2018 Council Election… Great Expectations…

2018 Election Great Expectations….

The 2014 Council election had seen Fabian chair Keith Darvill left as the sole Labour Councillor, despite cautious optimism going into the campaign. Havering once again voted differently to London, where Labour made great strides including taking majority control of Redbridge for the first time. The General election due in 2015 therefore offered little hope for Labour, and with key marginal seats in nearby Thurrock and Ilford North, resources were deployed elsewhere, reversing what used to happen in the 1980s and 90s.

Nationally, Labour had reasonable expectations of progress going into the General Election, with polls showing a hung parliament and a Miliband government the likely outcome. There was concern about what might happen in Scotland, where the ill-feeling on the independence referendum had boosted support for the SNP at Labours expense. Polls suggested a large SNP breakthrough, which resonated in England as well. UKIP were a further factor, with significant support in the south, including Havering, and in Labour seats in the North.

Once again the exit polls punctured the optimism, with the Conservatives predicted to be the largest party and potentially moving into a majority. The early results were inconclusive, with a long touted (and in reality unlikely) Conservative breakthrough in Sunderland not materialising. The results were confusing, although the Liberal Democrat vote was collapsing, meaning Tory gains in the South West, and occasional Labour gains in Birmingham, Manchester and the return of Bermondsey. Labour took several of its target seats in London, including Ilford North where Wes Streeting, who had first been involved in politics helping the successful Romford campaign in 1997 elected by 420 votes.

The SNP won 54 of 57 seats in Scotland, with the main national parties taking one each. UKIP polled four million votes and won one seat, the Greens a million and only seeing Caroline Lucas elected. The Conservative campaign had been subliminal, and aimed at winning the key marginal and Liberal Democrat seats, enough to win a small overall majority.

In Havering, there was little prospect of a breakthrough, and given the support for UKIP across the East London/Essex borders, it was no real shock when Paul McGeary came third in Hornchurch and Upminster and Sam Gould did the same in Romford.

In Hornchurch an d Upminster, Angela Wilkinson was elected with 27,051 votes (49%) with Paul McGeary third with 11,103 votes, 2,874 behind UKIP candidate Laurence Webb. In Romford, Andrew Rosindell secured 51% of the poll (25, 067 votes) with Havering Fabian Vice Chair Sam Gould coming third with 10,268, 940 votes behind the Gerald Batten the UKIP candidate

In Thurrock, a close three-way contest saw Labour candidate Polly
Billington defeated by 436 votes in a close three-way contest. Ed Miliband resigned he following day. This meant another Labour leadership contest, and a real fear that the same introspective thinking that had stymied the Labour Party in 2010 could be repeated. This looked likely to be the case until Jeremy Corbyn entered the campaign and struck a chord with the Labour membership to storm to victory. This was preceded by the announcement that Sadiq Khan would be the Labour candidate for Labour Mayor in the 2016 GLA election, ahead of the favoured Tessa Jowell.

Nothing would be the same again. David Cameron announced the European referendum, which would end his Premiership. Before the poll in June, the GLA elections saw a horrible campaign by Conservative Zak Goldsmith, with dog whistle overtones. This boosted the Khan campaign, and saw a vast Labour vote, with a khan winning by 317,000 votes securing 56.8% of the vote on second preference votes.

In the GLA constituencies, Labour came within a whisker (1,438) of seeing Ivana Baroletti being elected. This was all the more remarkable, as all the Havering wards saw a majority for Goldsmith, although Labour were very close in a few wards in the party vote. But there was some compensation as Denis O’Flynn was victorious in a by election on the same day to double the size if the Labour group. Unmesh Desai was victorious in the neighbouring City and East seat, with a majority just under 90,000.

Seven weeks later the Brexit referendum saw Britain narrowly vote to leave. Havering and Barking and Dagenham voted heavily to Leave, while Redbridge and Newham saw only small majorities for Remain, while the almost the rest of London voted heavily to Remain. All wards in Havering voted Leave.

The narrowness of the unexpected result saw David Cameron resign by 9 am the following day. The country was divided as never before, with the result viewed as meaning different things to different people. Two years later this remains the case. The campaign itself was every bit as bad as the previous national referendum on the voting system, with facts secondary to propaganda.

Perhaps the best way of explaining the result was that emotional factors were dominating the economics, but the campaign failed to reflect this. This meant a disconnect from all sides, leading to the areas that received most EU funding – Cornwall, west wales and northern Scotland – all voting leave.

Labour took the unexpected result badly. Jeremy Corbyn had not taken part in the big TV debates – keen not to be sharing a platform with Cameron perhaps, in light of the Scottish referendum. The parliamentary Labour Party forced another leadership campaign, which ended with Corbyn re-elected and secure in his role.

With Teresa May having taken over from Cameron, the Tories began he
Brexit process. Despite promising not to do so, May called an election in
2017, with the aim of increasing her majority and ability to shape the Brexit she wanted. What followed was perhaps the ineptest election campaign in modern history.

The Conservative poll lead neared twenty percent at the start of the campaign, which would have left Labour with a 1931 style result (30.8% of the vote and 52 seats). She had badly underestimated Corbyn as a campaigner and overestimated her own abilities. A weak manifesto committed the Tories to very little, save reform of adult social care. Within days May announced a change in this policy, and the robotic “strong and stable” mantra was easily undermined by “weak and wobbly”.

The polls narrowed, and with UKIP marginalised and no meaningful Lib Dem revival, the exit polls would once again provide the first insight. As in 2015, the polls didn’t pick up what was happening in Scotland, which would prove crucial.

The Conservatives lost their overall majority, with Labour 2.4% behind in the polls. In Havering, Labour moved back into second place in both seats
In Hornchurch, Julia Lopez replaced Angela Watkinson and secured
33,750 votes (60.15%) of the vote, Rocky Gill securing 28.57% (16,027votes). In Romford, Angela Leatherbarrow secured second place with 15,893 (31.82%), 13,600 behind Andrew Rosindell. In Dagenham and Rainham Labour benefited from support across London and Jon Cruddas was re-elected with a 4,652 majority, a small reduction, although the Conservatives moved into second place.

Although Labour had done better in Havering, analysis of the results suggested Labour was not ahead in any of the Havering wards.

So going into the 2018 elections, Labour was cautious about the prospects. Target wards were identified, and resources focused. With the national polls roughly level, and London polling showing a significant Labour lead, some improvement was likely. However, the London only polls had been good in 2014, and Havering voted differently. The fear was a repeat despite good responses in the doorstep in the areas most likely to vote Labour.

The resident presence in the Borough provides an option for the apolitical/ anti-political/protest voter not available elsewhere in London, partly explaining why the Liberals have only briefly featured on the Council. The residents started from a strong position, and with UKIP no longer relevant, anything could happen.

Very little changed. The Labour Party gained three seats in Harold Hill, while Denis O’Flynn retained his by election gain. Elsewhere, despite significant campaigning in Brooklands and Romford Town, there was no breakthrough in Romford. The targets in the south of the borough were missed as well, with the Independent Residents holding on with reduced majorities on a lower turnout.

In Heaton, 22-year-old Tele Lawal joined Keith Darvill and Denis
O’Flynn, probably becoming Labours youngest ever Labour Councillor – Tony Rew was a similar age when elected in 1990. Paul McGeary returned to the Council in Gooshays , with newcomer Carole Beth elected for the first time. The third Labour candidate Adam Curtis missed out by 46 votes, squeezed out by the Harold Hill version of the residents.

In the South of the Borough, a lively campaign in Rainham dented the resident’s majority and left top placed Labour candidate Fay Hough 74 votes short of being elected, Kim Arrowsmith 140 short and Chris Freeman 228. A marker for next time and a potential Labour gain in future very possible.

Labour was also just short in South Hornchurch, Pat Brown (243) and Trevor McKeever (267) being short of the independent residents, with Nicholas West some way behind 347 short of third place.

In Elm Park, Simon Darvill came fourth, but with 795 votes was well short of the resident in third place who had 2,012 The Labour decline in Elm Park from the 1990s has reflected not only the boundaries changing, but a very different community. It remains a seat that Labour could win in future, although grounds for optimism are needed to see this being the next election in 2022.

Elsewhere in the borough Labour had made substantial efforts at toppling the Conservatives in Brooklands and Romford Town. The 2017 General Election candidate and Romford Party chair Angelina Leatherbarrow came fourth in Brooklands, but with 1,592 was 546 votes of the third placed Tory. Labour candidates came second behind he elected Conservatives Romford Town ward, with Neil Cassidy 624 behind the third placed Conservative.

Elsewhere Labour was well behind the winning candidates, although did come second in Harold Wood, although Christine McGeary was 1,900 votes behind the third placed Resident candidate. A feature of the election was a number of former councillors standing in unwinnable wards- Chris Purcell, Ray Shaw and Mick wood were all some way short of reelection.

Elsewhere in the borough, the Conservatives made some key gains, to leave them just short of an overall majority. They gained one seat in Hylands, giving them all 21 of the seats in the Romford constituency. John Mylod has defected from the residents to the Conservatives just before the election and narrowly (25 votes) retained his seat to give the forties a gain from the residents. In Emerson park, a Tory gain from UKIP seemed likely once UKIP declined following the referendum, although they were pushed close by the residents who fell four short of gimping a seat. This left the Conservatives up three from 2014.

The Residents did well and were within range of being able to form an administration if they were able to form a cohesive group. That was always unlikely given the views of the Independent Residents in the South of the borough and the variety of different groupings.

However within a fortnight of the election South Hornchurch councillor Michael Deon Burton defected to the Tories, and became Deputy Mayor as a result. A deal appeared to have been done with the Resident’s councillors from Harold a Wood to give the Conservatives a working majority. Roger Ramsey stood down as Council Leader to be replaced by Damien White, the replacement of the old guard by the younger Romford Councillors being reflected in the new Cabinet.

Labour with five seats had greater influence than before, having representatives on almost all the committees. None the less the Party was disappointed not to have broken though.

Elsewhere in London. Labour won all the seats in Barking and Dagenham for the third election in a row, and made further gains in Redbridge. The relatively strong election performance in 2014 meant that there were few opportunities for Labour to make significant gains, although the Labour vote increased by 2 percent across the capital.

So the future for Labour in Havering is uncertain. On a positive note, this was the first election since 2002 where Labour had won two wards. Newly elected Tele Lawal was only 45 behind Denis O’ Flynn, who in turn won the by election in 2016 due to his strong personal following. It was particularly pleasing to see a young black women elected in the ward that returned a BNP councillor 12 years ago. There was a lot of energy in the campaign, giving hope that in the next election – the GLA in 2020 unless a general election is called – Labour votes from Havering can see a Labour candidate elected in Havering and Redbridge for the first time.

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