Labour councillors in Hammersmith and Fulham will be hoping to retain their narrow lead over the Conservatives in May’s upcoming elections.
With a slim majority of 26 seats to the Conservative’s 20, the Labour Party will be hoping the borough’s historically Labour lean holds firm once more. Lib Dems are also hoping for progress in order to secure their first seat in the borough in 20 years.
Since the 1970s, the borough has overwhelmingly voted Labour, with two notable exceptions. In 2006 and 2010, the Conservatives gained a convincing majority of 31 and 33 out of a total 46 council seats. However, Labour gained ground back in 2014, to arrive at their current position of 26 seats.
The council is currently led by Councillor Stephen Cowan, and his main opposition in the election comes from Cllr Joe Carlebach, Conservative leader of the opposition.
Having served on the council since 2010, Cllr Carlebach represents the biggest threat to Labour. He convincingly won his ward of Avonmore and Brook Green in 2014, and hopes his party can repeat the trend this year and gain further ground this year.
Charing Cross Hospital
One big issue that’s likely to influence voters in Hammersmith is the ongoing dispute over the future of Charing Cross Hospital in the Fulham Reach ward.
A plan by the NHS first published in 2013 proposes the downscaling of the hospital, the sale of its land, and downgrading of key facilities.
H+F Council has made this a major issue for voters, with Cllr Cowan appointing barrister Michael Mansfield to lead an independent commission to investigate the government future plans.
In 2016, Mr Mansfield called the NHS plans ‘deeply flawed’ and suggested they should be halted immediately.
Cllr Cowan reiterated that the only answer to saving the hospital was the current Labour council. Cllr Carlebach also vouched his and his party’s support for keeping the hospital open.
However, some members of the Conservative party were keen to play down the threat to the hospital. Saif Lone, Conservative candidate for North End, believes Labour are playing on the public’s fear of an imminent closure.
He said: “That is not the case, the hospital is safe. I think that voters see past Labour’s attempt to deflect attention away from their poor administration.”
Conservative councillor Harry Phibbs also questioned the veracity of the proposed NHS plans, but voiced his frustration at the “lack of clarity of what changes – if any – may take place after 2021” (when the hospital’s existing Sustainability and Transformation Plan will expire).
The Imperial College NHS Trust has also weighed in on the issue, writing to Cllr Cowan last year in response to his ‘Save Charing Cross’ campaign. They claimed he was “misleading” residents, pointed to a £2.5m investment in the hospital, and reaffirmed their commitment to the hospital.
Another issue that will influence the election this year will be rising crime, with total offences increasing from 1,623 in November 2016 to 2,084 in November 2017. Cllr Carlebach recently tweeted his concerns about knife crime:
He tweeted: “Serious crime in London is rising unacceptably. In H&F this Saturday there was a serious stabbing in my own ward close to my home. This is now out of control & requires urgent action. London Labour don’t know what to do – it’s time to act, no more excuses.”
Cllr Phibbs called for the increase in CCTV cameras to alleviate serious crime, a sentiment echoed by many in his party.
On these these issues, the Labour Party will surely face tough and robust opposition from a battle-hardened Conservative opposition. Turnout for the borough in 2014 was low at 38%, so both parties will be hoping to get voters energised and active in the polling booths. If turnout increases this year, it will certainly be interesting to see if Labour hold their majority, or manage to restore their previous dominance and gain even more seats in May.
WHAT THEY SAID
Liberal Democrat Cllr Alison Hancock said: “The past is no indicator of the future, and there’s no reason to think that we cannot win here. We’ve been campaigning hard in our target wards, and our message is resonating with residents.”
Council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan said: “There are lots of things wrong with the council, no-one disputes that. We inherited a failing bureaucracy. In three-and-a-half years, we inherited a mess. But what we’re doing is fixing that.”
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 or Twitter for live coverage throughout the night.