London boroughs May 2018

Will local elections in May 2018 revolutionise London? Click To Tweet
All 1851 London councillors will need to stand for re-election next May. Many will retire because they feel that national government now puts too much responsibility on them (e.g. for pollution control and building safety) without giving them the financial resources. They are mistaken about resources: the 2011 Localism Act and the 2012 Welfare Reform Act reversed the 1984 prohibition on flexible local taxation. The obvious source of new tax revenue in London is foreign investors, when councils start to make them pay property taxes comparable to what they pay in other countries.

Local authorities have made little use of the new powers because they are dominated by Labour and Conservative parties which both favour centralised rule from Whitehall. Both of these parties fear that local democratic decision-making could undermine their national agenda and threaten party unity.

Will the smaller national parties (Lib Dem, UKIP, Green) take up the challenge, and use value-based property taxes to recreate the virtuous circle of wealth generation for both community and property owner that exists in all other developed countries? It’s a simple system which was in use in Britain up until the mid-1980s. The IT infrastructure is still in place, collecting trivial amounts of regressive council tax. Councils’ wider IT capability has improved enormously, with geographic information systems and ‘big data’ on property prices enabling them to implement the highly-recommended Land Value Tax if they wish.

It is unlikely that the Labour surge of the 2017 general election will reappear in the local elections, because it was a product of tactical voting against the Conservatives by smaller national party adherents and by ‘never vote Conservative again’ people infuriated by Brexit. To take advantage of the opportunity the smaller ‘local democracy’ parties would need to change their election strategy, standing a full slate in selected wards instead of their default strategy of standing a single ‘paper candidate’ in as many wards as possible.

The election results of each London borough in 2014 which can be downloaded from the column on the left of this page show which of the wards are considered ‘safe seats’ by Labour and Conservatives. These are the more lightly-shaded ones. The two major parties are less likely to campaign strongly there, and so are vulnerable. The data also includes other fields not normally shown: the turnout (generally lower when the ward is boringly ‘safe’) and the number of candidates put forward by minor parties for the three (occasionally fewer) seats available. The latter information is useful for comparing vote shares, which increase in proportion to the number of candidates as shown for the Greens in the table below.

Lab Con Lib Dem UKIP Green Green vote
Wards with 3 candidates 596 576 355 26 170 14.75%
Wards with 2 candidates 30 38 59 31 33 11.20%
Wards with 1 candidate 3 8 138 328 273 4.96%
Wards with no candidate 0 7 77 244 153
Total wards 629 629 629 629 629

This table also shows how sparse the minor candidates were. In more than a quarter of wards, no minor party put up more than a single candidate for the multiple seats available. Voters left nearly ten percent of their available votes blank on valid ballot papers. The result was a defeat for proportional representation. Fewer than 3000 votes elected a Labour or Conservative councillor, as against more than 5000 for Lib Dem, 25,000 for UKIP, and 105,000 for Green.

The democratic parties need to work hard for change. But if change was easy, it wouldn’t be so much fun.

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