The people of Hillingdon go to the ballot box in less than two weeks time to vote for their local councillors who will make up the Hillingdon council chamber for the next four years.
Four years ago I was heavily involved as the Chairman of UKIP Hillingdon and a council candidate in the Charville ward in Hayes End – we ended up as the third largest party in the Borough but with no councillors to show for it, in part due to a faulty strategy imposed on us from above to bolster the EU elections that were held on the same day and in part due to a complete mismatch of firepower on the doorstep in terms of activists and cash. Despite this, we came very close to winning in a couple of wards and affected results in others.
Fast forward to 2018 and there are no UKIP candidates standing, leaving around 18% of the total vote up for grabs. (I toyed with standing as an independent but current circumstances would have made that extremely difficult so decided against it.) The Liberal Democrats are fielding fewer candidates (13) after their disastrous showing last time out, whilst the Greens have surprisingly managed to stand 38 candidates, up from the 22 they stood in 2014.
Labour and the Conservatives are, as usual, standing a full slate of 65 candidates across the 22 wards in the borough, with Labour claiming that they have a good chance of taking control of the council and promoting the idea through the hashtag #MarginalHillingdon.
So,as somebody who is politically homeless at present and with no UKIP candidates to vote for, I can cast my beady eye over the proceedings and with an independent outlook give my predictions for what may happen, cutting through the spin from the respective parties and candidates. Here is my take –
What is the election all about?
Contrary to some of the literature you will be seeing from the parties coming through the door (Notably Labour), this election is not about BREXIT, foreign policy, the economy, defence or the NHS – those matters are all the preserve of either Westminster, Brussels or the Greater London Assembly (GLA) and the London Mayor.
Even policing is only part covered as the main priority setting on law and order comes under the remit of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and MOPAC (Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime), with councils able to top up budgets and pressure but having no say in the actual priorities.
You are voting for people to represent and champion your own streets – their powers cover things such as road repairs, bin collections, council tax rates, schools, social housing, town planning and the general wellbeing of the area.
You will see many promises being made on areas outside of a councillor’s influence to match media headlines and the public mood nationally – don’t fall for it.
I would also strongly recommend checking out the background of those you are voting for and what they have done for you outside election times, especially the incumbents – if you have never heard from your councillor in the last four years and they suddenly turn up on your doorstep looking for re-election then think about whether they are worthy of that vote. I have found an alarming amount of people when I have been doing my rounds in Charville who have no idea who their representatives are and indeed had many approach me with problems that should have been down to a councillor to look in to on their behalf. To the credit of both Councillor East (Lab) and Councillor Fyfe (Con), they have usually acted when their attention has been drawn to certain issues by myself.
It is also worth checking where your prospective councillor comes from, information that is available on the notification of candidates standing on the Hillingdon Council website. I am a strong believer that council candidates should have a solid link to the ward and not just be parachuted in by their party because they see that seat as being an easy way to get elected – something that both of the main parties have been guilty of in the past in our area, although in some cases it has been necessary just to make sure that they have enough people standing!
My advice? Ignore the colour of the rosette, vote for the person who you feel will actually DO something for your local area
The Current state of the Council
The Conservatives have overall control and have had since 1997 with the current make up of the council being 42 Conservative to 22 Labour (One seat is currently vacant due to the sad death of Labour Councillor Mo Khursheed recently). The Conservatives control almost all of the two northern most Parliamentary constituencies, whilst Labour have all bar two of the councillors in the Hayes & Harlington seat. However, in this election we have seen Labour campaign teams venture out of their safer areas in an attempt to mount strong opposition to the current ruling party in Hillingdon, buoyed by the national polling that sees the two neck and neck in public opinion.
The Key Battlegrounds
Labour made small inroads in to the Conservative vote in wards around the edge of their ‘safe areas’ last time out and will be targeting them again this time – wards such as Charville and West Drayton where both have councillors in place. There are also some where the difference between getting elected and falling short were incredibly small, such as Yiewsley where the Conservatives took all three council seats but the top Labour candidate was only two votes off – indeed, in Yiewsley ward there were just 117 votes separating the third placed candidate who was elected from the UKIP candidate who came seventh with the three Labour candidates in 4th, 5th and 6th sandwiched in between. Labour also appear to be targeting areas with high student populations this time out who, because of the late date of the 2014 election in the May calendar, would have been home last time out and therefore not voting in Hillingdon. Will they make the difference this time in wards such as Uxbridge South and Brunel?
Here is my breakdown of the wards where I believe it is all to play for –
Currently has three Conservative councillors with Labour falling 246 votes short of getting one of theirs in last time. Interestingly, it had a very low turnout in 2014 of just 29.35%, no doubt because the students were away. The UKIP candidate took 755 votes last time out which now come in to play and Labour seem to be putting resource in.
If the turnout goes up (As seems likely with a concerted effort by Labour’s momentum group to encourage young people to vote) then we could see Labour gains here.
My prediction – Labour gain 2 seats , leaving the Conservatives with 1.
My ‘Home’ seat where I took 1004 votes last time out, finishing seventh in a ward where a three way battle led to one of the highest voter turnouts in Hillingdon (40.15%)
Labour took a seat away from the Conservatives in 2014 by just 14 votes, leaving a make up of 2 Labour and 1 Conservative.
Labour are fielding all new candidates this time following the retirement of Cllr Beulah East and Cllr John Oswell being moved to a ‘safer’ ward after the total neglect he showed residents after winning a by-election where he was parachuted in.
Cllr East’s granddaughter is one of the candidates and Labour will be keen to exploit the goodwill built up by her in an attempt to retain the seat – however, leaflets sent out already have referred to her separately as Annelise Roberts and Annelise East on the same literature, no doubt causing confusion!(Picture above) Steve Garelick is a Union officer from Ruislip who is trying to make himself look like a man of the people by calling himself a taxi driver, whilst Dave Williams is a member of the far left Momentum group and has made claims to be active in Charville with one of the local health centres who I have been advised have never heard of him! (Cue a feisty exchange on Twitter!)
The Conservative councillor Neil Fyfe is joined on the candidate roster by community activist Nicola Brightman and local cafe owner Paula Rodrigues – all three residents of the ward. I have worked with Nicola cross party in the past and have found her to be dedicated to the local community and as such have been helping her on a non aligned basis in her attempt to get elected (picture below, Nicola in the pink jacket) – I would strongly recommend all of those who voted for me in 2014 to transfer their vote to Nicola who will make a brilliant councillor.
My prediction – Conservatives gain a seat to make it two, with Labour retaining only one.
Currently has 3 Labour councillors having picked up 2 seats in 2014. The hapless Cllr Khatra has vacated the ward, leaving Cllr’s Nelson and Money to defend their seats where they are joined by Ali Milani.
Neither of the two incumbents have covered themselves in glory over the last 4 years (In Cllr Nelson’s case, the last 8) and The Villages suffer from flytipping, poor road maintenance and housing issues, not helped by the impending threat of a Third Runway at Heathrow. My former colleague Bryan Tomlinson used to put in more flytip clear up notices than the councillors, whilst many of the other issues (Such as the Harlington Little Fields PHV driver problems) were tackled by one of the Conservative candidates, Christine Taylor, acting as an independent.
Ali Milani is also an interesting choice of candidate for the ward. A former student activist, he was part of a committee at Brunel University that awarded Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye an honorary doctorate. He was also a supporter of disgraced NUS President Malia Bouattia and has been in trouble over tweets of an anti Semitic nature (See below)
Milani is also prominent in the Labour Muslim Network and has shared platforms with the likes of Afzal Khan (who has compared Israel to the Nazis) amongst other questionable associates.
The Conservative candidates are spearheaded by prominent local community campaigner and anti 3rd Runway expert Christine Taylor. Having worked alongside Christine on a number of projects, she has done more for Heathrow Villages in the last four years than all three Labour Councillors put together.
Rafael Kochaj is an expert in hearing problems, a talent that will come in useful when helping residents affected by noise from the airport, with Sanjiv Bisnauthsing making up the roster.
UKIP garnered 1358 votes between their two candidates in 2014 which are now up for grabs – I would urge those who voted purple last time to lend their support to Christine Taylor who is the outstanding candidate in the ward. Heathrow Villages can ill afford four more years of……
My Prediction – Conservatives gain a seat from Labour, leaving the Villages with 2 Labour and 1 Conservative councillor.
Currently have 2 Conservative and 1 Labour councillor after Tony Burles took a surprise seat for the red team in 2014, no doubt boosted by a strong showing for UKIP in the ward.
Again, the turnout in 2014 was quite low due to the lack of students in the area at the time – Labour will be looking to exploit the youth vote this time around with only 170 votes between the 2nd placed Conservative councillor and Mr Burles last time out.
I would expect Tony to keep his seat, a decent man who responded swiftly to resident issues that came in to me during my time as UKIP Hillingdon chairman from Uxbridge South.
Labour will be expecting gains here but a fly in the ointment could come in the presence of three Green candidates, including two of their Parliamentary candidates from last year. Whilst being of a very different political viewpoint, I have always found Green candidate Mark Keir to be a decent and thoughtful man who will work hard for his constituents and I would be tempted to vote for him if I lived in the ward myself. Expect the Greens to take some of the sting out of the Labour campaign.
My prediction – Labour gain a seat from the Conservatives to make it 2 x Labour and 1 x Conservative
Another split ward with two Labour and one Conservative Councillor, this was a particularly close and hard fought ward last time out with a solid showing from UKIP as well.
A few months ago I would have predicted a clean sweep for Labour, especially as the Conservative Councillor (Dominic Gilham) made himself very unpopular with residents by opposing traffic calming on Swan Road and by his general arrogant and high handed demeanour.
However, with Cllr Gilham not standing this time and a new roster of Conservative candidates then things might not be so clear cut. Add to that the presence of two Polish Pride candidates who may take away some of the ethnic minority vote and former UKIP voters who have told me they will not vote Labour under any circumstances and will be voting Tory to keep them out, I can see the current hard working Labour councillors deservedly keeping their seats (Jan Sweeting and Janet Duncan) whilst one of the three Conservatives should just sneak in.
My prediction – No change, 2 x Labour and 1 x Conservative
One of the hardest wards to call with just 117 votes between 3rd and 7th last time with the final councillor getting elected by just 2 votes! Currently has 3 Conservative councillors but unlikely to stay that way – the ballot papers at last year’s general election showed a large swing to Labour and they are working the ward to get significant traction in what is a major target.
One of the big factors will be where the UKIP vote goes with 892 voting that way last time, many from the council estates. Again, the Greens are standing three candidates which could impact on Labour’s chances.
Only one of the current Conservative councilors is standing this time (Shehryar Wallana), the man who got in by those 2 votes. He is joined by Hayes & Harlington constituency Chairman Simon Arnold and activist Alan Deville, both hard working and decent men who would be a big asset to residents in the council chamber.
The pick of the new slate of Labour candidates is Nav Rana, an intelligent and open minded young man who would make a fine councillor and who genuinely cares for the area.
This one is really too close to call but I would predict –
My Prediction – Labour gain 2 seats from the Conservatives to make it 2 x Labour and 1 x Conservative
Other Areas to watch
South Ruislip – Traditionally Conservative (They hold all 3 seats) but Labour seem to be throwing a lot of firepower at it. Again, the Greens are present with 2 candidates which could impact on their campaign whilst 1300 UKIP votes are up for grabs from 2014. Interesting that the late Mo Khursheed’s son, Imran, is one of the candidates for Labour and he will no doubt be keen to follow in his father’s footsteps. I can possibly see Labour nicking a seat here to make it 2 x Conservative and 1 x Labour.
Whilst I can’t see any of the other seats changing hands, there are some interesting candidates entering the fray.
In Barnhill, former Labour student activist and Remain campaign organiser Kerri Prince is standing and should see herself in the Civic Centre on 4th May due to the safe Labour nature of the ward. Whilst I disagree with Kerri on most things, never doubt her drive, commitment and determination and she should make a good representative for the ward.
In Botwell, Polish Pride are standing a candidate to complement the two that are up in the West Drayton ward. Whilst Botwell is a safe Labour ward, it will be interesting to see how much they eat in to the Labour vote. Meanwhile, Labour move the vulnerable John Oswell from Charville where he was notable only by his inaction and invisibility – whilst he won’t be missed here it is a shame that he is now inflicted on the Botwell residents. Has switched seats so often he must have a season ticket with Pickfords. Janet Gardner is standing once again – a combination of her and John Oswell will ensure that Botwell remains a neglected part of Hillingdon.
In Eastcote & East Ruislip, Becky Haggar (Con) is running to be councillor for a second term. Despite having some awful luck over the last four years, Becky has been an admirable and hard working councillor and I wish her well in trying to retain her seat.
Harefield would no doubt have seen the first UKIP seat in the borough this time if the branch had still been active. Current councillors Jean Palmer and Henry Higgins (Con) are defending their seats and shouldn’t have too much difficulty in retaining them, despite Higgins only coming out of hibernation once every four years when the ballot papers rustle. A wild card could be independent candidate and former London Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes who is standing again but his marmite character means he will probably fall just short.
Hillingdon East saw a major LibDem campaign in 2014 that failed spectacularly and they are not standing this time. A newcomer on the ballot paper is the Veterans & Democrats Party who were only formed recently, with Steve Gardner their candidate. It will be interesting to see how much of the not inconsiderable UKIP vote they hoover up this time with a similar manifesto and former leadership candidate John Rees-Evans as their party leader.
Northwood is a safe Conservative seat but sees the fading LibDems putting up a full slate of candidates – could this be their Hillingdon East of 2018?
Northwood Hills is another safe Conservative seat but there is an outside chance of former Tory councillor Andrew Retter (Standing as in Independent) upsetting the apple cart. He is well known and quite respected and no doubt will be giving it a good go.
Townfield is another ward suffering neglect as a safe Labour seat and sees both Lynn Allen and Robin Sansarpuri standing again despite their lack of effort on behalf of the residents. The Conservatives sprang a surprise by selecting former Labour Charville candidate Mustapha Sowe for this one, a very intelligent and amiable young man. It will be interesting to see how much of a dent he can put in the Labour machine in a ward where UKIP were the main challengers last time out.
Yeading sees the return of Labour’s Lindsay Bliss who missed out in Yiewsley last time by 2 votes. A popular and friendly lady, it will be good to see her back in the council chamber.
Labour are trying to convince everybody that Hillingdon is a marginal borough, but I can’t see it that way. Whilst the Conservative Administration has its faults, many of which I had challenged them on in my UKIP days, looking across the boundary to Labour run Harrow, Ealing and Hounslow should be enough to convince voters to stick with the devil they know.
Labour are trying to mimic some of the most popular Conservative policies in their literature (Weekly bin collections, library refurbs, new school openings) whilst promising a whole raft of spending commitments without explaining where the money will come from.
Looming over it all is the spectre of a puppet Council leader controlled by John McDonnell MP, the real force behind the Labour party in Hillingdon. This has been mentioned to me on the doorstep and since becoming a major figure at a national level, some of the shine seems to be wearing off his message of being a local MP for the ordinary person and hence his popularity.
I expect the Conservatives to hold on to power with a reduced majority of 38 seats to 27 with no seats for the smaller parties.
The morning of 4th May will see how accurate I have been!