Few Boroughs can match the political turbulence of Lambeth – the last four elections have seen the administration change hands! This May could make it five, with the added bonus of securing the borough’s first-ever Liberal Democrat MP.
Lambeth packs some 270,000 residents into just a few square miles from the London Eye on the South Bank to Streatham and West Norwood. There are some very wealthy districts of fine Georgian houses or Victorian villas. But northern parts of the borough are still dominated by large estates of modern social housing, too much of it in dismal condition. Further south is more suburban in feel, but with every bit as diverse a population.
Lib Dems here are already whizzing round with a skip in their step. The two by-elections since the last full Council elections in 2006 both showed hefty swings from Labour to Lib Dems, plenty big enough to see Labour ousted from control.
Labour’s critical weakness in Lambeth is the total collapse of the Council’s housing service, which is now effectively insolvent. It meant rents rocketed by 14 per cent last year despite a ban on non-essential repairs that is leaving estates riddled with broken block doors, windows and fencing.
But an even more visible sign of the shambolic service are the 1,000 council homes lying empty and tinned up because the council has no money to refurbish them back to a lettable standard. All this after a transfer to an ALMO that scarcely a fifth of tenants voted for – and that is chaired not by a tenant, as was promised, but by the local Labour MP looking to pocket £10,000 in allowances on top of his parliamentary pension!
Labour’s hold on the Borough has never been as strong as many expect. Split by faction fighting, Labour briefly lost control in the mid-90s and again in 2002. But by 2006 Labour needed scarcely a one per cent swing to recover their majority and set out to make sure they did. We were deluged with direct mail, glossy colour leaflets and what felt like a ministerial visit every other day and could not compete.
We are determined to turn the tables once again. We have worked hard to develop new candidates. We designed our own candidate approval system around a framework of “A Campaigning Liberal Democrat Councillor” testing incumbents and newbies alike to show how they could meet that description. It has helped us refresh the teams in our safer wards even at the cost of some bruised egos.
A highly consultative process has given us a manifesto that will prove an effective campaign tool. It commits us to completing the value-for-money initiative on back-office costs that the Labour administration has abandoned. We will resource effective crime prevention rather than the pointless, populist name-and-shame Labour approach.
We are pledged to solve the primary school place shortage that Labour ignored for too long, not sit helplessly waiting for government money we all know will never come. And we will get estates and mansion blocks recycling, aiming to double the rate where Labour have let it stagnate at its 2006 level. And while Labour leave overcrowded families staring at boarded up empty homes, we will make zero tolerance of empty Council homes an absolutely central principle.
All of this is backed up by a seamlessly integrated campaign with our three PPCs. Streatham, in the South of the Borough is fighting to win in 2010 and has well constructed messages to unite both General and Council election campaigns.
So drop us a line via www.lambethlibdems.org.uk if you can help one of our best chances to score Lib Dem wins both in 2010 elections.
Cllr Ashley Lumsden is Lambeth Councillor for Streatham Hill and
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group
This article was first published in Liberal Democrat News – Britain’s only weekly newspaper from a political party. Click here to subscribe for just £30 a year.