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Local elections: Everything thing you need to know in London including key boroughs to watch

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Campaigners are in a final, desperate dash for votes ahead of Thursday’s mega-round of local elections in London. All of London’s 32 borough councils and their 1,817 seats are up for election, alongside thousands more seats in the rest of England.

This May’s elections will also see five boroughs pick directly-elected mayors: Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Croydon. Labour should be a shoe-in for four of those mayoralties, but Croydon could be a close contest.

Predicting the outcome is a tricky game in an election when only 40 per cent of people vote. But there are definite signs we can look at for how well the parties are faring.

READ MORE:Key dates and deadlines for the 2022 local council elections

Several key boroughs could change hands on May 5

Every London borough to watch at the local elections

The local elections come at a particularly tricky time for the Conservative Party in London, with the government taking huge hits in recent months over Downing Street party scandals and the handling of the cost of living crisis. The party will be particularly keen to hold onto a few of its strongholds in the capital, but will also be looking to make in-roads in a few South London seats. The full list of the key London boroughs to watch on Thursday and Friday.

Westminster

Westminster City Council has been Tory-held since 1964 – but Labour are heavily targeting the borough and polling suggests they could take it. West End Labour candidate Paul Fisher told a hustings last week that the borough suffered from “weak licensing,” a “risk to libraries” and “rubbish piling up in Fitzrovia”. Labour are going hard on the Marble Arch Mound fiasco, the £6m council project widely seen as an embarrassing flop.

Local Tory candidates are keen to highlight their work with constituents. Boundary changes in the borough make it harder for all the parties to get a sense of where they stand – but the Tories certainly face a tough challenge in the home of the UK government.

Wandsworth

The South London borough of Wandsworth has been held by the Conservatives for more than 40 years, and was once described as Margaret Thatcher’s favourite council. Labour came just ahead in the popular vote last time, but failed to win control. Labour are “more likely to win than not,” election expert Lewis Baston tells us, with Labour’s climb in the polls under Keir Starmer making it a key target.

Labour is promising to cut council tax in the borough, and Sadiq Khan has been out campaigning over the bank holiday weekend to bolster the campaign. The Conservatives point to their record on affordable house-building in the borough, a high number of electric vehicle charging points, and higher resident satisfaction than neighbouring Labour-run Lambeth.

Barnet

The North London borough of Barnet could also go Labour’s way on Thursday. The borough is home to around a quarter of the UK’s Jewish population, and Labour failed to win it in 2018 under Jeremy Corbyn.

Tory-held for 20 years, Keir Starmer will be hoping to win it back as a sign of a “changed” party. Finchley in the borough was Margaret Thatcher’s seat, and it will be a big loss for Boris Johnson’s party if it goes Labour’s way this May.

Harrow

Conservatives tell me that things are looking “good” for them in Labour-controlled Harrow. One Harrow Tory tweeted: “Labour have been in power in Harrow for the last 12 years. Council tax has gone up, there’s fly-tipping everywhere, and council services are decaying.” They say they’ll “look” to freeze council tax if they win.

But Labour point to backing from former Tory deputy leader of the Harrow Conservatives Barry Macleod-Cullinane explaining why he’s voting Harrow Labour on 5 May: to pile pressure on Conservative MPs to get rid of Boris Johnson.

South West London

Liberal Democrat-controlled areas like Sutton, Kingston and Richmond aren’t really on Labour’s radar, election expert Lewis Baston says, but the Tories are gunning for them hard. Lib Dems say they are hearing continued anger over partygate on the doorsteps, and they hope to pick up seats in Merton.

The area is home to the Wimbledon parliamentary seat they want to pick up at the next General Election. However, anger over high council tax levels in the three South West boroughs they control could see the Conservatives pick up seats.

Tower Hamlets

Disgraced ex-mayor Lutfur Rahman ’s Aspire party is hoping to pick up seats in Tower Hamlets. Rahman was found guilty of election fraud by an election court in 2015 and thrown out of office. The former mayor was disqualified from holding elected office for five years. He’s now running to become mayor of the East London borough once more.

While the mayoralty looks safe for Labour’s John Biggs, it will be very interesting indeed to see whether Rahman’s Aspire party picks up seats. The Met Police says it will be policing each of the 71 polling stations between 7am and 10pm on polling day to try and deter any potential fraud.

Croydon

The Labour party has a fight on its hands to keep control in Croydon, the Labour-run council which was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2020 and faced serious allegations of mismanagement. Sir Keir’s party is struggling to hold on to the council and also get veteran Val Shawcross elected as its first ever mayor.

Ms Shawcross, who served on the London Assembly for 20 years, has lived in Croydon for nearly four decades, and Sir Keir described her as “absolutely wired into the community”. The Labour leader told MyLondon she was a “broom” to sweep up bad practice in the borough.

The Conservative candidate to be the first ever directly elected mayor of the South London borough is Cllr Jason Perry. He says: “The current failing Labour Council is not giving Croydon the leadership it deserves. I have a positive vision of a Croydon where the Council listens to residents. Where your council taxes are spent wisely by a Council that cares. I want people to feel proud when they say that they are from Croydon.”

Havering

This outer London borough is currently under No Overall Control, but the Havering Residents Association is the second largest party and effectively forms the opposition to the larger Conservative party. The residents’ association is opposing the sell-off of dozens of council-owned community assets under the Conservatives to finance a “spending spree.” The council could become the first London borough to be controlled by a residents’ association.

Who can vote in the local elections?

You have to be on the electoral roll to vote in May, and the deadline closed on April 14. In England, you can vote in the local elections when you’re 18 or over, and a British citizen, qualifying Commonwealth citizen (54 countries are included here), a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, or a European Union citizen.

The definition of a ‘Commonwealth’ citizen includes citizens of British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories. A ‘qualifying’ Commonwealth citizen is someone who has leave to enter or remain in the UK, or who doesn’t require that leave. If that sounds confusing, you can check whether you’re eligible to vote on the Electoral Commission website.

How do I vote in the local elections?

The Electoral Commission says ballot papers will list candidates for your areas: “You can vote for as many candidates as there are councillor vacancies, by putting a cross [X] in the box next to your choice.” You can vote in person on the day, with a postal vote before polling day, or through a proxy vote (getting someone else to vote for you if you can’t make it).

This year, the last date to submit a postal vote application was 5pm on April 19, and the last date to submit a proxy vote application was 5pm on April 26.

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