Boris in, Brian out

The votes from both Barnet & Camden and Brent & Harrow constituencies were counted at Alexandra Palace on Friday. Sadly it seemed no-one mentioned that to the construction crews working on the historic building. The result was a power cut early in the day, which held up counting. Then, at the end of the day, a couple of ballot boxes from Brent turned up containing damaged papers and these had to be counted by hand. It was already clear by this stage that incumbent mayor Boris Johnson was going to beat Ken Livingstone, but Brent is die-hard Ken country, so there was always that slimmest of slim chances. After all, at the Hampstead & Kilburn vote in 2010, it was boxes arriving from Brent that gave Glenda the late and very very narrow victory.

In the end, although Ken got 6,500 more second preference votes than Boris in Brent & Harrow, BoJo’s overall winning margin across London was fairly comfortable.

We don’t have the ward breakdown yet for Barnet and Camden, so I can’t tell you how West Hampstead’s vote compared to that in 2008, but across the two borough here are the results

A couple of notable stats: Barnet & Camden gave more 2nd preference votes to the Green Party’s Jenny Jones than to any other candidate, and voters here also gave Boris less than 400 more second preferences than independent Siobhan Benita. Nevertheless, Boris was more popular in Barnet & Camden than he was across London as a whole. So, a good night for the Conservatives? Not entirely.

As was widely reported, Barnet & Camden’s London Assembly vote was between Conservative Brian Coleman and Labour’s Andrew Dismore. There was a strong campaign to oust Coleman, and indeed his sizeable majority was completely reversed as Labour saw a 14 percentage point swing in their favour as Coleman’s vote fell away.

The CNJ’s Richard Osley was at Alexandra Palace but neither he nor any other journalist could get an interview with Coleman, who arrived for the count but vanished before giving a speech.

Farewell Brian.

The election stats from 2008

For the final part of my pre-election coverage, here’s a breakdown of how West Hampstead and the wider Barnet & Camden constituency voted last time around for the mayor, our local Assembly Member, and for the London-wide assembly member.

First up – the four Camden wards that make up West Hampstead (sorry Brent folk, but you can access all the data).

What does this show us? Well, a fairly strong Labour showing, even in Swiss Cottage, which came down in favour of Boris overall. Despite the Lib Dems’ popularity here as councillors, Paddick’s performance was pretty poor and roughly in line with the London-wide result.

Across Barnet & Camden, you can see the full breakdown on three separate sheets. The Conservatives took all three ballots fairly comfortably – showing the relative weight Barnet has over Camden in this inner/outer London constituency

What are we voting for?

Tomorrow is election day in London, but what are we voting for and how do we vote? I’ve had a few queries about this, especially from people new to London for whom this is their first City Hall election, so here’s a handy guide. If you want to know more about the candidates or their policies, then read my guide to the Mayoral election, and the Barnet & Camden Assembly Member election.

Here’s how it works

Mayor of London
This is the pink ballot paper.

The Mayor of London is elected by supplementary vote. This means you can vote for two candidates in order of preference:

  • Vote for your first choice candidate by marking a cross (X) in the first choice column
  • Vote for your second choice candidate by marking a cross (X) in the second choice column
  • You must mark a first choice, you can choose not to mark a second candidate
  • If you mark only a second choice your vote will not be counted
  • If you give the same candidate your first and second choice, only your first choice will be counted

If a candidate receives more than 50% of all the first choice votes they are elected immediately. If this does not happen (which it won’t), the top two candidates with the most first choice votes go through to a second round. All the ballot papers where another candidate was first choice are then reassessed to tally up second preferences. Second choice votes for either of the top two candidates are added to the totals for those two candidates from the first round. The candidate with the highest combined total of first and second choice votes will be elected as Mayor of London.

What does this mean in practice? Most pundits call this as a two-horse race between Ken & Boris, so if you want to vote tactically, consider that if you vote for either of those two as first preference then your second vote is unlikely to matter. If you want to vote for another candidate first, then voting for either Ken or Boris second probably makes sense. The Green Party, for example, would prefer you to vote Green first, and Labour second. Or, vote for who you’d actually like to see as Mayor – surprises do occur, and this sort of voting sends a clear message to City Hall as to what people’s concerns are.

In 2008, every single ward in London voted either Boris or Ken first, but almost all of them voted Brian Paddick as second preference. As he wasn’t in the top two however, this counted for nothing. The maps below, along with other cuts of the voting data, are from The Guardian.

A fairly clear inner/outer London divide

“And it was all yellow”: 2nd preference votes in 2008

London Assembly – Constituency members
The London Assembly consists of 14 constituency members who represent different areas of London, and 11 London-wide members. In West Hampstead, we are in the Barnet & Camden constituency, those of you the other side of Kilburn High Road are in Brent & Harrow.

This is the yellow ballot paper

The constituency election is first past the post. Simply put a cross against the name of the candidate you’d like to represent you in the London Assembly.

London Assembly – London-wide members
This is the orange ballot paper

The 11 London-wide Assembly Members are elected using a form of proportional representation. 

  • You can cast one vote for the party or independent candidate that you would like to have a London-wide Member seat on the Assembly. 

You can see the full list of parties here. You don’t vote for a specific candidate within each party. Each party will have its own internal list – lets say that Labour wins three London-wide seats, then the top three names on Labour’s list will be elected. You can see on the list I’ve linked to that the first names under the main parties are established London politicians like Nicky Gavron and Caroline Pidgeon.

Votes from across London for the London-wide Assembly Members are added together. The 11 seats are then allocated based upon a mathematical formula (the Modified d’Hondt Formula since you asked). This takes into account the total votes cast in the London-wide ballot together with the number of Constituency London Assembly Member seats that each political party has already won. It is a bit complicated to explain, but basically 11 rounds of calculations take place to fill the 11 London-wide Assembly Member seats, and the party or independent candidate with the highest result at each round is allocated the seat. Seats won by parties are allocated to party candidates in the order they appear on the relevant party’s list of candidates.

What does this mean in practice? It’s pretty straightforward really – vote for the party you’d like to see have as many seats as possible in the Assembly. You might, for example, want to see Boris as mayor but think that having more Green Assembly Members would be a good balance. Or perhaps you think Brian Paddick’s crime policies make him the ideal mayor, but a strong Labour presence in the Assembly might help address some of the other social problems facing the city.

There’s loads more information on all this at the London Elects site.

Polling stations in Camden are open from 7am to 10pm. if you can’t find your polling card, you can find your polling station by postcode. Note that your polling station may not be the one physically nearest to you, as they’re broken down by ward and sub-ward.

Barnet and Camden: the end of the road for Brian Coleman?

As well as electing the next Mayor of London this Thursday, we also get to vote for who represents us on the London Assembly. There are 14 constituency Assembly Members and 11 London-wide members elected based on proportional representation.

In West Hampstead, our constituency is Barnet and Camden, and that means we have to choose between incumbent Brian Coleman (Con), Andrew Dismore (Lab), Chris Richards (LD), Audrey Poppy (Green – with a name like that, had to be), and Michael Corby (UKIP – or “Fresh Choice for London” as they’ve somehow managed to get themselves billed in the official London Elects brochure).

Do we care about who speaks for us at City Hall? Assembly members don’t have a great deal of power, you can read the official line as to the role of the Assembly. The thrust of it is to hold the mayor to account, campaign on various issues, and potentially get involved in large-scale planning issues. One might argue it’s not that important, although one could imagine that if the Assembly was dominated by the same party as the Mayor’s, then there might be a little less scrutiny.

As for the candidates, well, it’s fair to say that Brian Coleman is a controversial figure. I’m not going to list the litany of criticisms that he’s faced – the very fact that there’s a website called “101 Reasons to Sack Brian Coleman“, gives you an indication of his unpopularity in certain circles. From racking up extortionate taxi bills at the taxpayers’ expense, to dismissing perfectly legitimate questions out of hand, this is one elected official who doesn’t kow tow to his voters.

Coleman (left) aiming lower than erstwhile H&K candidate Chris Philp

He’s spotted in West Hampstead from time to time, chatting up small business owners or generally waving the blue flag around election time, but he’s really a Barnet politician (and erstwhile Mayor of the borough). He famously dislikes bloggers. During the general election one Tory aide asked me in front of him whether I’d like to interview him. We answered in unison; him with a pithy “I don’t do bloggers”, and me with a marginally more polite “No thanks, he’s not that interesting to our readers at the moment”.

He objected to both the 187-199 West End Lane development and the Abbey Area development proposals before they went to City Hall but clearly his objections carried little weight as both were passed without amendment. I asked (at very short notice) two of Camden’s Conservative councillors to tweet me a reason to vote for Coleman. Gio Spinella’s reply: “[he has] a proven track-record of sound and firm management with London’s Fire Brigades and one undeniable virtue: with Brian Coleman you will always know where you stand. He won’t equivocate or pander.” Which is probably about as diplomatic as you can get.

Coleman has been in trouble with Barnet council three times this year already. “The council’s standards committee upheld complaints from two members of the public that he had been disrespectful in a series of email exchanges, including one in which he said a lobbyist would have been a member of the fascist Blackshirts 70 years ago,” reported the Barnet & Whetstone Times. Then on April 4th, he is alleged to have called a resident a “twat” and told them to “clear off” during a cabinet meeting open to the public. This wasn’t in response to some abuse, it was in response to a question on the closure of Friern Barnet Library.

I try quite hard to be non-partisan on this blog, but I find it very hard to endorse any politician who appears to have such disdain for his constituents. Or as respected London political commentator Dave Hill puts it, “Coleman personifies vividly a comedic suburban affrontedness rarely found outside of television sitcoms. The spectacle of someone completely in the grip of his own, inexhaustible indignation provides an unexpected intellectual satisfaction.”

Andrew Dismore is a former MP (for Hendon, 1997 to 2010). He’s thought to have a real chance of beating Coleman, especially if Labour’s support in Camden holds up and enough Tory voters decide that they’d rather elect someone who didn’t call the fire brigade union members “thick” (one of Coleman’s three public jobs is as Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority).

Dismore’s experience in Westminster puts him in good stead for the Assembly. While an MP, he chaired the London group of Labour MPs, and was a strong advocate for decent affordable homes – a critical requirement for London both now and in the future.

It’s true that Dismore had his spending come under scrutiny during the MP expenses scandal although he was subsequently cleared by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Nevertheless, he is almost certainly the only credible competitor to Coleman, and he certainly talks the talk:

“My reputation as a councillor and as an MP was of someone who worked hard for his constituents, and I will do the same as your assembly member. I will be visible, active and engaged. I will not be like the present Conservative incumbent AM, who in the three years since he was last elected, has not written once to the police to raise Safer Neighbourhood Team staffing and deployment issues, nor to Transport for London to raise the Northern Line upgrade, the strategic bus network, or cycling issues, nor to senior Camden council officers about anything at all.”

What of the other candidates? Lib Dem Chris Richards may be Bromley-born, but he’s a Camden boy now, so those of us in the southern reaches of the enormous Barnet & Camden constituency might feel he has more to offer although he lacks the political experience and gravitas of Coleman or Dismore. I can’t find anything about the Greens’ Audrey Poppy except that she came 4th in the 2005 general election in Chipping Barnet. UKIP’s Michael Corby wanted to be the party’s mayoral candidate, and he sets out his stall in this video. The Barnet Eye has an interesting take on the role UKIP could have played in this election: given Coleman’s unpopularity with some voters, UKIP might have expected to pick up votes here, which would have helped them secure seats in the Assembly based on the proportional representation formula. However, Corby has been the “invisible man” in this election.

Coleman does appear, for the first time, to be running scared. Last Friday he apparently went round local shops in High Barnet that had put up anti-Coleman posters and bullied shopkeepers into removing them. One shopowner said, ““He was going mad and shouting. He was right in my face and wouldn’t leave when I asked him. He was intimidating.”

When you go to vote for the mayor on Thursday, don’t automatically tick the London Assembly box that corresponds to your general party affiliation. Have a think about the role of Assembly Members, which is more consultative than executive, and about the type of person you believe should represent you.