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.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.