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Wipeout warning: Could Camden become a one-party state?

Polls alert for Tories with council elections just two months away

08 March, 2018 — By Richard Osley

Council leader Georgia Gould 

CAMDEN could be heading for a near one-party state as polling suggests Labour is going to run riot at local elections – now just two months away.

The Tories have been warned that flagship local authorities they control in two neighbouring boroughs, Westminster and Barnet, are under threat from Jeremy Corbyn’s party when London goes to the polls. If this scenario was reflected in Camden on May 3, Labour hopes of scything back the Conservative opposition to a handful of seats would be realised, making Georgia Gould the most powerful leader in the borough’s 53-year history. This possibility, according to their rivals, would be a dagger to local democracy.

Tory leader Councillor Gio Spinella said: “If you have a one-party state, then Labour’s manifesto pledges will be even more worthless than their pledge not to remove weekly bin collections last time.”

The latest alert for Labour’s opponents came from Conservative pollster Lord Ashcroft, who has studied voter opinion and ballot box intentions over the last month in eight key boroughs, including Barnet and Westminster. His findings show that only a quarter of those polled felt Conservative councils provided better services, compared with 40 per cent who said Labour performed better at local authority level.

The peer has warned that election campaigns focusing on low council tax and refuse collections do not appear to be breaking through. Already holding a large majority in Camden, Labour is looking to eclipse the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens by actively targeting councillors who survived its landslide win in 2014.

The ruling party is confident it can win seats in Belsize and Swiss Cottage, and finally remove the Liberal Democrat they have repeatedly failed to unseat – Flick Rea, in Fortune Green. Sian Berry, for the Greens, faces a battle for survival in Highgate too. The most confident Labour canvassers have talked privately about winning every seat bar the three held by Tories in their fortress ward of Frognal and Fitzjohns.

The precedent for near-total domination of a council comes from across another council border – in Islington, where all but one seat is taken by Labour. Asked why he thought this harmed democracy, Cllr Spinella said: “Islington can say it has achieved whatever it wants and there is nobody there to contradict it, to say: ‘Hang on, what about this, or what about that?’ The lack of scrutiny of what they say and do is to the detriment of residents.” He added, however, that Lord Ashcroft’s polls and the gung-ho stories shared by enthusiastic Labour canvassers did not tally with opinion on the doorstep in Camden. “We are not seeing anything like what the Ashcroft polling says in Camden,” he said.

Cllr Gould who holds a stronger position than her predecessor, Sarah Hayward, because she was elected without challenge from inside the Labour group, said: “Camden is facing deep austerity that’s hitting local government, the police, NHS and schools. “We are contesting every seat in Camden because we want to send a strong message to government – no to Tory isolationism through hard Brexit and stop pulling apart our communities with austerity.” She added: “We don’t read too much into polls and we’re not taking any vote for granted. It is not my place to give advice to the Conservatives, but they need to start standing up for the real concerns of people in our borough and to call on their government to change direction.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Marshall said: “There are probably about 20,000 to 30,000 people in Camden who are anti-Brexit and anti-Corbyn at the same time. They could make a difference. “If you look at how narrow the debates over council budgets have become, there is not much scope for differences in local policies. Ashcroft picked up that Brexit will be an issue, and there is a difference between the parties. If you are an EU citizen, for example, it’s probably the last chance to send a statement against it.”

He added that the possibility of Labour domination added to the case for electoral reform for council elections.

Cllr Berry, who is also a Green member on London Assembly, said: “Labour are targeting me in Highgate but what does having three more whipped Labour councillors following the party line actually add? They could be using resources to take on marginal Conservative councils, but they are here trying to get me out.”

She added: “The Greens got 16 per cent of the vote at the last council election, but I’m the only Green councillor. I only won by 75 votes and, if I’d lost, that would have left 16 per cent of people not represented at all. So of course, PR would be great. It’s healthy to have more voices in the chamber.”

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