Will Ukip help Labour tighten its hold on Greenwich?
One thing’s clear about this Thursday’s council elections – Labour will gallop to victory again. It’s 50 years since the first elections for the London Borough of Greenwich, and Labour has won all but one poll, in 1968, when a stunning London-wide landslide saw it fall to the Conservatives. Business as usual resumed in 1971, and there’s no reason to expect Thursday’s 14th election to be any different.
Most of the action’s going to take place in wards in Eltham, New Eltham and Mottingham, away from this website’s usual north-of-the-borough focus.
One factor which could affect the result will be the European Parliament election taking place the same day, and the near-blanket coverage given to the UK Independence Party and its leader Nigel Farage.
To a smaller extent, the same could be said for the Greens, who should benefit from Euro coverage too. But with Farage barely off our screens for what’s felt like months, it’s Ukip who have the potential to wreak havoc at the local polls too – despite the unpleasant views of many of their candidates.
The London Communications Agency predicts the hard-right party will return up to 50 councillors across the capital – will any of them come in Greenwich?
Greenwich borough’s comprised of 17 wards, which elect three councillors each. Ukip is standing a single councillor in 13 wards – a 14th candidate, in Glyndon ward, failed to get enough nominations in time.
Standing a single candidate means the Faragists can quietly hoover up protest votes from across the political spectrum. So where in the borough is the party’s support strongest?
According to the breakdown of votes from 2012’s London mayoral and assembly elections, Eltham North is Ukip’s happiest hunting ground, scoring 279 votes in the poll for the London-wide member, against 1,385 for the Tories and 1,172 for Labour, and beating the Greens (261), BNP (172) and Lib Dems (159).
I’ve picked this vote as it’s a straight party poll, not distorted by mayoral personalities or Ukip’s accidental rebranding in the mayoral poll (due to a party cock-up) as “Fresh Choice for London”.
Eltham North is represented by Tory leader Spencer Drury and his deputy Nigel Fletcher. The Tories have a slim-ish majority over Labour of 379 – if they lose a chunk of their votes to Ukip, Labour could benefit.
Of course, this theory depends on you believing that Ukip will hoover up disgruntled Tory votes rather than Labour ones. Considering Ukip’s manifesto looks like a Sun editorial from 1983, I suspect they will pick up votes from the right rather than the centre – risking a high-profile scalp for the Labour party. The local Tories agree, and are worried about what the rise of Ukip will mean for their embattled Eltham enclaves.
Ukip are also strong in Coldharbour & New Eltham, in the far south of the borough, where Labour were 353 votes to claiming a scalp in 2010. In 2012, Ukip polled 248 votes here, coming third to the Tories on 1,104 and Labour on 794. Ex-Tory candidate Peter Whittle is standing for Ukip there.
But it’s Eltham South where the Tories could face a horrific squeeze, with similiar levels of Ukip support and rejected councillor Eileen Glover standing against her old party colleagues as an independent. 2012’s assembly vote had the Tories just 240 votes ahead of Labour, which could well come through the middle to seize power.
Greenwich borough’s other strong ward for Ukip, according to the 2012 data, is Abbey Wood, home seat of mayoral contender Denise Hyland.
Don’t be surprised if Ukip beat the Tories out in the east, while the party is also campaigning in the Labour stronghold of Eltham West – which could be vulnerable now the Ferrier Estate has gone.
Why does all this matter? Well, just what shape Greenwich’s next Labour council will take could well be determined by how big Labour’s majority is on the council. An increase in Labour’s 29-seat majority will be seen as vindication of how Chris Roberts did things – and will strengthen the hand of his preferred successor, Denise Hyland. A decrease will show discontent with the Dear Leader’s style – and will give strength to Jackie Smith’s case for taking over.
So it’s well worth keeping on eye on Eltham on Thursday. Of course, if Ukip can grab Labour votes as well, they could even take a seat or two – council elections can be prone to wild fluctuations, although Greenwich seats have been relatively stable. Whether Ukip really want a miserable life as a minor party in the Greenwich Council chamber, with one or two powerless councillors, is another matter, mind. But what of the others?
LABOUR. Seats in 2010: 40/51. Current seats: 39/51. Candidates: 51/51 (See manifesto)
Nobody really knows what Labour party will take charge in Greenwich after 22 May. Will it be the Berkeley Homes Party, guided by the demands of developers, hammering home a heady mix of regeneration schemes, tall ships and road-building? Or will it be something closer to the community politics espoused by the likes of John Fahy and Blackheath Westcombe candidate Cherry Parker? Nobody knows.
Rivals complain that Labour is fighting on national policies rather than its local record. Indeed, my local Charlton Labour Twitter feed has told me nothing about the council’s record – although I now know Terry the local ward organiser’s phone number, should I fancy a spot of canvassing. (Hello, Terry.) That said, this election has seen the first manifesto emerge for eight years – the 2010 version was never published in public – but without the launches seen in other boroughs.
This poll has even seen Labour candidates disown the Labour council’s own policies – Woolwich Common candidate David Gardner claiming that building the Silvertown Tunnel was “not a Greenwich Labour policy”, despite three Labour councillors and a Labour MP launching a campaign to get it built.
The current manifesto position, which I understand was bitterly fought over, merely says “we will consider our position further based on our view of the economic and environmental impact assessments” – leaving plenty of wriggle room. Will a Greenwich Labour council trust a Tory mayor’s assessments, which has been the position so far? “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour insider told me – but what if Denise Hyland takes over?
There are many good candidates standing for Labour – but will there be enough of them to force change? A vote for Labour on Thursday would certainly be a leap of faith.
Wards to watch: Blackheath Westcombe, the Eltham seats.
New candidates to watch: Peninsula ward candidates Stephen Brain and Chris Lloyd, telling voters they’ll fight Silvertown; ambitious Woolwich Common candidate and IT systems analyst Ambreen Hisbani, closely connected to the current leadership (oddly, her Portuguese husband Rui Dias lurks on Twitter watching critics from a locked account); heavyweight Blackheath Westcombe trio Paul Morrissey, Damien Welfare and Cherry Parker, locked in street-to-street combat with the Tories; Shooters Hill’s Chris Kirby and Sarah Merrill, involved in a bad-tempered fight with Lib Dems.
CONSERVATIVES. Seats in 2010: 11/51. Seats now: 10/51. Candidates: 51/51 (Read the manifesto.)
If Labour are riddled with splits and in-fighting, the Tories have their own problems too – the rejection of Eltham South councillor Eileen Glover by her local party triggered her to stand as an independent and colleague Neil Dickinson to quit. Marginal seats such as Kidbrooke with Hornfair lie neglected as the Tories fight to shore up what they’ve got, and possibly nick an extra seat in Blackheath Westcombe, where Labour won’t benefit from long-standing councillor Alex Grant’s personal vote. But their majority over Labour in Blackheath Westcombe is just 22 votes – so this could go any way.
As detailed above, there’s a real fear that Ukip could wreck the party’s Eltham heartland. Blackheath aside, the party’s long been a spent force north of the Shooters Hill Road, although judging by Peninsula ward candidate Harry Methley’s Twitter feed, the party’s giving east Greenwich another shot.
While Harry’s unlikely to be a councillor come Friday, the party’s results both here and in Woolwich Riverside will be interesting – will plush new riverside developments give the Tories a boost?
Wards to watch: Blackheath Westcombe, Eltham North, Eltham South, Coldharbour & New Eltham.
New candidates to watch: Blackheath Westcombe’s Thomas Turrell seems to have had an effect in winding up the local Labour establishment, while local credit union trustee Matt Hartley is bound to be a prominent figure if he is elected in Coldhardbour & New Eltham.
Ex-candidates to watch: Eileen Glover in Eltham South. Can she unseat her old colleagues?
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS. Seats in 2010: 0/51. Candidates: 40/51 (Read the manifesto.)
Currently ranked just below leprosy in the national polls, with every utterance from Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander making their lives harder, the local Lib Dems’ coalition pains were compounded when Greenwich party boss Chris Smith quit just weeks before the poll.
All this upheaval has seen the Lib Dems slip to just 40 candidates this time around, with Labour activists claiming that the party’s old power base in Middle Park & Sutcliffe lies neglected.
So all the action’s taking place up on Shooters Hill, where candidate Stewart Christie (who is also involved with No to Silvertown Tunnel, as are volunteers from Labour and the Greens) has mounted a campaign focusing squarely on Greenwich Council’s support for the Thames Gateway Bridge, which is likely to put Oxleas Woods and Woodlands Farm under threat once again as TfL seeks to link the bridge to the A2.
The result’s been a bad-tempered fight over the seat, best summed up by this Twitter exchange on Saturday, after Shooters Hill’s Labour candidates spotted Christie rummaging in his boot…
The “Undateables” tweet, probably the best gag of the election, was deleted by Charlton candidate Paul Chapman after one respondent complained it was cruel to use others’ physical appearance for humour.
Chapman’s online output’s been worth following, though – a change from the usual party tweets aimed solely at the already-converted. I hope he stays contributing to the local debate once the poll’s done and dusted.
Ward to watch: Shooters Hill.
GREENS. Seats in 2010: 0/51. Candidates: 19/51 (Policy page / London council manifesto.)
I should, of course, state that I stood for the Greens in Peninsula ward in 2010. I’m no longer a member of the party, though the Greens are targeting Peninsula once again.
In March, five Labour councillors handed the Greenwich Greens a publicity gift by giving Ikea outline planning permission to build a store right in the heart of the ward – but have they been able to capitalise on this?
The Greens’ performance to beat came in 2006, when candidate Lucy Early came 250 votes behind Chris Roberts in the ward, terrifying the Dear Leader into creating a nonsense “Greener Greenwich” portfolio on his cabinet. Bad feeling over Ikea and Silvertown, plus an uplift from the European election, could give them every chance of matching that, despite limited resources.
Their biggest problem tends to be in communication – after I complained about their local tweets being full of waffle, I had the novel experience of being told by the Twitter feed that I set up that once I understood “economic story told by media is a fallacy… you may want to vote Green”. The Ikea issue seems to have given them some much-needed local focus – and they’re the only ones publicly raising it.
Peninsula was the Greens’ third-strongest performing seat in the 2012 assembly vote, after Blackheath Westcombe and Greenwich West, with Charlton coming fourth. They comfortably beat the Lib Dems in most Greenwich wards then – so this could be a pivotal election for them, if the Lib Dems really are on a death spiral.
Beyond Peninsula, the party’s fielding one candidate per ward – of these, Trevor Allman, a one-time Labour councillor from the 1980s, has a big personal following in Blackheath Westcombe. He’s cheerfully off-message, even admitting not voting for the Greens’ local London Assembly candidate two years ago.
Wards to watch: Peninsula, Blackheath Westcombe, Greenwich West.
And elsewhere… Greenwich’s neighbouring boroughs are also likely to also stay the same.
Over in Bexley - very much the Tory Shelbyville to Greenwich’s Springfield – the Tories are assured of victory, though Ukip will be a big threat and could gain seats. At least Labour here has a sense of humour, standing three candidates called O’Neill against council leader Teresa O’Neill in Bexleyheath’s Brampton ward. One to watch here will be three independent candidates standing under an anti-corruption banner in Blackfen and Lamorbey ward, next to the Greenwich boundary at Avery Hill. Despite candidate Michael Barnbrook’s past connections with the far right, the result here will be worth watching – not least because they’ve been pushing flyers for the Bexley Is Bonkers blog through local letter boxes.
In Lewisham, the big question is how many Lib Dem councillors will remain – Labour’s Sir Steve Bullock being set for an easy win in the mayoral poll. Campaign low-light so far has been People Before Profit (which abandoned plans to stand in Greenwich) appropriating the name “Save Lewisham Hospital” for one of its candidates, after trying to take over the campaign of the same name. Will Lewisham go 100% Labour on Thursday? Probably not, but it’ll be close. Bob from Brockley and Alternative SE4 have more Lewisham coverage.
If you’ve read this far down, head to the Charlton Champion for what happened in last week’s Charlton and Woolwich Riverside hustings. Polling stations are open from 7am-10pm on Thursday. See a full list of Greenwich candidates.