A Bizarre, Wonderful Democracy: the London Borough of Havering, 2018

The May, 2018 election was keenly fought in the London Borough of Havering. Havering is a thriving democracy with nine parties elected to the council chamber. There were 2011 candidates for 54 elected positions. The people of Havering favour the Conservatives in national elections. The two Conservative MPs have around 60% of the vote.2 The borough can be divided electorally between Hornchurch and Upminster in the east and Romford in the west. That is also the local political divide. The Conservatives dominate Romford and are a negligible force in Hornchurch and Upminster. Why?

The dynamic Residents’ Associations destroyed the Conservatives in Hornchurch and, especially, Upminster, in the 1980s. They promoted localism and regarded national party affiliations as intensely suspect. Residents’ Associations grip virtually all the east and south of Havering. There’s only one ward, in the east, which is reliably Conservative. The political brand Resident Association is now so powerful that all of Havering’s political parties wish to be connected to it, no matter how tenuously.

Meanwhile the Romford Conservatives hold sway. Twenty-one of the Conservatives twenty-five seats are in the Romford part of Havering. Here the political dynamics are driven by the local MP. Prior to being elected an MP in 2001, he was dedicated to electioneering and constituency work. Conservative councillors in Romford have to be activists or they’re pruned. The MP is a model for Conservative activists and councillors. The explosion of political activism brought by the UKIP party has now subsided and the Conservatives of Romford had a clean-sweep in 2018.

Historically the Conservatives hoped that Residents’ Associations would peter out and the Hornchurch and Upminster wards would revert to their ‘natural’ home: the Conservatives. This hasn’t happened. Unlike UKIP who flared brightly before becoming irrelevant, the Residents’ Associations have gone from strength to strength. Their impact on both Conservative and Labour voters as can be seen in the south of the borough, which is now a Residents’ stronghold (see note 2). Binary politics has ended in Havering. It appears that Havering will never have a majority council elected again.

There are six Residents’ Associations parties represented on Havering’s council (see Addendum) but they aren’t unified. They don’t have a leader or a shared political stance on anything. As a result they merely represent their own wards: local politics at its worse so far as decision-making is concerned. The South Hornchurch Residents couldn’t even get on with each other. (One of them left the Residents’ Association, stood as an Independent, won and promptly joined the Conservatives.) Romford Conservatives could pick and choose who they wanted in their coalition immediately after the election. Adroit political footwork roped in three Residents’ Association councillors3 who pledged support without actually joining the Conservatives. Having boosted their number by four the Conservatives resumed control of the Administration.

The 2018 local elections in Havering were unique in the GLA area. Only Havering council has no overall control. Binary politics is so weak in Havering that it’s entirely likely that there will never be a majority council again. Havering always has a very large number of candidates and nine parties are represented on the council. If Romford Conservatives were to lose their iron grip it’s extremely difficult to see how there could be stable local government in Havering given the anarchic nature of the various Residents’ Associations.

Addendum: The outcome of the local elections in Havering, 2018

The Conservative Party: 25 seats
Hornchurch Residents’ Association: 8
Upminster and Cranham Residents’ Association: 6
Labour Party: 5
Rainham and Wennington Independent Residents’ Group: 3
Harold Wood Hill Park Residents’ Association: 3
South Hornchurch Independent Residents’ Group: 2
Independent: 1
The Harold Hill Independent Party: 1 (this is a Resident focused person)

1 There were 201 candidates offering themselves for election. This is an 8% drop on the 2014 figure of 218. There was a 2.7:1 differential in gender with 147 male candidates and 54 women. The success rate was slightly in favour of men. A male candidate had a 28.6% chance of victory whereas for women it was 22.2%. Therefore men were more likely to be elected but the disparity isn’t a glaring example of discrimination. Turn-out ranged from 26.6% to 45.47% in comparison to the 70% for the General Election.

2 Dagenham and Rainham parliamentary constituency is split with three wards located in Havering for local elections. These wards are in the south of the borough and ‘ought’ to vote Labour along with the remainder of the parliamentary constituency: there are no Labour councillors from these wards.

3 South Hornchurch Independents and the Harold Wood Hill Park Residents’ Association respectively.

Chris

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