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.

 
 
 
 

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Seoul Metro System but were too afraid to ask

Gwanghwamoon subway station on line 5 in Seoul, 2010. Image: Getty.

Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.

Fares are incredibly low for a developed country. A basic fare of 1,250 won (about £1) will allow you to travel 10km; it’s only an extra 100 won (about 7p) to travel every additional 5km on most lines.

The trains are reasonably quick: maximum speeds of 62mph and average operating speeds of around 20mph make them comparable to London Underground. But the trains are much more spacious, air conditioned and have wi-fi access. Every station also has protective fences, between platform and track, to prevent suicides and accidents.

The network

The  service has a complex system of ownership and operation. The Seoul Metro Company (owned by Seoul City council) operates lines 5-8 on its own, but lines 1-4 are operated jointly with Korail, the state-owned national rail company. Meanwhile, Line 9 is operated jointly between Trans-Dev (a French company which operates many buses in northern England) and RATP (The Parisian version of TfL).

Then there’s Neotrans, owned by the Korean conglomerate Doosan, which owns and operates the driverless Sinbundang line. The Incheon city government, which borders Seoul to the west, owns and operates Incheon Line 1 and Line 2.

The Airport Express was originally built and owned by a corporation jointly owned by 11 large Korean firms, but is now mostly owned by Korail. The Uijeongbu light railway is currently being taken over by the Uijeongbu city council (that one’s north of Seoul) after the operating company went bankrupt. And the Everline people mover is operated by a joint venture owned by Bombardier and a variety of Korean companies.

Seoul’s subway map. Click to expand. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the lines are operated by the national rail operator Korail. The fare structure is either identical or very similar for all of these lines. All buses and trains in the region are accessible with a T-money card, similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares are collected centrally and then distributed back to operators based on levels of usage.

Funding

The Korean government spends around £27bn on transport every year: that works out at 10 per cent more per person than the British government spends.  The Seoul subway’s annual loss of around £200m is covered by this budget.

The main reason the loss is much lower than TfL’s £458m is that, despite Seoul’s lower fares, it also has much lower maintenance costs. The oldest line, Line 1 is only 44 years old.


Higher levels of automation and lower crime rates also mean there are fewer staff. Workers pay is also lower: a newly qualified driver will be paid around £27,000 a year compared to £49,000 in London.

New infrastructure is paid for by central government. However, investment in the capital does not cause the same regional rivalries as it does in the UK for a variety of reasons. Firstly, investment is not so heavily concentrated in the capital. Five other cities have subways; the second city of Busan has an extensive five-line network.

What’s more, while investment is still skewed towards Seoul, it’s a much bigger city than London, and South Korea is physically a much smaller country than the UK (about the size of Scotland and Wales combined). Some 40 per cent of the national population lives on the Seoul network – and everyone else who lives on the mainland can be in Seoul within 3 hours.

Finally, politically the biggest divide in South Korea is between the south-west and the south-east (the recently ousted President Park Geun-Hye won just 11 per cent of the vote in the south west, while winning 69 per cent in the south-east). Seoul is seen as neutral territory.  

Problems

A driverless train on the Shinbundang Line. Image: Wikicommons.

The system is far from perfect. Seoul’s network is highly radial. It’s incredibly cheap and easy to travel from outer lying areas to the centre, and around the centre itself. But travelling from one of Seoul’s satellite cities to another by public transport is often difficult. A journey from central Goyang (population: 1m) to central Incheon (population: 3m) is around 30 minutes by car. By public transport, it takes around 2 hours. There is no real equivalent of the London Overground.

There is also a lack of fast commuter services. The four-track Seoul Line 1 offers express services to Incheon and Cheonan, and some commuter towns south of the city are covered by intercity services. But most large cities of hundreds of thousands of people within commuting distance (places comparable to Reading or Milton Keynes) are reliant on the subway network, and do not have a fast rail link that takes commuters directly to the city centre.

This is changing however with the construction of a system modelled on the Paris RER and London’s Crossrail. The GTX will operate at maximum speed of 110Mph. The first line (of three planned) is scheduled to open in 2023, and will extend from the new town of Ilsan on the North Korean border to the new town of Dongtan about 25km south of the city centre.

The system will stop much less regularly than Crossrail or the RER resulting in drastic cuts in journey times. For example, the time from llsan to Gangnam (of Gangnam Style fame) will be cut from around 1hr30 to just 17 minutes. When the three-line network is complete most of the major cities in the region will have a direct fast link to Seoul Station, the focal point of the GTX as well as the national rail network. A very good public transport network is going to get even better.