The battle for control of Enfield Civic Centre

Labour seeks another four-year term but the Conservatives fancy their chances, writes James Cracknell

The local election on 5th May will see council leader Nesil Caliskan, of the Labour Party, challenged by opposition group leader Joanne Laban, of the Conservatives
The local election on 5th May will see council leader Nesil Caliskan (inset, left), of the Labour Party, challenged by opposition group leader Joanne Laban (inset, right), of the Conservative Party

On Thursday, 5th May, voters in Enfield will head to the polls to elect councillors to represent them at Enfield Civic Centre over the next four years.

For several reasons, this local election is the most fascinating to have taken place in the borough for many years.

Since taking over control of Enfield Council in 2010 – at a time when voters
nationally were moving towards the Conservatives – the Labour Party has increased its majority at every local election. But the last four years have seen significant upheaval, with a shock change of council leader immediately after Labour’s biggest-ever win in 2018, followed by a number of defections from disaffected Labour councillors who felt they could no longer work under the new leadership.

Following the 2018 election in Enfield, when Labour won 46 seats and the Conservatives 17, Labour’s grip on the council has weakened significantly, with two of the party’s councillors quitting the civic centre and seven others resigning their Labour membership in protest at the way the council was being run. Two became Green Party councillors, one left for the Liberal Democrats, and four became independents. Another councillor, although still a Labour member, has also left the Enfield Labour group.

Although they headed in different directions politically, all seven of the Labour defectors have been grouped under the ‘Community First’ banner, to enable them to take positions on various council committees and other functions. The Dispatch understands that the four independents will not be standing for re-election in May, but the two Greens and one Lib Dem currently on the council will be standing.

On top of the internal political divisions within the Enfield Labour group, a
number of divisive policies have helped opposition parties gain support. Major local controversies have included the move from weekly to fortnightly bin collections, the decision to allocate more than 6,000 new homes for construction on parts of the borough’s Green Belt, the closure of Whitewebbs Park Golf Course, and the imposition of low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) in Palmers Green and Bowes Park. There has also been ongoing criticism over the way the council has handled Meridian Water, which is one of the largest ongoing redevelopment schemes in London but which has yet to see a single new home built (construction did finally get underway last year).

Off the back of these controversies, as well as strong polling nationally amid the rapid Covid-19 vaccination rollout, the Conservatives produced some impressive results in a series of local by-elections last year. They won a seat in Chase ward off Labour and saw their vote share increase in three other wards. Most notably, in the London mayoral election held in May 2021, Enfield was the only borough to back Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey having previously supported Labour’s Sadiq Khan in 2016.

The net effect has been to reduce Labour’s majority at Enfield Civic Centre from 29 in 2018 – its highest ever – to eleven now.

But while the Conservatives may have begun to feel confident that they could win back control of the council, a series of escalating Westminster controversies over the last six months has seen Labour leapfrog the Tories in national polling. It now seems less likely that Labour voters would consider switching their allegiance, especially with local Conservative councillors unwilling to drop their support for an unpopular prime minister.

One other significant factor affecting this year’s election is the redrawing of
ward boundaries
. While the overall number of councillors in Enfield will remain the same, at 63, the number of wards has been increased from 21 to 25, with some only now electing two councillors rather than three. Newly created wards include Arnos Grove, Carterhatch, New Southgate and Ridgeway, but all wards in the borough have seen their boundaries moved to some greater or lesser extent. It remains difficult to predict which parties these changes may benefit, if any at all.

A full list of candidates standing across all 25 wards is due to be made public on 6th April via the Enfield Council website. Typically, Labour and the Conservatives would have their candidates selected months in advance, but the Dispatch understands there have been significant delays with the Labour selection process in particular this year, including problems finding candidates to stand in every ward. One factor is that a number of senior Labour councillors are not seeking re-election – most notably the deputy leader Ian Barnes, who has spearheaded the council’s two recent LTN trials. Others not standing include Mary Maguire, the cabinet member for finance, Katherine Chibah, an associate cabinet member, plus Tolga Aramaz and Achilleas Georgiou, who have both been deselected. New recruits for Labour include Whitewebbs candidate Nishan Dzhingozyan, a prominent social justice campaigner with strong links to the borough’s large Bulgarian community.

On the Conservative side, Terry Neville is among the notable departures, having served as a councillor in Enfield since 1986. New recruits include a couple of candidates who have made names for themselves via social media in recent years, with prominent anti-LTN campaigner Ediz Mevlit standing in Bowes ward and Hannah Dyson, a former administrator of the popular Enfield Voices Facebook group, standing for the Tories in Whitewebbs.

Labour’s strongholds are in the east of Enfield borough, while support for the Conservatives is stronger in the west. Crucial ‘swing’ wards include Southgate, Winchmore Hill, Palmers Green, Bowes, Arnos Grove and New Southgate but, even if the Tories were to win all of these, they would still need to gain at least one seat in an eastern ward such as Carterhatch or Southbury to win overall control.

Interviews with each of the leaders of the Labour, Conservative, Green and Liberal Democrat groups in Enfield will be made available on the Dispatch website over the next few days. They can also be read in the latest print edition of the Dispatch.

The deadline to register to vote in the local election is 14th April, just before midnight. Eligible voters can register online:
Visit gov.uk/register-to-vote

For more information about the election on 5th May, including where to find your nearest polling station and which ward you live in:
Visit
enfield.gov.uk/services/councillors-and-democracy