In recent years Londoners have become accustomed to the inside of a polling booth as first Brexit and then a general election dominated the city’s political platform.
In next week’s local elections, the agenda will be far closer to home, with a number of local issues set to prove decisive as Merton residents take to the polling stations once more.
The borough witnessed a Labour victory at the 2014 local elections, with the party gaining 49% of the votes and 36 seats in 2014 compared to the Conservative’s 20 seats and 31% of the votes. This was a gain of eight seats for Labour and a loss of seven for the Conservatives.
This result returned the council to Labour control after they’d lost their majority in 2006, with no party having control for eight years.
The 2006 defeat ended a 16-year spell of Labour control.
A 2017 by-election in St Helier saw Labour Party candidate Kelly Marie Braund elected with a crushing 74% of the vote.
Long-serving Labour councillor Stephen Alambritis is council leader, while councillor oonagh Morton leads the Conservatives.
As Thursday May 3 approaches, two of Labour’s senior councillors will not be standing for re-election.
Ross Garrod represents the Lavender Fields ward and is cabinet member for street cleanliness, and parking and Katy Neep, cabinet member for children’s services, who serves in the Abbey ward.
Neither will feature in the candidate listing for this election and while Labour will be keen to keep hold of their seats, the Conservatives will surely sense an opportunity to increase their seats on the council.
The controversy surrounding the future of Merton Hall has dominated the local agenda over the past year, and is likely to prove a significant issue when voters head to the polls.
On the subject, Councillor Alambritis said: “We are not demolishing Merton Hall, we’re improving it, enhancing it, increasing its capacity so it can be rented out to more people, more organisations and that will facilitate the building of a brand-new secondary school in the centre of the borough.
On the hall’s demolition, Councillor Moulton said: “We fully support the new secondary school, it is something we have supported since way-back-when. We knew that numbers would be difficult, and it would be hard to expand our existing secondary schools and there was always a gap.
Wimbledon Police Station
The Conservative Party and the Labour Party have also been at loggerheads over the planned closure of Wimbledon police station, a move decreed by Sadiq Khan as part of a restructure of Metropolitan police services.
The Conservatives have pledged to buy the station and lease it back to the police should they take control of the council, while Cllr Alambritis has openly rejected this proposal.
Cllr Moulton said: “The police station was closed with a very poor consultation. We gathered a large petition of over 5000 signatures, and that was done very quickly. Really across the borough there is a real feeling that people want to retain that police station.
“So, we have the plan there to purchase the police station, which is what the Leader of Hillingdon Council has proposed to do, the Mayor is quite favourable to that and there is likely to be a favourable announcement after the election.”
WHAT THEY SAID
Cllr Alambritis said: “We have invested in all our libraries, we have opened a brand-new library which is unusual as most councils are closing libraries.
“We have looked after the vulnerable, children and the elderly. Given hope in these austerity times, brand new library, building a brand-new swimming pool as well.”
Conservative leader on the council Cllr Oonagh Moulton said: “Overall, our plan is to make life for residents a little bit better. We are looking at the practicalities of life, so it is the unglamorous side of your everyday life in terms of ensuring that your bins are being collected, that streets are cleaned, that you have a good police presence in Wimbledon.
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.