Various polling station signs

Since the election was called I’ve been agonising over which way I should vote. While quitting a party has lots of upsides, it’s actually hard work being a floating voter, especially when we insist on using an atrocious electoral system like first-past-the-post1. I’ve found myself flitting between parties and candidates. A week away from the election, I’m still no nearer a decision.

Battersea is spoilt for choice with candidates this time, with the usual selection of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat joined by Green, UKIP, Socialist and a pro-Remain independent.

Arguably first-past-the-post makes the choice of vote easier, since there’s little prospect, based on the 2015 result, of anyone but Conservatives or Labour winning. Indeed, based on the 2015 result it’s easy to assume it’s a Conservative hold.

Until, that is, the publication of the YouGov election model yesterday and listed Battersea as ‘leaning Labour’. Their model had Labour estimated to get 43% (with a 95% confidence interval of 36-51%) and the Conservatives estimated on 41% (with an interval of 34-47%). It struck me as unlikely, to say the least.

However, it did make question if there was any chance it might be right. I could certainly point to anecdotal evidence it might not be totally outlandish. My own experience (admittedly getting older) was that while the response to the Conservatives on the door was still warm, it never felt quite as effusive as it once did. It was certainly my experience at the time and from observation and gossip since that the local party machinery of the Conservatives—historically quite formidable—was a shadow of its former self and unable to compete with a youthful and energetic Labour party.

The mountain to climb…

The evidence of 2015 was, however, that local campaigns don’t necessary win elections. It was commonly accepted that the Labour party outclassed and outgunned the Conservatives on everything. Everything, that is, except votes in the ballot box. Jane Ellison held the seat with over half the votes cast, 52.4% against Labour’s Will Martindale on 36.8%. For Labour to overturn that it would require a swing of 7.8%.

The only published poll for Battersea, commissioned by the independent candidate, had the Conservatives on 46% and Labour on 38%. The poll was conducted before the recent shift towards Labour in national polling, but still showed Labour some way off the pace.

The YouGov model has a swing towards Labour in its national model, but only 3.5% 1.75%.2 That is arguably suspect, since it goes against the consensus of all the polls published thus far. And it’s hard to see where the other 4% 6% or so of swing is coming from, even if you accept YouGov’s close result.

…and how it could be scaled

A few factors? Labour’s campaigning is getting stronger while the Conservatives are getting weaker. It’s hard to see how this would be reflecting in polls, though, since campaigns are far more about getting people out to vote than changing hearts and minds on the doorstep. You certainly wouldn’t expect this to be a factor in YouGov’s model.

The London bubble, in which Labour somehow seem unaffected by the national unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn (and perhaps buoyed by the regional popularity of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London) may be adding a little to Labour total.

The continued Lib Dem collapse may be playing a part. There were about 5,000 Lib Dem votes ‘lost’ between the 2010 and 2015 election. Again, it’s possible these voters may now be flocking to Labour having abstained or flirted with the Tories.

These may individually get a challenging Labour party a little closer, but the biggest gains, surely would have to come from the EU referendum referendum.

Remain, however, has to be the biggest factor in play. Battersea is a young, international constituency. Wandsworth had one of the biggest remain votes in the country and while constituency results were not declared there was some academic and polling evidence suggesting Battersea was the most pro-remain constituency in the borough. Given that Jane Ellison has long been an ardent pro-European there was understandable disappointment when she failed to represent her constituents and her own beliefs and still voted to trigger article 50.

Can Labour win?

Possibly, but then it’s a theoretical possibility that any candidate could win. Would I share YouGov’s projection? Probably not. They might get a few bits and pieces from some factors, and will probably get a good chunk because of the remain factor (something they are clearly pushing for in their literature). There are definitely many who are angry with Jane Ellison for, as they perceive it, putting her ministerial career before her principals and the national interest. My sense, though, is that many of those would not have been voting Conservative in any case.

So, possible? Yes. But likely, even in YouGov’s nuanced language of ‘leaning’? Probably not: so many things have to stack up it would have to be an outlier.

And my vote? I’m still stuck.

  1. Yes, I once was a supporter of first-past-the-post, but people change and I’m older and wiser.
  2. By my reckoning, I’m only using the very simplistic Butler swing model and not factoring in the potential effects of the smaller parties or independent candidate. I also got this wrong in my initial post, meaning there’s an even bigger mountain for Labour to climb.

Welcome to the Heart of Battersea, Clapham Junction

The click-bait headline of a Metro article caught my eye over Christmas: 7 reasons why Wandsworth is the best place to live in London. I was lured in, knowing, even as I clicked, it would end badly.

It turns out that a big part of the attraction is that it's close to Clapham, that bit of London that sits firmly in Lambeth.

My first instinct was that a newspaper of record like Metro would never publish an article containing such factual inaccuracies as confusing Clapham and Battersea.

Indeed, Wandsworth's location within London is part of it's attraction. Having children of a certain age I love being within easy reach of the museums at South Kensington. Others might prefer the short jaunt to the King's Road or West End. In other parts of the borough you might value being close to Richmond Park or whatever attractions Merton might offer.

But when four of the seven reasons include Clapham as a positive, but nothing else outside of the borough the obvious explanation that the article is wrong is also, I daresay, the correct explanation.

People leaving Clapham Junction station, Battersea
As anyone heading through Clapham Junction knows, it’s in Battersea.
It's quite clear they've fallen into the trap of thinking Clapham stretches from Clapham Junction station, in Battersea, all the way to Stockwell and Balham. It's disappointing, but it's not the first time and it won't be the last. But what was really disappointing are the people who leapt on it.

It includes several Wandsworth Councillors (admittedly none of whom represent the Battersea area, so I suppose they can be excused) who "couldn't agree more" the Wandsworth Conservative party who also agree and add "Wandsworth is an amazing place", sadly unable to similarly praise Lambeth because of Twitter's character limit.

Most saddening of all was the council itself. Despite having formally supported the Love Battersea campaign they rewrote the Metro tweet (no lazy re-tweets) to share in the glory.

I suppose I shouldn't be disappointed. This is a post-truth age. Once politicians, parties and councils may have been authoritative voices, opinionated voices perhaps, which were concerned with factual accuracy. Now the priority is the positive spin.

And that is fine. But it's sad that those who should be allies in the campaign against Claphamisation abandon it so quickly for the 20 or so minutes of life of a flattering tweet. Even if they don't, I think Battersea is worth more than that.

Welcome to the Heart of Battersea, Clapham Junction

Many years ago I was a judge in the first LGIU Cllr Awards, another judge commented that it was hard to judge between a councillor who achieved something by virtue of their position, as an executive member, perhaps, and those that achieved something because they were a terrier, focused on an issue or cause that they pursued relentlessly and doggedly while they slowly but surely persuaded others.

It’s a metaphor that has stuck with me, and one that gives me solace when it comes to some of my pet topics. Occasionally I think I make a difference, I remember being one of just two people in a meeting supporting open data, but now I think Wandsworth can claim to be one of the more open councils in the country (although most of the credit on that is down to the national policy climate). Most of the time I can only admire the tenacity of those who employ the terrier approach, and wonder what, if any, issues or causes I would have the patience to persistently champion when I return to the back-benches.

So I look at Philip Beddows determined campaigning for Battersea through the Love Battersea campaign, which he started as a councillor and has continued ever since he stood down, with huge admiration.

People leaving Clapham Junction station, Battersea
The sign greeting those leaving Clapham Junction station, Battersea.
His latest triumph was unveiled this morning: a sign welcoming those leaving Clapham Junction station to the heart of Battersea.

Although it was installed overnight, it was not an overnight decision, he can point to the very first time he raised the idea in February 2009. Ever since he has continued to remind, chivvy and encourage those involved to get to this stage. I can speak from experience—having been tangentially involved in the process—that the ins and outs of negotiations, legal agreements and just funding it, would have ground a lesser man down. I have no doubt that without him it would never have happened.

His battle against the Claphamisation of Battersea is one that he seems to be winning. Recently it feels like the tide has turned, with people and businesses increasingly getting their location right. This, hopefully, marks a turning point, since the station is the chief culprit for people’s mistaken impression that SW11 is Clapham: there’s now a sign, in the station itself, letting people know it’s in Battersea.

Battersea has a long and proud history, and a vibrant and exciting present. We should all be proud of the Battersea identity and, like Philip, do what we can to protect and champion it.

If Fitness First is the new frontline, where is the frontline?
If Fitness First is the new frontline, where is the frontline? Photo by Kate Meacock

I have, at times, banged on about the Claphamisation of Battersea, with new arrivals and Yorkshire based supermarkets showing no consideration of the area’s history or geography.

In my idler moments I’ve also wondered whether the excellent Love Battersea is perhaps just a little too mainstream and, just maybe, whether there should be a more radical splinter group—a Battersea People’s Front[1]—for those who are more vocal in their demands for Battersea’s place on the map.

Fitness First in Battersea, thinking they are in Clapham Hill in Kent.
Anyone know where Clapham Hill is?

Seeing pictures like the above taken outside the Fitness First on Falcon Road leave me more convinced than ever that the BPF has a place. That this is a year after they put up their ridiculous Clapham Hill hoarding and had the error pointed out to them leaves a rather bitter taste. Apparently, they think “a play on ‘Clapham and Lavender Hill’ is nice!”

Not only are they mistakenly placing themselves in Clapham, they then compound their sin by making up a new place they think is in Clapham (but is actually in Kent) and defend it with a hubris that only Sainsbury’s could match with their ‘Clapham St John’s’ near Wandsworth

I was thinking that we should have a two minutes hate[2] directed at Fitness First (and feel free to tweet them) would be a good starting point. But would two minutes be anything like long enough?

  1. Such naming would, of course, leave the People’s Front of Battersea name available for those who feel the BPF is too tame.  ↩
  2. I recognise that the title of this blogpost should have been ‘we have always been at war with Fitness First’ to keep the 1984 theme, but even I felt war was a little strong.  ↩

The Winstanley Estate, and neighbouring York Road Estate, might be getting a new look
The Winstanley Estate, and neighbouring York Road Estate, might be getting a new look

The consultation on the options for the Winstanley and York Road estate will be formally launched this weekend. It is the first step in a process that will, ultimately, lead to a regenerated neighbourhood in one of Wandsworth’s most deprived wards. Though what that will actually look like depends on the outcome of the consultation; something I don’t want to prejudge.

My involvement in the Winstanley and York Road master-planning exercise (along with my involvement in the similar exercise taking place in Roehampton) has been one of the most interesting periods of my time on the council, and certainly one of the most exciting, since it is likely that the scale of change will not have been seen in Wandsworth since some of these estates were built.[1]

That creates an interesting paradox. If we are to look at large housing estates, or collections of housing estates (there are actually three distinct council estates and the private Falcons Estate on the island formed by Plough Road, York Road, Falcon Road and Grant Road), and decide that they ‘don’t work’ we must also accept the possibility that anything we do to improve might well face the same accusation ten, twenty or thirty years from now.

The past year has been the first time I’ve wandered around the estate actually looking at what the original architects were seeking to do and not knocking on doors or delivering leaflets. While it’s easy to criticise the design of council estates the country over you cannot avoid the fact that none were designed or built (or at least I hope none were built) by planners, architects or councillors who were seeking to make people miserable or compound deprivation; they were all looking to make life better for the residents.

You can imagine how the original planners must have envisioned the original York Road estate, with roomy flats in big blocks surrounded by green spaces. Or how Pennethorne Square would have been a small town square. Or how the smaller scale of some of the Winstanley estate blocks came closer to replicating the old street pattern.

But it’s also easy to see how the mistakes were made. The big open spaces are uneven because they were used to hide the rubble from demolished houses and where they are flat, games were prohibited, so they were nothing like the gardens the flats lack. Pennethorne Square has no active usage on several sides, meaning there was nothing there to give it vibrancy and life. And community safety issues meant the surviving street pattern in the Winstanley became constrained in a bid to reduce crime.

But these are only my opinions. In all my meandering around the estate I learnt two things: first, I’m always pegged as being ‘from the council’ (this even happened when I was in jeans and a t-shirt wheeling a push-chair around) and second, that everyone there has a different opinion. I once found myself refereeing a friendly argument between two women, one from York Road and one from Winstanley, who both felt that all the good bits of the estates were in their estate, while all the bad design features existed in their friend’s estate.

The consistent feature of all the discussions was a sense of pride in their neighbourhood, even though they could see faults and recognised the estates were not all they could be.

We’re now starting a process that will help the neighbourhoods realise their potential. We hope it will result in improvement, huge improvement, for the residents and the wider Wandsworth community. Lessons have been learnt from decades of estate building, and decades of estate regeneration elsewhere. And consultation is at the heart of the process, because we cannot forget that this is a scheme that will affect people’s homes and lives.

It is still at the beginning of the process, and as the options are discussed and refined and a preferred option emerges, it is clear that won’t find a solution that will please everyone, but I hope in a few months time we are closer to something that has majority support and in which everyone involved can take pride.

  1. Although I said I didn’t want to prejudge the outcome of the consultations, I’m doing just that and assuming there is enough consensus that the minimal option–basically a bit of tarting up–won’t be the one that gathers most favour.  ↩

If you were interested in visiting Battersea Police Station at the weekend then you might be interested in the information below about the open day and history of the station itself. Credit for the text to Inspector James Ellis and the Met’s Heritage Centre.

Battersea Police Station: An Invitation to the last Open Day

Sadly, Battersea Police Station closes its doors for the last time on Sunday the 22nd September. This day will be marked by a Station Open Day, with many diverse Met units including our Mounted & Dogs sections, TSG, Homicide Detectives with a Crime scene to investigate, our Gangs Task Force along with Trident SC08, Forensic specialists, Officer safety and Taser equipment trainers, displays by The MPS Heritage Museum, old uniforms & historic vehicles, Cadets, Specials constabulary & MPS Volunteers, the Wildlife Crime Unit & specialist staff from the Computer Aided Modelling Bureau. Safer Schools, Parks & Transport Officers as well Neighbourhood officers & partner organisations from across the Borough (LFB and WW Borough Council) will be in attendance to offer crime prevention advice (Bike & phone marking). There will be custody tours, fingerprinting for the kids and Chelsea Football Club coaches will be there to entertain our younger visitors. Battersea Dogs & Cats home will be offering free micro chipping to any dogs brought along on the day.

A Brief History:

The current Battersea Police Station at 112–118 Battersea Bridge Road was the second Station built on that site, the 1st was built in 1858 to designs presented by Charles Reeves, the police surveyor, to the Wandsworth District Board in 1859. Opened in January 1861, it was a compact, stock-brick building of two storeys over a basement, embellished only by the incised word POLICE over the round-headed door. Unmarried constables occupied a section house on the first floor, four per bedroom. The offices were on the raised ground floor over the mess-room and kitchen below. The station’s importance grew along with the local population. By 1864 its strength was four sergeants and 20 constables. In 1867 stables were added behind. The following year Battersea became a full sub-division, with two inspectors. The building suffered from the perennial north Battersea problem of flooded basements, which affected the men’s health. In the 1890s the Receiver of Police suggested moving the mess-room to the first floor, or rebuilding the stables. Superintendent David Saines ruled out the latter, as he thought mounted Police essential in Battersea ‘which is a troublesome Borough from a Police point of view’. The flooding got worse, bringing with it in June 1907 two feet of sewage. That year the freehold site of 112––116 Bridge Road adjoining was bought. A Home Office memorandum of 1908 reported: ‘This station is not a credit to the force … the single men cannot be considered to be raised above the level of their surroundings which are decidedly low’. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police therefore overruled the Receiver, recommending that a ‘Station of the First Class (Large Town)’ should be erected.

In 1910 Dixon Butler produced his design for the new station, which was duly built by J. G. Minter and taken into service in November 1911. The main station is a sober red-brick building of two storeys over a basement, surmounted by a mansarded attic storey with dormers, offset from the paired windows below. A shallow canted bay at the south end of the frontage dignifies the former Inspector’s room but sits uncomfortably beneath the deep eaves cornice. As first planned, the public areas were at the south end, which was staggered back along Hyde Road, while the entrance adjoined the Inspector’s bay. Behind were the charge, detention and matron’s rooms, and seven cells—two singles for women and four singles and one ‘association’ or group cell for men. The northern part, entered from the rear yard, housed the facilities for the officers and men. Beneath the cells was a parade room and on the north side of the yard a three-stall stable. In execution, a proposed ambulance garage in the yard was replaced first by a temporary prefabricated iron office for the Public Carriage Office licensing branch, and then by a permanent building for testing taxicabs The station survived largely unaltered until 1983 when extra land was acquired to the rear and an extension built, bringing the cell block to the same height as the main building and finishing it with a roof and cornice in the same style. The principal entrance was moved to the south end, the former entrance blocked in, the staircase removed and a wing added at the north end on the site of the stable block.

A model of Battersea Power Station in the Power Station's grounds
Battersea Power Stations

If you are at a loose end this weekend there are a plenty of Open House events in Battersea and Wandsworth.

One that is not listed on the Open House website (at least as far as I can see) is the Metropolitan Police’s event at Battersea Police Station on Battersea Bridge Road. It might not be the most interesting building in the world (although some might be curious to see how the Met is delivering a service despite a fairly poor building that isn’t really suited to a 21st century service) but the day offers an opportunity to see a little bit of what happens behind the scenes.

To my mind the real jewel in Wandsworth for the weekend is the opening up of Battersea Power Station. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the power station on numerous occasions over the years and it has never failed to take my breath away. If you have only ever seen it from a distance, perhaps across the river or from the railway or Battersea Park Road you have probably never appreciated the scale of the building since there is so little nearby to offer that perspective. It’s the last time the Power Station will be open before redevelopment, so it really is an opportunity worth taking.

If these aren’t your cup of tea there are plenty of other sites open across Wandsworth, including a rare opportunity to see the splendid interior of the Gala Bingo Hall in Tooting and not be shushed for breaking the intense concentration of dozens of bingo-players (bingoists, bingoers?) or the intriguingly bizarre Hanging Bathroom of Balham.

Staff and Victorians at Clapham Junction's 150th birthday
Staff and Victorians at Clapham Junction’s 150th birthday

I attended the small event held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Clapham Junction yesterday.

It is remarkable to think about the impact it has had on the millions of people who have worked, lived by, used and travelled through the station in those 150 years. Indeed, it defies comprehension. Having to say a few words at the event I was forced to think much smaller, and consider my own experiences of the station.

Like many, Clapham Junction, then a sprightly 133 years old, was my introduction to Battersea. And like many (I hope) I ended up leaving through the wrong exit and spending a cold, wet, winter night seeing a part of Battersea I probably wouldn’t have visited by choice that evening. But somehow, I found myself returning and realising Battersea was where I wanted to make my home.

After that, Clapham Junction punctuated my life. It was the start of unhappy commutes, and the end of happy commutes back home. But it was purely functional. A means to an end.

It was only after I had children that I started to see what it really is: a magical gateway. The hustle and bustle became exciting, and journeys were no longer drudgery, but adventures.

Whether it was the Overground to Westfield and the Lego Store, South West Trains to Waterloo and the London Eye and South Bank or – as we’ll be doing later this month – a pilgrimage to Wembley once we go through the barriers we become explorers. London and beyond is in our reach and the trip has untold potential.

And Clapham Junction’s metaphorical journey is the same. Over the past 150 years it has had a massive impact on Battersea; not least in confusing itinerant residents and corporate headquarters. It has driven change, allowing residents easy access to jobs and leisure, and bring others easily into the area. It plays a vital rôle in the local economy and with each improvement (and I will not pretend the station doesn’t need improvement) it creates even more potential for the area.

We’ve seen the physical improvements to the station and the arrival of the Overground in recent years. Soon we might be adding Crossrail 2 and, one day, maybe even an extended Northern Line from Nine Elms. Despite it’s imperfections, it serves as a wonderful heart of Battersea.

Travelodge new, accurate, sign. Just across from the underground station.

Victory, perhaps, with Travelodge’s naming.

As Travelodge gets closer to completion they’ve started adding some signage, including one referring over its door naming it as ‘London Clapham Junction’. I’m not a Battersea fundamentalist, so I’m happy with that.

I’ve no idea on the timescales involved in Travelodge signage, but would assume it was produced before my recent post on the subject: though it will reflect the efforts of the many people I know had already raised it with Travelodge.

However, their customer services team also emailed me today. I had asked when their facilities team were likely to decide on the naming. Their response is sublime:

I cannot confirm when this decision will be made.

This matter will be dealt with internally and so will not be communicated out.

If the decision is made to change the name, the details will be changed on the website. If this is not changed then the decision has been taken to not make any changes.

I think this is customer service done just right. It probably means they are just ignoring me, but the ‘we’ll think about it, but won’t tell you we’ve thought about it’ approach leaves me with just enough doubt that maybe, just maybe, they are grateful for my “valued feedback”.

Their website (at the time of writing) still lists the hotel as ‘London Clapham’, and still has Clapham Junction on the underground; so maybe they’ve not decided yet. Or perhaps they have decided they are in Clapham, but because it was done internally they haven’t told anyone. Including their sign-makers.