I want to highlight three councils where significant local controversy has not had any major impact at the ballot box.
Few councils’ stock fell as low as Kensington & Chelsea RBC’s 11 months ago after the Grenfell Tower fire. While it is just about the most cliched London Tory borough (although – as the Grenfell disaster emphasised – it has notable pockets of poverty), many tipped it as a ‘one to watch’ last night. However, the new make-up of the chamber is: Conservative 36, Labour 13, Liberal Democrat 1. Despite everything, Labour has gained just two seats.
Labour’s name was apparently mud in Sheffield City Council. The council’s 25-year £2.2bn Sheffield Streets Ahead highways maintenance contract led to the felling of numerous trees, resulting in local fury. This work was not paused until late March. Nevertheless Labour lost a mere three seats in this Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire stronghold. The new chamber is: Labour 53, Liberal Democrats 22, Others nine.
And in Barnet LBC, there has been much controversy over the council’s performance on environmental services and its outsourcing model. One Labour activist told me last week: “Widespread local interest in the record of the Barnet Conservatives [was] brought into focus by a serious failure on bin collections right in the middle of the elections.” However, in a council that Labour hoped to win on local issues, the Tories have cemented their control on power, winning 38 of the council’s 63 seats – all of the others going to Labour, which has been badly hit by the party’s national antisemitism scandal.
Without passing judgement on any of the parties standing in these three councils, these results show how many people vote on national issues or on habit. In particular, if K&C’s Tories can remain firmly in control after Grenfell and Sheffield’s Labour group can easily withstand the trees controversy, it rather suggests that – regretfully – local performance does not count for that much in the minds of many voters.
By Nick Golding, LGC editor