Our Sutton reporter, BERTIE WORCESTER-PARK, sifts through the election offering on the other side of the borough boundary
Thursday is election day on the other side of the borough’s boundaries, in Lambeth and Southwark, in Merton and Bromley, and in Sutton, too.
But it is only in Sutton where there is even a remote possibility of a shift in the balance of power, with some suggesting that the borough might just end up as “NOC” – no overall control – with the Liberal Democrats removed from power in the borough for the first time for 36 years.
It was in 1986, at the height of Thatcherism, that the Tories’ lost control of Sutton. They have never managed to win it back.
Any hopes that they may have had of changing that in 2022 appear to have been dashed by Partygate and other Tory scandals at Westminster, whether it be tractor porn, a sex assault on a minor, or multi-million-pound PPE deals for chums of the cabinet.
Sutton’s Tories are so embarrassed by blundering Boris Johnson and their colleagues in parliament that they, like their Croydon colleagues, have assumed the “Local Conservative” nomenclature on the ballot papers. As if that is going to fool any voter.
Even the faint hope that they might have had of their national party colleagues providing them with a political sweetener – in the form of a shiny new hospital – appears dashed, with funding for a long-promised scheme now to be diverted to projects in the north of England.
In the end, what looks most likely to keep Ruth Dombey and her incinerator-loving LibDems in control in Sutton will be voter apathy, and the growing disaffection with the major political parties. As the New Statesman put it last week, local elections are a “British event where thousands of jobs go out for tender, to be decided on by an unimpressive percentage of an uninterested electorate”.
A report in the Tory-supporting Evening Standard last month included grudging acceptance of slippage in the plans to build a new Sutton hospital, which was supposed to be ready alongside the Royal Marsden in Belmont within four or five years.
It all now looks like St Helier may be keeping its A&E and maternity units until the end of this decade, at least.
This, remember, is a part of the Tory election pledge to deliver 48 new hospitals, most of which are not new hospitals at all…
“We are fully committed to delivering the biggest hospital building programme in a generation – 48 hospitals in total by 2030 – which is backed by an initial £3.7billion and will provide state-of-the-art facilities and world-class healthcare provision for patients and staff,” a Department of Health spokesman told the paper.
“We are continuing to work very closely with all trusts in the programme – including Whipps Cross, Epsom and St Helier, and Hillingdon – to develop their plans.”
But these delays inevitably end up wracking up costs, and could see the project ultimately doomed.
In any case, the covid pandemic ought to have prompted a complete re-evaluation of the wisdom, or lack of it, of proposals to site a busy A&E department and intensive care unit next to a specialist cancer hospital treating clinically vulnerable patients.
Campaigners who have long fought for upgrading and improvement at St Helier now say that if the funding for the new Sutton Hospital is being cut even further, then it would better all-round for the money to be spent on modernising existing facilities.
With Sutton’s incinerating LibDems losing popularity locally and the Tories getting a rough ride on the doorstep, it opens the way for the borough’s independents to retain their foothold on the council, if not extend it, and for Labour to win council seats in the borough for the first time in 20 years.
Labour’s hopes of making gains in a borough where air pollution, the environment and a rubbish contract with Veolia are constant issues with voters have seen them produce their own “green manifesto”.
It must be lonely being a Green Party candidate in Sutton: 16 are standing as individual candidates in multi-seat wards scattered across the borough, while four wards have no Green candidates at all. Most significantly, the Greens’ absence might be felt in the new, two-seat Hackbridge ward, where residents of the New Mill Quarter have been so badly disabused by the LibDem council’s SDEN heating network. One of Labour’s candidates was the chair of the NMQ Residents’ Association…
More generally, Labour has issued a 10-point “contract” to the Sutton electorate, all seemingly pretty standard stuff from a party that realises that even in their wildest dreams the best that they can hope for tomorrow would be to win six of the 55 seats up for grabs. Click here for the manifesto in full.
With a series of Facebook ads, Tik Tok videos and other social media promotions for their party, Labour insiders say that they have been surprised how poor their election rivals have been in this year’s “air war”.
“Labour in Sutton want to protect St Helier Hospital, ensure a fair resolution to the incinerator contract and secure a proper waste collection service while delivering the change that is needed in housing, education, and the environment,” a source told Inside Sutton.
They accuse Sutton’s LibDem council of following the “Big Society” policies that they inherited from David Cameron’s Conservatives during the days of the coaltion, including “outsourcing our services to unreliable profit-driven contractors”. Meaning Veolia, who are as rubbish in Sutton as they are in Croydon.
“Labour are feeling increasingly confident that we will win seats on the council this time after their near miss across four wards in 2018,” the source said.
They say that part of the reason for their more extensive manifesto work this time is to “set out our many red lines” in the event of a hung council come Friday morning.
“A hung council would mean the Sutton public had lost trust in the LibDems but still did not trust the Tories. No one could claim to be the single voice of the council in those circumstances so we clearly need different democratic structures that reflect that wider range of views.”
It could just be that Dombey and her LibDems retain control of Sutton Council by default. The veteran councillor has seen 16 of her 33 colleagues – half of all her councillors – step down before election day, including some of her closest allies. One soon-to-be ex-councillor departed after having spoken of being “betrayed” by the Liberal Democrats.
Such election intrigues opens up all sorts of possibilities for tactical voting, dependent on which ward and which party has the greatest chance of success.
Sutton’s election is being fought on new ward boundaries in 2022, with 55 seats available (up from 54) across 20 wards.
No Overall Control could happen, but only if the opposition parties gain seven seats over the 21 that they won in 2018. If Labour do make inroads by winning Hackbridge and Sutton Central and Nick Mattey and his Beddington independents hold fast, it would only need Tom Drummond’s Conservatives to win at least two seats to bring down the curtain on Liberal Democrat control.
The only problem with that scenario is that, given the hospital pass his group has been given by blundering liar Boris Johnson and the Conservative party party Party, Drummond himself may struggle to hang on to his own seat in reconfigured Worcester Park North.
Read more: Sutton’s LibDems in meltdown as ‘betrayed’ deputy quits
Read more: MP Colburn in ‘angry’ row with Sutton over faulty heat network
Read more: SEND campaigners fight on after Panorama revelations
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