I am proud to be standing for Renew in the Wandsworth council elections in May. I had spent a long time quite happy as an independent with no intention of standing as a candidate, of any type, for some time. So what changed?

Becoming independent

Leaving the Conservatives was a long time coming for me. I felt the Conservatives had ceased representing me both locally and nationally, and on Wandsworth they were feeling increasingly tired: interested only in control and lacking any positive vision for the borough.

I have enjoyed being an independent councillor and feel I make a difference (much bigger than I ever could as Conservative). But that was limited.

While I enjoyed the freedom to, say, help Tooting parkrun get started or advise the Save Battersea Park group in getting rid of Formula E it was a pretence to say I was alone. I was able to help because I was an independent, free from the shackles of party control (although I had been surreptitiously helping both, even while in the Conservative group), the fact is that those campaign’s successes only came about because everyone involved was part of something larger.

Joining Renew

And that brought me to Renew. The choice between the mainstream parties is no choice at all. It would be unimaginable to re-join a Conservative Party that seems to want nothing more than a return to the 1950s, or a Labour Party moving further and further to the left, especially while both are propping up each other’s hard Brexit delusions.

The Liberal Democrats might have some attractions, being at least anti-Brexit. But it’s hard to see how they can have any impact: tainted by their involvement in the coalition and led by Vince Cable they are simply not the right choice for challenge we face.

And that left Renew: an anti-Brexit, centrist party, a home for all those people, like me, who have found themselves politically homeless since the referendum.

What Renew offers Wandsworth

Renew is not looking to control Wandsworth council, it is quite purposefully not putting up a full slate of 60 candidates, but instead offers a compelling opportunity to voters to make their voice heard; to send a message from a 75% remain borough that hard-Brexit is not what we want, and that a choice between two extremist parties is no choice at all.

I have seen the difference that a couple of independently minded, evidence-driven councillors has made. Malcolm Grimston and I were the leading councillors forcing the council to take an aggressive stance in defending the rights of EU citizens while Conservatives were still busy crowing about the referendum result. And Malcolm has led the campaign to stand up for leaseholders being forced to pay thousands for unnecessary sprinklers.

Renew councillors can continue that role; holding whoever controls the council to account, and promoting a centrist view to balance the extremes of either a Conservative or Labour administration.

The council elections are the last scheduled election before the two-year article 50 notice period expires. You will have three votes. If you want to send a message about Brexit to the main parties, and if you want councillors that will represent you and not a few from their extreme fringes, then use one of the three votes for your Renew candidate.

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.

Official notices around a polling station

Today is, technically, the day I start my new term of office as a Wandsworth councillor1.

I begin with a thank-you.

A massive thank-you to everyone who voted to re-elect me as a councillor. But also a thank-you to everyone who voted. I’ve never been so naïve to think I was universally popular, and while I’m pragmatic enough to recognise that I only need to be more popular than the fourth most popular candidate, the electoral process can be as much about a collective expression of will as it is about electing individuals.

Let me get the ego out of the way first. It was enormously flattering to be re-elected as a councillor. You would expect me to say that. The sort of thing you expect anyone who has been elected to say. I can only assure you that I found watching the votes being counted a remarkably humbling and touching experience.

Obviously I have no idea what the motives behind each ballot paper was. It might be some votes were cast for me in error, or perhaps simply because the voter disliked other people more than me. However, there will be some in there that reflected a positive decision to vote in my favour and for that I am incredibly grateful and hope I do not let those people down.

Looking across the rest of the borough the results were not what we would have hoped.

I wish John Marsh had been elected in Queenstown, I worked hard—but obviously not hard enough—to get him elected and think he would have been a great champion for the area.

I wish we hadn’t lost the councillors we did. John Locker, for example, was a superb champion for his ward and while I was an executive member I always appreciated his guidance: there is no doubt I did a better job with his support.

But democracy provides wisdom. I’m not sure how, but collectively the electorate collectively gets the result that’s right for the time. Wandsworth is still a Conservative borough, but obviously not quite as Conservative as it was (technically) yesterday. It is for those who are elected to divine the wisdom of the electoral crowd and how to respond.

Returning to my own election (I recognise that I am but one of sixty, but politics—and blogging—requires some ego, so trust you’ll forgive some narcissism) I’m enormously excited to be starting another term of office, and starting my own personal project to see what I can accomplish for Shaftesbury ward. There are, by my reckoning, about 1,442 days until the fourth day after the next ordinary election and I wonder how my end of term report will read.

  1. Councillors terms of office are dated from and until the fourth day after an ordinary election, usually the first Thursday in May, but changed this year to coincide with the European elections. 

Various polling station signs

Of course, more than half of you won’t bother (or are readers of this more sophisticated than the general population? I rather hope so) but today is election day and polling stations are open from 7am until 10am.

If you are a Shaftesbury resident I would be delighted if you’d vote for me (and my colleagues, of course) but I recognise plenty of people might prefer some of the alternatives on the ballot paper and that for democracy to have meaning there has to be diversity of opinion.

Indeed, some people have taken the time to email me to tell me they are voting against me, which is nice. Thankfully some other people have taken the time to email me to wish me luck and say they are voting for me, which is nicer.

However, rather than being bipolar about it all, I find the election process rather relaxing. It is one of those times you can relax and accept you are not master of your own destiny:

  • Whether it’s during the campaign, when someone else analyses the numbers and decides where you will be knocking on doors to delivering leaflets.
  • Or on election day, when electors will go to the polls and make their decisions based on whatever criteria they see as important.
    • Or even at the count, when election staff will carefully count the ballots and award victory or defeat accordingly.

Never is the candidate really in charge.

And that’s the really important point of democracy. For once the politicians aren’t the bosses.

Though I still think it would be very very nice if you voted for me.

With just a few days to go before election day on Thursday I can’t help thinking that it doesn’t feel much like an election to me. There isn’t much of an election buzz. That’s perhaps because we tend to keep up a high level of campaigning throughout the year, so an election period doesn’t feel that much different. Or perhaps because I’ve not bumped into any of the opposition, save one time when a group of Labour canvassers tried to bagsy a council block because they’d “seen it first”.

It’s human nature to think things were better in the past, but looking back four years on this blog I was commenting that it just didn’t really feel like an election and we never bumped into the opposition. I referred to 2005 when we would all campaign on Saturdays in Clapham Junction, but they were a bit more set-piece (and actually a bit immature, on reflection). When I think about it objectively, 1998 really was the last election I’d routinely bump into opposing parties, indeed, one of the Labour candidates became a semi-regular drinking partner during that election.

Now it never happens and it makes for a much duller campaign.

Many turn to the comfort blanket of social media to brag about the overwhelming support they are getting on the doorstep, though that strikes me as buying a convertible because you are balding. Besides, I always wonder how they cope with the inevitable rejection on polling day: no matter how safe the seat there is always a sizeable minority who will think the other guy is better. It must be a painful discovery when the votes are counted and some people voted against you when somehow you’ve never managed to meet anything but supporters.

The reality (and this will be the reality for every party’s activists) is that campaigning involves spending a lot of time waiting at doors when no-one in, meeting a mix of supporters and opponents and knowing, statistically, that most of the people you meet won’t vote anyway. It is a strange way to spend your time, so if you come across an election campaigner in the next few days, at least spare a sympathetic thought for them.

The ballot is a little more complex than this...

Until motivated by my letter from Brett Harrison yesterday, I don’t think I’d posted anything about the Mayoral and GLA elections this time around, so this is my last chance. I’ve tweeted a little about it, but not that much. What I have found myself doing (perhaps a little too often) is the campaigning.

I can’t help feeling that, at my age, I should have better things to do than deliver leaflets and knock on doors. And for a short while during this campaign I did: I had flu and stayed in bed. (My definition of better perhaps needs some work.) But apart from that I’ve been dutifully plodding the streets, mainly in Shaftesbury, doing my bit for Boris and Dick Tracey.

It has not been the most inspiring campaign for a number of reasons. I suspect it might have been better had Labour’s selection decision gone a different way. But I’m not going to get into those issues, if you want, perhaps read the Evening Standard’s endorsement of Boris or The Guardian’s endorsement of Ken.

Perhaps my mind was already made up, but I’ll be voting Boris for Mayor, Dick Tracey for the constituency GLA seat and Conservative for the London-wide GLA seats. I hope you’ll consider doing the same, but whatever you decide, it’s important to cast your vote.

If you live in Wandsworth the council’s election information pages contain useful information, including a postcode finder for your polling station (open from 7am until 10pm).

If you live in Shaftesbury and usually vote at the Devas Club your polling station for this election has moved to the grand hall at Battersea Arts Centre.

I’m fully aware that many wonder why on earth I feel so strongly about Asda calling themselves ‘Clapham’. I’ve been expounding on it a lot recently, not on this blog, but the story has been covered on BBC Radio London, in the Evening Standard, the South London Press (not on their website) and the Wandsworth Guardian.

I think I’ll to a post I made on Streetbook:

To return to the discussion about the difference, London is not a bland homogenous entity. Its charm and beauty is that Battersea and Clapham aren’t the same. Just as Soho and Pimlico are different. Or Wembley and Kilburn. There are similarities, but the atmosphere, the vibe, is always different.

In many ways we are not only trying to protect the name Battersea, but also Clapham, which is mis-used to cover so much of South London it’s becoming meaningless.

To have an attachment to a place, you must first know that place. In exactly the same way you can’t truly have a friend or lover who is a stranger to you. To say that you love Clapham when you really mean Battersea only betrays that you haven’t yet made that connection. And it’s those connections and common bonds that strengthen our communities and society.

And I’d probably add a line from the Wandsworth Guardian for good measure:

It’s no coincidence that those who believe it’s Clapham are often those with weaker ties to the area; new residents, antipodean travellers, Yorkshire based supermarkets.

My opinions on it are fairly clear. What I just cannot understand is Asda’s opinion, or lack thereof. They are holding a ballot in store to ask people what they think. And I’m boycotting it. I know it’s just one vote, and am not going to suggest to anyone else that they boycott it, but it devalues everything, Battersea, Clapham and democracy.

I may as well hold a ballot on whether a giraffe has a long neck or to see if people think it would be quite cold in the Arctic circle.

Democracy is about opinions, beliefs. It’s about a political process and a choosing a vision for a town, borough, region, nation. It is not something that changes the facts. All a ballot will prove is that of those that voted some know the store is in Battersea, and some didn’t.

To suggest that the long history of places like Battersea and Clapham can be changed by a few shoppers putting crosses on scraps of paper is nonsensical. While after a 1,000 years historians may still point to Battersea’s place in the Domesday Book, I rather doubt any will be referring to Asda’s pointless ballot in 3010.

If they want ballots perhaps they can have a look at the one being run by the Battersea Society which currently shows 97.8% of people know Asda is in Battersea. If they want something more neutral, perhaps the Wandsworth Guardian’s poll would do, that currently has 78% of people putting Asda correctly in Battersea. Or maybe the South London Press’s straw poll of shoppers which had 70% correctly stating it should be Asda Battersea.

So, I’m not taking part in something that shows nothing be disrespect to the area I love and its long history.

But despite that I’m looking forward to a result that reflects all the other polls and shows a sold victory for Battersea. If it’s any other result, I’ll have to see if the Asda manager will do me a favour if I stand for re-election, it would save all that lengthy campaigning!

I’m delighted and flattered to have been re-elected as one of the councillors for Shaftesbury. And pleased to have been elected with excellent ward colleagues, Jonathan Cook and Guy Senior. I’m really looking forward to the next four years.

It has been a real joy to represent an area I love dearly for the past twelve years, and an honour to have been given another four.

With all the media attention on the general election I suspect there are only a couple of hundred who care about the borough elections.

Along with all those other candidates I’m heading along to the Town Hall to discover my fate.

My last visit, or another four years of regular trips to SW18?

My good intentions look to be dashed, it has been hectic and non-stop since seven. So the idea of updates during the day was clearly over ambitious. I’m tapping this out over a quick sandwich.

Turnout has been high, the weather kind and the mood great.

Remember polls are open until 10pm and it only takes a few minutes to vote for change (nationally, that is)!