Thursday, March 13, 2014

How likely is it Lewisham council will go 'all Labour' in May?

Since the 2006 council elections the make-up of Lewisham council has changed quite significantly, despite being led throughout this time by Labour mayor Sir Steve Bullock.

After the 2006 elections, the 54-strong council looked like this:

Labour           26
Liberal Democrat 17
Green             6
Conservative      3
Socialist         2

A mix of parties and some strong opposition to Labour as the largest (but not the majority) group on the council.

Fast forward to 2010:

Labour           39
Liberal Democrat 12
Conservative      2
Green             1

A clear majority for Labour, but at least with an opposition party with a reasonable number of councillors. Since then 1 Conservative and 1 LibDem have defected to Labour and one LibDem stood down to be replaced with a Labour councillor in a by-election. This leaves the current council looking like this:

Labour           41
Liberal Democrat 10
Conservative      1
Green             1

The observant among you will notice this adds up to 53 not 54. This is because there are currently only 2 councillors in Evelyn ward following the death of Councillor Sam Owalabi-Oluyole in January. A by-election wasn't held to fill this position for obvious reasons.

Already Labour have 41 councillors of the 54 possible positions available - how likely is it that the whole council will turn red in May? I thought I'd have a go at working this out using some of the 2010 and 2006 ward voting stats and a bit of a magic cauldron. Why go back to 2006? Well, the 2010 elections coincided with a general election so the turnout was up (60% compared with 33% in 2006), and these votes tend to go towards larger parties where people are also voting on national issues. I think we can assume we'll be heading back towards a turnout of about a third this year.

My first assumption is that Labour will retain all 41 existing council seats, and will add the missing seat in Evelyn, giving them 42 seats to start with.

Where are the current opposition party seats?

The Green party councillor, Darren Johnson, is stepping down from Brockley after 12 years. This leaves this position wide open for Labour who took two of the Green party's three seats from them in 2010. I think we can assume that without Darren's name, the Greens won't hold onto the third in 2014.

The Conservative councillor, Chris Allison, is in Grove Park, where she was originally accompanied by David Britton. He's since gone to Labour - how likely is it Chris will lose her space on the council come May? Well, in 2006 the Tories had all 3 seats in Grove Park and in 2010 the winning Labour candidate, Suzannah Clarke, polled more votes than Cllr Allison. So... I am going to speculate that this seat will fall to Labour as part of a national swing away from the Tories. This would wipe out the Tories in Lewisham altogether.

What of the 10 existing Liberal Democrat councillors? Where are they located? All 3 Downham councillors are currently LibDems. Two of three councillors in both Forest Hill and Lee Green are currently LibDems and there are lone LibDems in Blackheath, Crofton Park and Whitefoot.

In Downham, the Labour candidates in 2010 were the next three highest polling candidates after the LibDems, with the top Labour candidate scoring only 23 fewer votes than the lowest polling LibDem, Jenni Clutten. I believe she is stepping down, so that may well open up at least one opportunity. I'm not sure (though perhaps I should know) if Duwayne Brooks plans to stand again, as he is standing for mayor (that in itself doesn't stop him standing for council election too). His name may get him elected again. Julia Fletcher has her eyes on Heidi Alexander's seat in Parliament, though I don't think Heidi will be having too many sleepless nights about that.

Lee Green has been a bit of a flip-floppy ward in recent times, with numerous by-elections and swings to and from the LibDems to Labour and back again. I used to live there, and actually the LibDem councillors were great at that time. They've mostly moved on since and at the last election the results were pretty finely balanced, so I think these two seats will fall to Labour.

Forest Hill isn't a ward I know an awful lot about, despite enjoying a fair few evenings in the Hob performing with my choir. At least one the the current LibDem councillors (Philip Peake) is stepping down. The highest polling candidate in 2010 was Alex Feakes, who seems to be a busy chap if his blog is anything to go by. Perhaps he will hang on if he decides to stand.

What of the wards with only one LibDem councillor? Well, Whitefoot has already rejected the LibDems in one by-election so I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest the other will go this time. Crofton Park and Blackheath seem pretty close run places between Labour and LibDem so these are hard to call. Of course, Amanda De Ryk saw the writing on the wall in June last year and jumped to Labour before she was pushed out altogether...

So, it's not an exact science but I reckon that the make-up of the council after the May 2014 elections will be:

Labour           50
Liberal Democrat  4

What do you think? Have I been too generous to the LibDems? Unfairly dismissed the Greens and the Tories? Think that People Before Profit will storm to victory across the borough? Can you do better? Let me know what you think and we can see who's right come May 22nd!

Trying to decide how to vote? You might be interested in this report on councillors' absenteeism from Alternative SE4.

(p.s. I'm not bothering to speculate on who will be mayor, I think that's pretty obvious, despite this gem from Duwayne Brooks on Tuesday: