Sound controls

Will the partygate fallout spell the end of Tory rule at Wandsworth after 44 years?

Four years ago we were written off,” recalls Ravi Govindia, Conservative leader of Wandsworth Council – the flagship Tory borough in London. “Sadiq Khan came to the count wanting to throw a big party and he ran away.”

Despite winning the popular vote in 2018 and gaining seven councillors, Labor’s hopes of taking control of a Tory-led council since 1978 have failed. This time, Labor will hope the maelstrom around Boris Johnson, the Downing Street parties and the cost of living crisis will tip the scales in their favour.

“There are people who are angry and people who are dying,” admits Mr Govindia, below, who has served on the council for 40 years and led it since 2011.

“It’s uncomfortable for people.” But ultimately he hopes the borough’s low council tax – it’s the second lowest in the country after Westminster – and 44-year delivery record will overcome partygate.

“People see this as a transactional arrangement,” he adds. “They pay and they get.”

Although Labor officials are desperate to play down their chances, insisting 2018 was a high point for the party, they appear to have the momentum.

They have steadily added seats at every election here since 2010, doubling their number of councilors from 13 to 26 out of 60.

Lucy Young

But a shuffling of neighborhoods for these elections makes the outcome unpredictable. While the total number of seats fell by two to 58, it is unclear how the distribution of wards and councilors may influence the outcome.

How people vote in the newly created Wandle Ward could be crucial in determining the outcome. Stretching from Earlsfield to the more affluent residential streets near Wandsworth Common, Labor believes it must win the two seats up for grabs in Wandle to take control.

For some Labor voters like John Jones, a 30-year-old fitness trainer, partygate is the most important factor.

“It’s a matter of integrity and trust,” he says, chatting with Labor activists on St Ann’s Hill. “Even hard-line conservatives say this can’t go on.”

A short drive from the center of Wandsworth, Kate Bodel says it’s about more basic local issues like youth services, litter bins and crime.

‘You pay the lowest council tax but there are no bins left anywhere,’ says the 50-year-old teacher and writer, standing outside the Southside shopping centre.

“You’ve always felt safe here, but there’s a lot of social unrest starting to brew.” She says large groups of teenagers congregating in the mall can be intimidating. “We get messages from our high school saying not to go to Southside,” she said.

Read more: Follow the Standard’s coverage of the 2022 local elections

/ ES

Despite Labor’s promises to improve neighborhoods, tackle air pollution and push for more affordable housing, some voters doubt the party can provide all the answers.

Balasundaram Lavan, 44, says he is a long-time Labor voter but fears the party is unrealistic. “When Labor went to Corbyn their manifesto was like kids in a candy store,” the financial worker said. Ultimately, he thinks people will always be swayed by a low council tax.

This is why the Tory campaign is highlighting how residents pay an average council tax of £866 compared to £1,660 and £1,781 in the Labor boroughs of Lambeth and Merton.

It’s also why Simon Hogg, leader of Wandsworth Labour, points out that his party is committed to matching the Tories in keeping taxes low.

Mr Hogg also understands how victory here this week could have wider implications for Mr Johnson’s future.

“When we first came out, we thought it would be a cost-of-living election,” he says.

“But we found partygate to be successful. We didn’t have to talk about it. »

Asked what it would do if Labor finally went red in Wandsworth, Mr Hogg added: ‘That’s Margaret Thatcher’s favorite advice. It would be a blow to Boris Johnson if Wandsworth becomes Labour.