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The independent London newspaper

Tories face meltdown in local elections

At least 10 Conservative councillors will not stand for re-election in party's flagship borough as poll guru Lord Ashcroft warns of a Labour win

09 March, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Council leader Nickie Aiken this week posed for photos with street sweepers and announced that she would spend the next three weeks promoting the work done by the council

WESTMINSTER Conservatives are in disarray following a string of councillor departures as the party’s chief polls guru predicted political apocalypse in the May council elections.

The Extra has learnt of at least 10 Tory councillors who will not stand for re-election as a clamour of ­discontent over current leader Nickie Aiken and her inner cabal boils over.

Sources in the party have warned of a “toxic” atmosphere of political infighting and an exodus of activists.

It comes as Lord Ashcroft warned of a massive electoral swing that would plant the red flag of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in Westminster City Hall for the first time. Of the borough’s residents polled this month, Lord Ashcroft said: “Most of our participants had switched to Labour at the 2017 general election having previously voted Conservative, and many of these welcomed the prospect of a change at City Hall.”

The City of Westminster has for decades been a flagship borough for the national party and a standard bearer for Conservative principles of low-tax, enterprise, development and private ownership.

Labour leader Adam Hug said: ‘The election of a Labour council for Westminster on May 3 would itself be a massive repudiation of the Tory government’s agenda’

The council’s leadership is said to be “terrified” of a humiliating defeat in a borough that has been a stronghold for the Tories since it was created more than 50 years ago. Sources say that wards that could swing to Labour include Lancaster Gate, Bayswater, West End, Vincent Square, Maida Vale and Little Venice.

Results in council elections have barely changed in recent years but Lord Ashcroft said this week that a “weariness with austerity”, “too much belt-tightening” and rampant over-development had hacked away at the Conservative voter base.

Digging down into the specifics for voter change, Lord Aschroft’s report said: “Participants in Westminster complained that there was very little new affordable or social housing, though the council always seemed ready to grant permission for new luxury developments that most residents could never afford.

West End ward councillor Paul Church tweeted about discontent with the current administration

“Social housing is non-existent and they’re building these huge developments, £1million plus for one bedroom. It’s ridiculous.”

The poll suggested that Westminster had a reputation for “protecting the interests of the people who lived in such developments”. There was also a perception that low council tax was a product of Westminster being “a rich borough” which had “less need to spend money or had other sources of income”.

The council was failing to get a grip on widespread homelessness and to provide safe education for teenage boys at secondary schools.

The poll also found some residents saying Westminster “do amazingly, they provide a lot, they try their best” compared with other boroughs like Brent, but that this could be taken for granted.

The council has been rocked in recent weeks by the furore surrounding Cllr Robert Davis and his extensive gifts and hospitality entries on his register of interests. National newspapers were reporting his decision this week to “stand aside” from his deputy leader and cabinet positions while an investigation takes place.

West End ward councillor Paul Church has signalled his discontent with the current administration. In a strongly-worded tweet this week, he said: “I tried to stand up for the communities I was elected to represent against the dominance of property developers and their agents, patronage and power in Westminster… Local government shouldn’t be like this.”

For months, the council leader Nickie Aiken has been trying to present Westminster in a new light with a string of announcements about more affordable housing and tackling rogue landlords.

Cllr Aiken this week posed for photos with the outsourced street sweepers and announced that she would spend the next three weeks promoting the work done by the council.

Cllr Aiken did not respond to requests for comment about the Ashcroft poll.

Labour leader Adam Hug said: “The election of a Labour council for Westminster on May 3 would itself be a massive repudiation of the Tory government’s agenda. However if elected a Labour council would use its campaigning and communications ex-pertise to highlight the huge impact of Tory cuts on ordinary families and push the government to change its approach.”

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