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‘The man is a clown’: Voters give their verdict on polling day in key London boroughs

Rory Sullivan talks to voters in Wandsworth while Maryam Zakir-Hussein takes the polling day temperature in Barnet

Rory Sullivan,Maryam Zakir-Hussain
Friday 06 May 2022 09:20 BST
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Boris Johnson casts his vote in local elections with his dog Dilyn

As he travelled around Wandsworth in the spring sunshine, local Labour leader Simon Hogg did not want to predict the election result.

But he stressed how symbolic a widely tipped Labour victory would be for a council that has been run by the Conservatives since 1978.

“It’d be amazing. Personally, I’ve been working on this for 20 years. It’d be a huge relief and satisfaction for me,” he told The Independent.

“It would have national implications about Boris Johnson’s remaining appeal and the renaissance of the Labour Party.”

Hours later, his hopes were confirmed as the council turned red for the first time in 44 years.

Speaking while voting was still under way, Hogg said the subject of Partygate came up often on the doorstep. “We thought it was going to be a cost-of-living election. But when you go to people and talk to them, even without mentioning it, they just want to speak about the government and Boris Johnson’s behaviour.”

For all the speculation of a Labour win on polling day, Ravi Govindia, the Conservative leader of Wandsworth council, was convinced his party would cling on.

“I’m not worried at all,” he said on Thursday, when asked whether he was concerned by the polls. In fact, the head of the council believed his party would do better in Wandsworth than it did at the last local elections.

“I expect us to do at least as well [in 2018], if not slightly better with the new boundaries.” As a result of the change, the borough will now have 58 councillors instead of the current 60, of whom 33 are Conservative and 26 are Labour.

While Govindia acknowledged that Partygate had angered voters, he expressed his conviction that people would cast their ballots based on local issues.

“It is a tight race, but it is a tight race in which we have the edge. The edge is entirely due to the fact that this is a council that people have loved and appreciated for 44 years,” he claimed.

A woman attaches a Labour Party sign to her taxi in London on 5 May (EPA)

Outside a polling station in the Wandsworth Town ward, Philip, an accountant who has lived in the borough for three decades, agreed with this assessment.

“Wandsworth’s always been a well-run council. Good services and a very reasonable council tax compared to other areas,” the 62-year-old said, arguing that the behaviour of Boris Johnson was a “separate issue”.

Around the corner at a different voting station, Anne, an investment manager who has been based in Wandsworth for seven years, held a similar view about Partygate. “I think it’s journalists blowing it out of proportion to be honest.”

Like Philip, Anne said her vote would reflect her stance on the local area, which she believed was being well-run by the council.

However, their decision to vote on local issues alone was not a given. In a desire to differentiate itself from the scandal-hit government, Wandsworth Conservatives decided to brand itself “Local Conservatives” in all its election advertising, one Tory campaigner said.

Speaking anonymously, they also admitted that the rebrand had extended to changing the colour of campaign posters slightly. “It’s less blue than usual,” they said.

Prime minister Boris Johnson arrives at a polling station in Westminster (EPA)

For some people, like lifelong Wandsworth resident Mark, Boris Johnson nonetheless loomed large over this election. “The man is a clown,” he said.

He added that a Labour victory was possible in the current political climate. “I’ve lived here all my life and I never thought Putney would turn red – and it has done. I think if things are going to change in Wandsworth, they’ll change now.”

Katia and Helen Themistocleous, aged 42 and 45, who have been Wandsworth residents for more than 17 years, typically vote Conservative. However, they now felt disillusioned with the party, saying issues such as housing and security needed to be improved in the local area.

“The Conservatives have been in power locally for a long time and they’ve become too complacent,” Helen said. “I certainly feel that change is needed.”

“Their planning isn’t really strategic enough for the issues individuals are going through,” she added, noting that people were struggling to pay bills amid the cost of living crisis.

Katia (L) and Helen (R) Themistocleous stand outside a polling station in Wandsworth, London (Rory Sullivan)

Helen said Partygate had diminished the government’s standing in her eyes, before giving her low opinion of politicians in general: “If someone else was in power, they’d have done exactly the same thing.”

In the north London borough of Barnet, where the Conservatives were also trying to retain power, political cynicism was also apparent.

For example, Finn, 26, said he would not vote. “Once the government is stuck in its ways, the public feel like there’s nothing they can do,” he explained.

“When I was growing up we used to have centres and afternoon clubs where you would see around 20 to 30 kids. But there’s nothing like that anymore,” Finn added.

“There’s no guidance for young people. That’s why you see 12-year-olds hanging out with olders with knives.”

For Susan, 60, the difficult thing was knowing which party to support. “I believe in holistic politics which takes in not just the people but the environment,” she said.

“That’s why I normally vote Green, but not many people vote for them. So I’m left with the two main parties and I don’t trust either of them.”

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