Local. And election. Two words that traditionally strike boredom into the heart of every mortal. May 3rd will see (some) residents go to the polls to vote for who they want to see running the Borough of Richmond upon Thames for the next four years. There are 18 wards across LBRuT with 3 councillors elected to represent each ward.  Ready, steady, let’s vote.

York House, Twickenham

Way back in 2010 the Liberal Democrats lost control of York House to the Tories. In 2014 the Conservatives boosted their majority by taking 39 of the 54 seats, grabbing 9 more from the Lib Dems. That 39 to 15 split has since morphed into the current standing of 37 Conservative, 14 Lib Dem and two Labour, with those Labour councillors both being Lib Dem defectors. In fact this defecting couple, and they are a couple, consist of former local Lib Dem leader Stephen Knight and his partner Jennifer Churchill.

Could Richmond swing back from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems? It would need a big redistribution of seats but as we have learned over the last few years, small margins can cause big changes and in local elections it can be just a handful of votes that makes the difference in each ward.  Furthermore, the Greens are largely standing aside as part of an agreement with the Liberal Democrats. The arrangement sees Greens standing in just six of the 18 wards with each of these single candidates lining up alongside two Lib Dems. The aim is to take advantage of the anti-Tory vote.  It could also get some Green councillors get into York House for the first time. In contrast, Labour are fielding a full list of candidates across all wards.

Polling station

So what can we expect in 2018? Will local issues come into play? Hot topics locally include the Twickenham Riverside development which has proved very divisive. Most of the drive for the Council’s riverside scheme has come from ‘over the water’ on the other side of the borough from Councillors like Pamela Fleming and El Brute leader Paul Hodgins, while local Twickenham councillors have been remarkably quiet on the issue. Strangely, the scheme doesn’t seem to feature at all in the Conservative manifesto. Odd.  Meanwhile the Lib Dems have come out in favour of a fresh approach to the site. They have had to tread carefully around the issue given that their own scheme back in 2010 was also unpopular and confronted by strong local opposition. The joys of being in opposition eh?  Will other local issues feature in people’s thinking as they trudge morosely to their polling station? School place and school sites, council services, pot holes, pavements, dog walking, council tax going up? Maybe. What about Heathrow expansion? The two main players locally are both opposed and so it might come down to who is better placed to resist pressure from Westminster and lobby against a third runway.

Another thing to bear in mind is that with the merger of administrative functions with Tory Wandsworth Council, if El Brute were to swing from Conservatives to Lib Dems it could make for ‘interesting’ decision making for those trying to provide services across both boroughs when the ruling incumbents are of different political hues.

What about national issues? Brexit, or rather opposition to Brexit, is still a big part of the Lib Dem approach. This part of London strongly voted Remain in 2016 but can local elections have any role in our exit from the EU?  Can we look forward to Richmond Borough residents having their own referendum on the final deal? Twickenham says “We’re staying in!”  National issues don’t easily translate into local politics  but might they do so this time?

The main Tory manifesto thrust is about “Making the best borough even better” by delivering a well-run Council, keeping Council tax low, tackling crime and anti-social behaviour and protecting essential services especially for the elderly and for children in education. For the Lib Dems it’s about making a safer, greener borough, fairer finances, investing in good local services, protecting the most vulnerable, making schools better and tackling town hall ‘secrecy’ to give residents a real say over decisions. If you lived in North Korea you’d probably think they sounded pretty similar wouldn’t you.

Looking around the streets there is a smattering of yellow signs up in the windows of central Twickenham. We had to hunt really hard to find a blue one but we managed it. Confidence? Complacency? Or just of lot of shy Tories out there? Maybe a bit of all three.

Found one! Conservative window poster
Lib Dem poster

54 seats are available across 18 wards. Needless to say Twickenham is not the only town in the borough there are other ones too like, err, Richmond, Barnes, Teddington and Whitton. And some others. Twickenham is currently mostly ‘blue’ with the wards of Twickenham Riverside and South Twickenham having 3 Tory Councillors each. Meanwhile the ward of St Margarets and North Twickenham is currently all yellow with West Twickenham and Heathfield having a mix of both. But will it stay that way?

Exciting eh? Who’s going to be running the show in York House come May 4th? Who will be the new Brutes?

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