The final fortnight: Have you made up your mind on who should run the council?

Polling day is May 5

Thursday, 21st April — By Richard Osley

Crowndale Centre Camden Council locations Image 2020-07-27 at 19.48.43

Camden councillors currently have their meetings at the Crowndale Centre

BOOKMAKERS won’t give you odds on Labour holding onto control of the Town Hall in a fortnight’s time, and you can hardly blame them.

While there is uncertainty, and intrigue even, in what might happen to Barnet and Wandsworth councils at the local elections on May 5, the betting firms would more or less describe Camden as a sure thing.

The council is rushing to tally the votes up overnight, declining the opportunity to complete the task at a more sensible hour the following day. But it is unlikely that the national press will be swarming through the doors of the counting hall.

There is no expectation of a flashbulb moment, or a “shock in Keir’s backyard” headline. Even the opposition parties earnestly pumping out leaflets and knocking on doors in this final furlong of the race are willing to accept that their efforts are simply to make sure that an opposition of some form exists in the council chamber beyond the start of next month.

Labour councillor Georgia Gould, in electoral terms, could be said to be the most successful council leader Camden has seen, winning more seats than any of her recent predecessors.

Council leader Georgia Gould

The ruling party is not fond of the term “wipeout” victory and say it is impossible for a scenario like the one that has played out in neighbouring Islington to be repeated here. Over the border, the Labour council is scrutinised, if that’s the right word, by members of their own group.

There has been a backlash about how our sister paper, Islington Tribune, has opened up the debate on this in recent weeks because councillors will tell you how hard they work and insist they can freely speak their mind.

But in Camden there has been controversy about what has happened to those who defy the internal rules, and a system where everything is decided before anybody takes their seats at a council meeting.

Conservative leader Oliver Cooper and, below, Green leader Sian Berry

As has been well rehearsed, seven of the more rebellious councillors were told they would be barred from standing again, and that figure would certainly have been higher if others had not stood down voluntarily.

This is why much of the opposition in these elections is framed around the idea of having alternative voices at the Town Hall; both the Tories and the Lib Dems have quoted Leo Cassarani, the Labour councillor dumped for asking for more scrutiny of the regeneration plans for Camley Street. He had angrily said that the party now only wanted “yes men”.

The Greens are only putting up 12 candidates meaning half the borough can’t vote for the party: it is already mathematically impossible for them then to form the next administration before a vote has been cast, so their election material is all about having more scrutinising voices.

Like the others, they are hoping that people consider individuals and the possibility of voting for more than one party at the same elections.

In a borough which traditionally votes to the left, the Conservatives hope too that voters treat local and national elections differently; the Tories are even badging themselves this time as “Local Conservatives” on the ballot paper.

Lib Dem councillor Tom Simon

The reason why Labour say all the grand talk of a “one party state” is unwarranted is because there is a central belt of three wards – Belsize, Hamp­stead Town and Frognal – where they do not expect to be competitive.

But even without them, and a few other seats possibly dotted around the fringes, a powerful majority is nevertheless expected again. This has not stopped community groups demanding more.

The West Hampstead Amenity and Transport Group persevered with hustings last week. Other civic and community groups have done the same.

In the south of the borough, typically not a happy hunting ground for the other parties, the Bloomsbury Residents Action Group (BRAG) have begun a new initiative which has seen a questionnaire sent to all candidates standing in southern wards and Camden Square.

Labour councillor Leo Cassarani who has been rejected by his own party

The New Journal has agreed to publish the replies on our website, and some will appear in the paper next week – the final edition before polling day.

Peter Crossley, who is helping to organise the survey, said: “I have always voted blindly on party lines in the past but as a result I have missed out on really good candidates who share my concerns about the future of the borough.”

He added: “I don’t care about their party label as long as we agree on the actions needed to improve the governance of the borough. I think the answers to these questions will help me vote for the first time with confidence.”

The answers will be available on BRAG’s website, although not everybody has responded so far and postal voting begins this week.

Camden Council has published a list of polling stations on this week’s edition.

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