What should we expect in the 2018 London local elections?

Islingtno Town Hall. Image: Alan Ford/Wikimedia Commons.

Next May, London voters choose their borough councillors for a further four years. This is the 14th time the boroughs in their present shape, created in 1965, have gone to the polls. Yet in all the frequent ups and downs of party fortunes, it is surprising actually how little change has ended up taking place in the leadership of London’s boroughs.

In 1964, the first elections for the current boroughs, the Conservatives had 676 councillors elected, Labour 1112. In 2014, the latest elections, Conservatives had 612 and Labour 1060. The Liberals/Liberal Democrats went from 17 to 116, and others 55 to 63. The number of boroughs run by Conservatives and Labour has stayed the same: 9 Conservative and 20 Labour. Not much seems to have happened.

The vote shares have shifted more, but mainly to reflect the rise in 2014 of UKIP and the consequent fall in the Conservative and Labour shares.

So can we assume the 2018 election will deliver little change? It is too early to be definitive, but we can highlight the key pointers to watch. The first is whether Labour’s general election success in London carries through to the borough polls. Labour’s national poll standing is holding up well, with the Conservatives weakening.

The catch, however, is turnout: the relatively high turnout in London in 2017 included younger voters and others who were enticed to vote Labour in the general election, but may well not have the same incentive to go to the polls in a local election. However, Labour also did very well in the borough elections of 2014 -- so there is no reason to expect any shift against them, with possibly a further modest improvement from a high base.


Second, the Conservatives’ weak overall standing in post-general election opinion polling is likely to carry through to next May. This means they are under heavy challenge in formally rock solid boroughs. Current indications are that Labour could do particularly well in traditional Conservative strongholds Wandsworth and Kensington & Chelsea, whilst marginal boroughs like Barnet could turn red.

Third, there is evidence of long term demographic change in a number of outer London boroughs starting to have an impact on voting behaviour. This has been visible to some extent in mayoral and general elections, but has yet to show up in the overall outcome of borough elections. If it does so in 2018, it will strengthen Labour’s long term position in the outer boroughs.

Fourth, will the UKIP vote collapse, compared to 2014, as it did between the 2015 and 2017 general elections? And could the Liberal Democrats experience a modest London rise? Probably and possibly.

Fifth, are there any special individual borough features which means their results could buck or exaggerate an overall trend? Undoubtedly, this is feasible: Tower Hamlets, where the independent elected mayor has switched to Labour since 2015; Kensington & Chelsea, in the aftermath of the Labour success in the general election in the north of the Borough and the Grenfell Tower disaster; and Richmond upon Thames, where there could well be a substantial Liberal Democrat revival in the aftermath of their general election results in the local constituencies.

The 2018 Borough council elections will come in the middle of a continuing period of substantial political uncertainly, including continuing Brexit negotiations – whose economic impact is so important for London – and a weakened Government after the 2017 general election. These factors and the longer term political and population trends will combine to deliver far greater uncertainty than usual in the run up to polling day. 

Tony Halmos is a visiting professor in the Policy Institute at King’s College London and director of the King’s Commission on London. He is also an associate at Newington Communications, contributing to the firm’s elections website.

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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