Wandsworth… for an international reader, it may sound like a rival of Olivander’s wand shop from Harry Potter. But in fact, Wandsworth is a real and is a borough of Southwest London. Some may even recognise it as the setting for the final act of Love Actually. Who could forget the scene when the fresh-faced Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, is embarrassed. An untimely curtain raise reveals him sharing a passionate first kiss with one of his household staff? In the next week, Wandsworth could become a site of an entirely real prime minister’s embarrassment.
Next Thursday, local elections will be held across the UK, including in Wandsworth. Simon Hogg, the leader of the Labour Party in Wandsworth, described to the Guardian as a” 50/50 race”. Although not on the ballot himself, the results of these elections may prove pivotal to Boris Johnson’s career as Prime Minister. With the fallout from “Partygate” raging and a cost-of-living crisis, many predict a backlash against Johnson’s Conservative party at the polls.
What was “Partygate” again?
“Partygate”, for non-brits, is the scandal that during covid restrictions in the UK in 2020 and 2021, Boris Johnson and those working at Downing St broke the rules holding several parties. Since December, the scandal has persisted, resulting in fines for the Prime Minister and other government officials. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has led to a considerable drop in polls for the Conservative Party and Mr Johnson.
A Changing Borough
But why is Wandsworth of particular interest? What is the likelihood of this borough in London signifying another steppingstone in the downfall of Boris Johnson? Most importantly, Wandsworth Council has been under Conservative control for over forty years. It was once dubbed as Margret Thatcher’s favourite council, as she praised the council privatisation of services. A sign of how long it has been a feather in the Conservative Party’s cap. As described in a recent Guardian article, Wandsworth has been a “flagship council”, for the Conservatives in London. Increasingly important at time when the nation’s capital city has become more and more monopolised by Labour.
The council has become a closer race in recent years, with Labour only being five seats of control in the 2018 elections. Despite this, losing a high-profile council would set a tone of disappointment overall results for Conservatives. Poor results in these elections could see Conservative MPs lose trust in Johnson’s election-winning credentials. Potentially leading MPs to oust Mr Johnson as party leader.
It would not be too surprising in some ways if the council did flip. In the UK National Parliament, three Labour MPs represent Wandsworth. A partial reason for this is Wandsworth’s increasing development, and some would say gentrification, that is drawing in young, educated professionals, a group increasingly voting Labour. When walking through Wandsworth, you can see this as tens of cranes loom in the background over the chimney pots. In fact, of the 330,000 residents, one in three live alone, highlighting the area’s youth.
For these reasons, local Conservative campaigner Peter Graham disagrees that Wandsworth may signal a more considerable voter backlash. “Wandsworth was the opposite of an indicator for the rest of the county at the general election”, Graham states, “So I don’t think you’ll be able to read much for others into our local result.”. When asked for comment, the Wandsworth Labour party declined to offer a statement saying their campaign team was “extremely busy”.
However, talking to some locals, its national politics, not local issues, on their minds. Boris Johnson and his character were among the first issues people brought up. Just across from the central station at the Alma Pub, resident Scott tells me he is voting for Labour next week. When I ask why Scott tells me he “Just had enough with them, really”, they refer to Boris Johnson. However, the scandal of “Partygate” could also lead to general apathy as down the street at the bus stop, regular Labour voter Antoinette tells me she is sitting out next week’s vote. “All of them lie; I’m fed up”; I’m sick of the lot of them,” Antoinette tells me before her bus arrives.
On Wandsworth High Street, just past the Council Building, I spoke to Kevin, a former Labour supporter, who voted Conservative in 2019, but now will vote for Labour again. “Boris lies,” Kevin tells me, “He said the money we give to the EU would go to the NHS; now taxes are up to the NHS”. From a national perspective, of those I talked to in Wandsworth, Kevin may represent a more significant voter type for the rest of the upcoming elections. If Brexit voters who voted for Conservatives in 2019 decided to move back to Labour because of Boris Johnson, then the Conservatives MPs in seats across the country may reconsider their loyalty to the Prime Minister.