The leaders of the Wandsworth Labour and Conservative Parties went head to head on Monday April 23, before the council election on May 3.
The debate, hosted by Wandsworth Radio, saw the combative candidates field questions from an audience made up of community representatives.
The first shots were fired when Labour leader Simon Hogg accused his Conservative rival, Ravi Govindia, of running a council in thrall of property developers.
Hogg said: “When our most vulnerable residents need help and support, the Conservatives have prioritised their relationship with property developers and with their lobbyists.”
He pointed to the Nine Elms redevelopment and what he says is the councils failure to hold the Malaysian backed developers to affordable housing targets.
He said: “It’s a £9 billion scheme with only 9% affordable housing. The council allowed the developers to cut another 250 affordable homes once it had been built.
The Tory leader claimed the loss of the homes was necessary to deliver a regeneration project that had thwarted the council for over thirty years.
Govindia said: “At the start of this story, the allegation was that the council would let the power station crumble into dust.
“Now you’ve got an old power station actually generating new jobs for the future. That has to come at a price.”
And he put Hogg under pressure by accusing him of misleading voters.
He argued Labour’s flagship policy of freezing Wandsworth’s council tax rates for the next two years was deceptive.
He said: “This year’s council tax rate has already been set, Simon’s promise is a hollow promise.
“I’m not making promises to freeze council tax for next year. What I am saying is, you judge us on our record. That’s an honest approach.”
In response, Hogg shifted the focus to children’s services and the £14 million pound bill the council has faced trying to fix a safeguarding system that was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2016.
He said: “Almost a third of the council tax people will pay this year is going into covering those failings.”
He added: “We’ve failed foster children and children at risk of sexual exploitation.”
Govindia did not contest those figures but argued the council should be praised for having money in the bank to fix problems when they arise.
A question from Sarah Chapman, a Wandsworth food bank trustee, proved tricker for the Tory leader.
She asked how the candidates would help the families and disabled people she sees, who struggle to meet travel costs after being re-housed outside the borough.
She said: “We’ve had families referred to us by the council who have had to spend their food budget on a travel card to get their children back to primary school.
“There’s a gentleman we helped recently who had a stroke, who is disabled and was housed in a B&B in Croydon, no income because his benefits were disrupted.
“It took him 7 hours to walk to his appointment at the job centre.”
Govindia offered to discuss her concerns at a meeting later that week.
Ms Chapman indicated she was satisfied with the response, but added: “We have been raising it for at least 3 years.”
It was Labour’s Hogg who ended the night on the back foot, however, taking a question from the floor about the recent Evening Standard story of a possible ‘coup’ from some Labour members, unhappy with his leadership.
Hogg said: “I take newspapers edited by former Conservative chancellors with a pinch of salt.”
Yet, he conceded: “I wasn’t very happy. It wasn’t the best day I’ve had in politics.”
The election on Thursday looks set to be close and the polling indicating that the Tories are likely to suffer losses.
Nevertheless, they remain favourites to keep control of the council, a result which would prolong a leadership stretching back 40 years.
Whatever the outcome, Labour and Conservative politicians across the country will be keeping a close eye on the Wandsworth result, to be delivered in the early hours of Friday morning.
South West Londoner will be providing live updates and all the latest news and reactions from all 11 counts across the area on May 3. Visit our website and Twitter for live coverage throughout the night.
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