Labour set for their most successful election in 40 years in the capital

In just under a week’s time, Londoners will go to the polls to elect councillors across the city’s 32 boroughs. Between the council and assembly elections, London’s elections provide political commentators a biennial opportunity to analyse the key issues affecting the capital’s residents, and how voting trends reflect the national political mood.

London generally votes differently to the rest of the country. In 2016’s EU referendum, just under 60% of the vote went to Remain compared with the 52% for Leave nationwide. In last year’s General Election, two-thirds of London’s constituencies were won by Labour MPs compared with 40% at national level, and Labour currently holds a majority of councils in London but lag behind the Conservatives in seats across the UK.

So naturally, one would expect next week’s elections to be stress-free for Labour Party HQ as it retains its council control of mostly North and East London boroughs where its core support reside, and puts pressure on Tory councils such as Barnet and Wandsworth on the back of opposition to local cuts and the party’s national stance on Brexit.

That is certainly how it appears in the latest YouGov/Queen Mary poll released this week, which shows a 5% swing for Labour to give them 51% of the overall vote. It also projects that Barnet council – Conservative since its creation in 1964, will switch to Labour. This is certainly encouraging for the party, although YouGov’s previous poll conducted in February had Labour’s vote share three points higher, and within touching distance of valuable Conservative-held councils like Wandsworth and Westminster.

It is unclear whether the recent anti-Semitism row will negatively impact an otherwise crushing victory in the capital, particularly given Barnet’s strong Jewish community. However, Barnet is an area Labour and Momentum activists have been targeting for several years in local and national elections. Incumbent MP Theresa Villiers saw her majority drop from over 11,000 in 2015 to just 353 in last year’s elections, in-part due to her advocacy for Brexit but also because of increased local opposition to further privatisation of local services and housing schemes.

Labour’s gains in the capital are also likely to be aided by recent opposition to actions of the current Conservative government. The Windrush crisis is still at the forefront of voters’ minds, and many will object to the lack of action and compassion shown towards many London residents wrongly being asked to leave Britain by the Home Office.

Opposition to Brexit is still most prominent in London, and many continue to disagree with the decision to take the UK out of the Single Market on the basis that it will make the capital less attractive as a global business and financial centre, and it will curb the flow of EU migrants who contribute significantly to London’s economy.

Affordable housing is another key issue for Londoners, as Labour-led councils like Camden and Barking continue to progress in the absence of national policy. Younger residents of the capital are subject to higher rent than elsewhere in the UK and want to see their boroughs build homes that work for them, not wealthy property developers. Londoners also took the government’s handling of the Grenfell Tower tragedy very personally, as ministers and Kensington council failed to act quickly to rehouse residents made homeless by the fire.

The London Elections will also be a big test for the Liberal Democrats, now under the leadership of Vince Cable – himself a London MP. The party currently holds Sutton council, but it could certainly lose some of its councillors to the Tories if the General Election is anything to go by. Mr Cable is currently untested at the polls having assumed leadership of the party in July 2017. Though his bullish stance on Brexit is likely to sit well with many Londoners, it remains to be seen whether the party can stem the decline in support felt in local and national politics.

It will take a great deal of effort by CCHQ to positively spin what pollsters and experts are expecting to be Labour’s most successful local elections in 40 years. If recent polling is to be believed, a night where the party holds in safe Conservative councils like Bexley, Westminster and Richmond would be considered a success.

 

Can the special relationship overcome Trump’s protectionist dialogue?

For ultra-Conservative politicians like Nigel Farage, Anglo-American relations have never been better. With Trump in the White House and Britain leaving the EU, it was time to celebrate. When Farage stepped into the lobby of Washington’s plush Hay-Adams hotel earlier this month, to deliver a keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, one would be forgiven for glossing over the fact that Farage wields no power in the corridors of Westminster.

Nevertheless, the current pastiche of Fox-branded Conservativism is central to the Trump presidency, and it is the Trump presidency that will forge a new era in Anglo-American relations post-Brexit – one that Brexiteers believe will ultimately result in an iconic US-UK trade deal surpassing anything that could have been offered by Brussels.

It seemed Mr Trump agreed, hosting Theresa May just days after his inauguration. The Prime Minister was the first international leader to visit the White House in the Trump administration, and very obvious attempts were made by both sides to reaffirm the “Special Relationship”. Mr Trump held Mrs May’s hand on the walk down the colonnade and assured the world’s media that the US will always have Britain’s interests at heart, likening their relationship to that of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

It was great PR from both sides, but as with many subsequent press conferences from Trump and May, it lacked any evidence of substantial policy to provide certainty as to how this relationship would work in practice. Naturally, the two nations will always continue to collaborate and defence and security matters and will be natural allies in global conflict. For example, Trump affirmed his commitment to NATO, and the two nations reached an agreement in December 2016 to deploy US-built F-35 fighter jets on the Royal Navy’s new fleet of aircraft carriers.

However, the success of Theresa May’s government lives and dies by the completion and success of Brexit. 52% of the population, we are told, voted to take back control of Britain’s borders and statute books, and give Downing Street the power to agree its own trade deals. Therefore, a crucial marker for the success of any post-Brexit government will be its ability to strike better trade agreements for Britain than if it were a member state of the EU. Naturally, all eyes will be on trade negotiations with the US – its largest single-nation trading partner, when Britain leaves the EU in 2019.

Similarly, Donald Trump’s presidency lives and dies by his perceived ability to ‘Make America Great Again’, with his ‘America First’ rhetoric appealing to voters in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio where the decline of traditional industries has caused jobs and incomes to stagnate. It should come as no surprise to anyone Trump’s ‘America First’ policy has significant implications on the administration’s approach to global trade. After all, his campaign speeches often criticised the Obama administration’s handling of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

What started as vague threats on Twitter has recently turned into real action, with Trump announcing tariffs of 25% tariff on steel and 10% on aluminium imports on March 9th, a move which apparently triggered the resignation of Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser. This followed announcements in January over tariffs on solar panels and washing machines – all decisions made in Trump’s mind to protect American businesses and give a competitive advantage to US-based manufacturers, by increasing the prices of foreign goods.

Although the White House has offered exceptions to the tariffs for America’s, the move has been heavily criticised by China and South Korea, who supply the US with aluminium, steel and white goods. They both believe that the policy violates World Trade Organisation rules, though Washington argue that the tariffs are in the interests of national security under Article XXI of the WTO treaty. At the time of writing, European Council president Donald Tusk is urging the US to resume trade talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, in response to Trump’s threat of increased taxes on EU cars.

So where does this leave Britain? Clearly, protectionist trade policies and threatening America’s most important existing agreements in TTIP and NAFTA make for a less-than-ideal environment for Liam Fox and his team, tasked with eventually securing the US-UK trade deal promised at the start of Trump’s presidency. Fox’s first task is to ensure the UK will be exempt from the punitive tariffs on steel and aluminium while it is still a member of the EU, a tariff that has many British companies such as Jaguar Land Rover very worried.

As for the wider promise of securing a US-UK trade deal after Brexit, it’s clear that Trump’s ‘America First’ approach to global trade will most likely make for an uncompromising approach to future talks with London. The UK’s aviation industry has already expressed concern over compromises to existing agreements, which could limit flights between the two nations. Boris Johnson was right to claim that the UK was “first in line” for trade talks with the US, but Trump’s current stance suggests his loyalty to his domestic supporters will outweigh any concessions the UK can expect on trade talks in the name of the ‘Special Relationship’.