Could the Tories Really Lose in Wandsworth?

Our exclusive analysis considers the chance of Labour gaining control of the Council

A number of national commentators, including most recently the Financial Times, have speculated that 40 years of Conservative control of Wandsworth Council is about to come to an end.

The possibility of a Labour victory on 3 May have been raised by both national and London-wide polls that show that the Conservatives could be at risk in all the inner London boroughs they currently hold.

Some political analysts are claiming that a defeat in the flagship borough of Wandsworth would be so symbolically significant that Theresa May would have to step down.

Local issues such as affordable housing, particularly in the many local luxury developments, a third runway at Heathrow and intense local opposition to Brexit have come to prominence since the last borough elections in 2014. has carried out a analysis on a seat by seat basis of the local borough election which gives a far more detailed picture than any other coverage.

The number of seats that Labour needs to win to oust the Tories is twelve. There are sixty council seats in Wandsworth and Labour currently hold 19 with the Conservatives on 39 (two Councillors having been elected as Conservatives have left the party). Our analysis shows that they would require a swing of over 9% to gain the final seat that they need. Assuming a uniform swing to Labour from the previous election they would gain control if they won two of the three seats in Southfield ward.

Conservative Held Seats from 2014 Election
Ward (Seat) No. of Votes  Majority Swing Needed
Queenstown Ward 3 1711 33 0.4%
Queenstown Ward 1 1773 123 1.4%
Bedford 2 1895 179 2.0%
Earlsfield 2 2089 280 2.9%
West Hill 3 1810 390 4.3%
Earlsfield 1 2164 492 5.1%
West Hill 2 1880 467 5.1%
Shaftesbury 3 1794 567 7.6%
Southfields 3 2172 778 7.7%
St Mary's Park 3 2030 667 7.7%
St Mary's Park 2 2066 796 9.2%
Southfields 2 2291 963 9.5%
Nightingale 3 1984 795 9.6%
West Hill 1 2138 882 9.7%
Fairfield 3 1752 731 10.1%
Shaftesbury 2 1850 766 10.3%
Southfields 1 2302 1050 10.4%
Nightingale 2 2057 921 11.1%
Balham 3 2041 915 11.5%
Fairfield 2 1801 843 11.7%
St Mary's Park 1 2201 1021 11.8%
Balham 2 2052 957 12.0%
Shaftesbury 1 1932 902 12.1%
East Putney 3 2134 1084 12.6%
Nightingale 1 2122 1063 12.8%
West Putney 3 2221 1155 13.4%
Fairfield 1 1924 999 13.8%
Northcote 3 1984 1096 14.9%
East Putney 2 2233 1296 15.1%
Balham 1 2150 1281 16.1%
East Putney 1 2261 1403 16.3%
West Putney 2 2237 1410 16.4%
Thamesfield 3 2437 1484 16.4%
Wandsworth Common 3 2313 1397 16.7%
Thamesfield 2 2466 1586 17.5%
Wandsworth Common 2 2396 1493 17.9%
West Putney 1 2429 1615 18.8%
Northcote 2 2187 1382 18.8%
Thamesfield 1 2579 1733 19.2%
Northcote 1 2198 1437 19.6%
Wandsworth Common 1 2598 1723 20.6%

These figures suggest that key battleground wards in the election include West Hill, Southfields, St Mary’s Park, Nightingale and Shaftesbury. Labour need to be winning some or all of the seats in these wards if they hope to gain control. In each case just a few hundred votes changing either way will determine the outcome. If Labour get a swing in their direction a few percentage points more than they need then even Council leader Ravi Govindia’s seat in East Putney could be at risk.

The methodology used is to look at each ward on a seat by seat basis. Each ward has three seats and the top polling Conservative successful candidate in 2014 is compared to the top polling unsuccessful Labour candidate. The process is repeated for the second and third candidates from each party excluding successful Labour candidates from 2014. This gives a vote difference and percentage swing needed for every seat in the ward designated as 1, 2 or 3. For example in a seat with the three Conservative Councillors the third placed Labour candidate from 2014 would need to exceed the vote of the first place Conservative Councillor for seat number ‘1’ to be taken.

One factor that may have a significant impact on the result is the number of EU citizens registered in the key wards. Wandsworth Borough voted 75% to Remain in the European Union during the 2016 referendum and many voters will be using the local election to make a point about the direction that Brexit is currently taking. Wandsworth Council have confirmed to us that at least 26,000 EU citizens are registered and eligible to vote in the borough on 3 May although we don't have the breakdown on a ward by ward basis.

The latest detailed numbers on the local population come from the 2011 census which shows that the seats that Labour need to make gains in also have a high proportion of EU passport holders. In 2011 there were 2.3 million EU citizens resident in the UK this had risen to 3.5 million by 2016 so these numbers are going to have risen significantly. In most these wards EU citizens make up a significant enough proportion of the electorate to have a decisive impact.

The population who were EU passport holders in key battleground wards was as follows:

Ward Percentage of EU Citizens (2011)
West Hill 17.8
St. Mary’s Park 16.6
East Putney 13.8
Southfields 12.8
Fairfield 12.3
Shaftesbury 11.9
Earlsfield 11.3
Balham 11.0
Nightingale 10.0
National Average 6.4
Source: Office of National Statistics

Age demographics is also likely to have a significant impact on the result. Wandsworth in general has a much younger population than the national average and this is particularly pronounced in some of the key wards. Polling suggests that the younger age groups are far more likely to have voted Remain and have seen a greater shift to voting Labour. The median age of key wards in the borough is around 32 compared to 39 for England and Wales. In West Hill ward over half the population is aged between 18 and 44 compared to a national average of 36.7%. Only 13.3% of the ward's voters are aged over 60 compared to a national average of 22.3% in 2011. This kind of population make up is mirrored in all the key wards in the area and it can probably be presumed that the average age has fallen further due to immigration and the kind of housing stock that has been added since 2011. With most new units built over the last six years ago being flats it is probable that a preponderance of people moving in are younger than 45.

Other factors are likely to come into play including the number of candidate standing. The Liberal Democrats in Wandsworth have announced that they intend to run a full slate of candidates i.e. three for every ward. In 2014 they didn’t contest every seat including in some of the key Labour targets. For example they fielded only one candidate in St Mary’s Park and Shaftesbury wards and two in Nightingale. The impact of extra Liberal Democrat candidates is difficult to predict. It could be argued that they will split the anti-Brexit vote or that more Conservative voters will be persuaded to vote Liberal Democrat as a protest rather than Labour.

Sue Wixley
Liberal Democrat candidate Sue Wixley

Sue Wixley, who chairs the Wandsworth Putney Liberal Democrat sub-committee and is also standing in Southfields, says, "Top of the list of issues we're campaigning about are Brexit and local policing. By voting for the Liberal Democrats, residents will be sending a clear message that they don't support the government's plans for our country. A vote for our candidates will also be a vote to increase local policing, to tackle burglaries and protect residents from moped gangs, and to put an end to the damaging cuts that London's Mayor is pursuing."

Independent candidates standing in vital wards are also likely to have an impact on the final result. Malcolm Grimston who represented the West Hill ward for the Conservatives for 20 years will be standing as an independent. In Shaftesbury ward James Cousins, who was elected as a Conservative in 2014 has defected to the pro-EU Renew party and plans to contest the seat for them.

Cllr Grimston says, “This could be the tightest election since 1986. National factors do play an important part and we don't yet know how recent rows about anti-Semitism and Russian nerve agents will play out, if they are even remembered by May 3. But at the end of the day I believe local elections should be decided on local issues.

“Like most councils Wandsworth does some things well - our schools are superb - while in other areas (notably caring for the most vulnerable in our midst) we lag well behind Richmond, Merton and Lambeth, for example.”

Malcolm Grimston
Cllr Grimston

Cllr Cousins says, “With both parties polarising the political debate by moving further to their extremes, I joined Renew because it offered a strong centrist alternative and was campaigning to stay in the EU, an important issue not just for the tens of thousands EU citizens in Wandsworth, but also to the overwhelming majority of Wandsworth voters who know we would have a much better future as a full partner of the EU than we do with the badly-negotiated deals we're heading for now.”

James Cousins
Cllr James Cousins

He continues, "I left the Tories because it was clear to me they lacked a positive vision for the borough and were increasingly following an agenda that put developers needs before residents."

London Mayor and Wandsworth resident Sadiq Khan, who was previously a local councillor and MP for Tooting, says, "Four more years of Conservative domination in our Town Hall would do so much damage to our community. Wandsworth Conservative council has been in power for 40 years. It's just too long.

"A Labour council in wandsworth will build the genuinely affordable homes to buy and rent that local residents need, freeze council tax this year and next year, help clean up London's toxic air and keep streets clean with the front-line police officers we need."

Ravi Govindia
Leader of Wandsworth Council, Cllr Govindia

However Ravi Govindia, current Leader of Wandsworth Council, is confident about the challenge ahead. He told us, "It is Labour and Momentum’s very public boast that they have set their sights on Wandsworth.  However the recent revelations show very clearly that local residents will not get from Labour what it says on the tin – from this Pandora’s box will emerge something entirely different. 

"Wandsworth Conservative campaign is focused on the record of delivery and the achievements of each and every member of the Conservative Group – I remain confident that Wandsworth Conservative councillors will be returned in each of the 15 wards that currently have a Conservative representation on the Council. 

"We will soon be publishing the manifesto which will lay out our plans for next 4 years and beyond. You rightly mention low tax and responsible financial stewardship. Our core belief is that only a party that budgets carefully and responsibly can be trusted to deliver the kind of improvements that deliver real benefits to people’s daily lives."

You can check online if you are eligible to vote in the upcoming election. You must be registered to vote by midnight on Tuesday 17 April 2018 to cast your vote at this election.

April 4, 2018