Image above: L to R: Labour candidates for Chiswick Gunnersbury, Uday Nagaraju, Cllr Hanif Khan, and Emma Yates
A protest vote against Boris Johnson
Amongst all the posturing and bluster, you can sometimes get a straight answer out of a politician.
Sunday’s flower market was popular, especially with candidates for this week’s local elections. Conservative Cllrs Ron Mushiso and Ranjit Gill have helped out regularly since the market’s inception; Cllr John Todd and candidate Jack Emsley are frequent visitors.
Marking their turf also this week were the Labour candidates for Chiswick Gunnersbury ward, Uday Nagaraju, Cllr Hanif Khan, and Emma Yates. (Full marks for buying a plant. Zero points for its PR value as a prop in a photo opportunity, which says to me she’s actually planning to plant it).
I asked both groups what they were hearing on the doorsteps in Chiswick and what they thought of their chances when people turn out to vote in the local elections this Thursday (5 May).
They both said the same thing: that Conservative voters were reticent about voting for their party this time because of Boris Johnson’s behaviour and were planning to send the national party a message, using the local elections to protest. Both groups said they were personally confident, but were hesitant to say they would win, as they expect it to be tight.
Image above: L to R: Conservative candidates Cllr Ron Mushiso, Jack Emsley, Cllr Rangit Gill, campaigning at the flower market
Could Chiswick go Labour?
“We’re all expecting to lose our jobs” says Cllr John Todd ” but at the same time people are very nice on the doorstep and it’s good to meet people who you’ve been in email contact with and you know you’ve helped.”
National polls are showing Labour currently has the strongest public support, with 42% those polled saying they would vote Labour at a national election, against 34% saying they would vote Conservative. Sky News say experts are predicting big urban areas will swing to Labour, including possibly Wandsworth, which could make a historic switch to Labour after 44 years of Tory rule.
It is hard to imagine Chiswick with Labour councillors. Although Labour has been in control of Hounslow Council since 2010, Chiswick has not had a Labour councillor since the mid-1990s, but it looks as if that could change. Polling companies Electoral Calculus and YouGov are both predicting a 5% swing to Labour.
Last year’s Mayoral elections showed 52% Chiswick voters opted for Sadiq Khan and a survey in March this year by Electoral Calculus suggested all three Chiswick wards would vote Labour in a national election. Though surveys about voting intentions in national elections do not necessarily predict what will happen in local elections, if that attitude prevails, Chiswick’s Hounslow’ wards might go to Labour.
The same survey suggests the Liberal Democrats would hold on to their seats in Ealing’s Southfield ward.
Image above: Conservative candidates out canvassing, Cllr Ron Mushiso in centre, with Cllr Joanna Biddolph to his right; one of the Conservatives’ campaign leaflets
The campaign has been hard fought in one ward in particular: Chiswick Gunnersbury (previously Turnham Green) where Conservative councillor Joanna Biddolph and LB Hounslow Cabinet Member Hanif Khan stand out.
She, because over the past four years she has been as focused as an Exocet missile on her particular targets, usually trying to stop things: campaigning against the cycle lane, low traffic neighbourhoods and the planting of cherry trees on Turnham Green and raising objections to initiatives such as the Sunday markets.
He because he was Cabinet Member for Transport, whose job it was to install the cycle lane. For those who are still exercised by the cycle lane it does not matter how good a local councillor he has been in the west of the borough, or how experienced and influential he is as a Cabinet Member, Hanif Khan has had the door closed in his face, especially since the distribution of leaflets targeted against him personally. When he does get the chance, he talks about the improvements made to the cycle lane since its inception: safer access to buses and an increase in disabled bays.
The hyperbole of the anti cycle lane campaign (making Chiswick like ‘Belfast during the Troubles’ – quoted by Cllr Joanna Biddolph in her column) and anti Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes (“This is a new form of apartheid pass law” – Cllr Gerald MacGregor) illustrates how bitter and factional discussion of those issues has become, such inflammatory language making it hard to have any sensible dialogue on the subject.
Images above: Cllr Ron Mushiso picking up litter in Chiswick recently; Cllr Hanif Khan taking part in a litter pick in 2015
Litter picking contest
There have been some farcical moments to the campaign, such as when Cllr Mushiso and Cllr Khan got into a litter picking contest (makes a change I suppose from the other sort).
Conservative Cllr for Turnham Green Ron Mushiso:
“Rather than candidates for elections in Chiswick reporting every issue to @HounslowHways #FixMyStreet They aught (sic) to know that sometimes you can solve the problem yourself by taking responsibility.”
Labour Cllr for Brentford Guy Lambert:
“Some of us (including @HanifKhan_1) have been doing litter picks for years, plus our pics (if we remember to take them) include and thank the residents we work with, rather than being cheap political shots.”
Cue video from Cllr Hanif Khan in his former ward of Hanworth Park, with a video of litter picking with residents there in September 2020 and a snapshot of a yellowing newspaper page from the Hounslow Chronicle in 2015 showing Cllr Khan on Feltham Green taking part in a ‘Spring clean on the green in summer sun’.
Image above: An overgrown tree in Cranbrook Rd, candidates Jack Emsley, Cllr Gerland MacGregor and Cllr John Todd; an illustrative pothole
Potholes, weeds and overhanging trees
Do the majority of voters still care about the cycle lane? Or do they care more about other issues?
I look back to the last local elections, when the subject uppermost in people’s minds seemed to be potholes (ah, such innocent times). Hounslow Council pledged to invest a further £2 million to fix potholes in local roads and invite residents to report potholes that need attention.
There are still corkers – in Windmill Rd for example – but in the annual State of the City Report in 2021, carried out by technical advisers employed by local authorities across the 32 boroughs, Hounslow’s record on the state of the roads was considered the best in London.
Hounslow also won Council of the Year, not just in London but in the whole country, in annual awards organised by the Local Government Chronicle, for ‘consistently delivering high quality services and making significant improvements to the lives of its residents’.
These are external assessments of Hounslow’s record, not characterisations by those with a political axe to grind who would have us believe the council was the devil incarnate and has it in for Chiswick in particular.
What will people vote on? If they vote on local issues at all, according to the Labour candidates the subjects most raised on the doorsteps is not traffic on the High Rd but the state of the pavements and weeds outside their houses.
They have focused their campaign on three issues:
“The residents all agree with our three local campaigns: the NHS, Gunnersbury Station [overcrowding and access] and Royal Mail.”
When I spoke to Conservative Cllr John Todd, standing for re-election in Homefields ward, he said the issues were very diverse. Number one, accounting for about a third of his doorstep conversations, people wanted to know when the Piccadilly Line would stop at Turnham Green. The two other main issues that come up are street cleansing and “grossly overgrown trees”.
“When you look at some of them, clearly the borough is very behind”.
The Conservative manifesto commits to ‘building quality homes instead of tower blocks, reversing Hounslow Labour’s policy of year-on-year Council Tax rises, reviewing controversial traffic schemes, and cleaning up the borough’s local politics to ensure the Council works for and listens to residents and local businesses’.
Whoever wins on Thursday, Hounslow has a tough few years ahead of it, trying to recover from the pandemic.
Hounslow comes fifth from the bottom in a table of London salaries, by borough, with the average wage of employees £24,800, compared with Hammersmith & Fulham at £30,300 and the City of London (the highest) £53,200. [Source: HM Revenue and Customs].
Hounslow’s economy, reliant on Heathrow, was projected to be the second worst of all London boroughs, according to work done by consultants for the council in 2020, with high rates of unemployment and homelessness expected. Unemployment currently stands at 7%, the sixth highest in any London borough over the period from 2018-2021. [Source: Trust for London charity].
So there is some serious work to be done.
Out of sheer divilment though, I would love to be a fly on the wall of the first ward councillors’ meeting which had both Labour and Conservative newly elected representatives. Just to see them trying to work together.
Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar
See also: Hounslow Green Party launch manifesto
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