Whilst polling is putting the Labour Party ahead, they are not making it easy for themselves, with a series of scandals engulfing the Party on an almost daily basis.

From criticism that the Party isn’t doing enough to tackle anti-semitism by its members, to Owen Smith’s firing from the front bench for his comments on Brexit, to Jeremy Corbyn’s comments on the Skripal poisoning, and to accusations against Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, that he is not doing enough to tackle knife crime, the Party is facing battles on all fronts.

Combine that with the constant referral to those polling figures, and expectations for the Labour Party to make a clean sweep across London might be too ambitious.

Within minutes of Jeremy Corbyn launching the Labour Party election campaign earlier this week, Central Office were already trying to play down expectations for Labour in London, saying ‘we are being realistic about our prospects in several key boroughs. A number of the London boroughs are areas where Labour have either never, or very rarely, had a majority.’

And where are these councils where loyal activists are trudging the streets?

Barnet is the top target for Labour. The Tories held the Council with a majority of one, until a defection meant the borough fell into no overall control. There has been sustained criticism of the Conservative Council, and voters appeared to be transferring their loyalty to the Labour Party. However, with a large Jewish population, the potential for a Labour takeover could be in jeopardy. The Party’s approach to antisemitism is playing badly on the doorstep, and could be the fatal blow that means Barnet being Labour slips from their grasp.

Wandsworth follows closely behind Barnet, and campaigners seem cautiously optimistic about Labour’s prospects here. Again though, the internal politics of the Labour party spilling into the wider consciousness of the public might hamper Labour’s ability to take control of the council.

More speculative are potential Labour gains in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, but Labour needs to make a good showing here if they want any prospect of looking ahead to victory in a General Election.

And once the elections are over and Councils get back to the job at hand, what will that new environment look like?

At the moment, this is somewhat unclear. The role of Momentum will be a key one to watch. Haringey is the most talked about Council, where a large number of moderate Councillors stood down, or were not re-selected to fight their seats, but even so, Momentum will not have a majority on the Council.

What we can likely expect is a shift towards the left, as Labour try to appease their members and prevent too much disruption. Momentum activists, aligning themselves with already existing strong community campaigning groups on the ground are likely to pose problems for Councils, which has already been seen in the run-up to the elections, with campaigns being run against large regeneration projects across the capital.

This poses a challenge for developers, who will likely have to work to more stringent policies, and face pressure from Councils to ensure that schemes brought forward are policy compliant and work in the best interests of the local community.

With the added dimension of the London Plan, which sets even more ambitious targets than those set by many Councils, the post-May landscape is one that developers will have to navigate with caution. GK Local’s fully integrated planning communications support can help developers to build advocates in the community, gain support amongst political decision makers and with media influencers, and execute successful projects in the new London landscape.

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