Voters complain that south London’s super-rich and big developers are being favored over smaller traders and longtime locals
Previously, Tories have been successful by focusing on keeping council taxes low and streets clean. But that no longer seems enough for longtime residents and local business owners, who complain that the super-rich and big developers are consistently favored over small independent traders.
Wandsworth has been the jewel in the London Conservative crown since the 1970s and losing control of it in this week’s local elections would be a symbolic loss for Boris Johnson’s party.
Rema Sadiqi runs the Indian Cafe Lady Buddha on Garratt Lane. She said the street, which is dotted with independent shops and restaurants run by long-time Wandsworth residents, has been neglected by community funding and investment, reflected in the swanky riverside developments at Nine Elms or the scenic High Street would have concentrated in Wandsworth Town.
she said I She liked her local Tory councillor, Angela Graham, but boundary changes mean the newly created community of Wandle will have new faces to represent them. And Ms Sadiqi is considering joining the Labor Party for the first time.
“I told the Labor candidate to speak to us on this strip because that area is completely ignored,” she said. “There is a lot going on at the train station and on the main street. There’s the riverfront high-rise, York Road, the Ram Quarter development, but we’re not getting anything, and those areas have taken our business. They made it so beautiful that people would rather spend money there than here.”
She added: “I’ve always voted conservative, I think they’ve been good for business and I think we need to focus on helping companies get better.
“Hospitality has had a lot of help during the pandemic but what we are struggling with now is things like Brexit, things like Ukraine and the power surge. I rely on that [cooking] Oil and I’m now paying £12.90 for something that was £7.90. It’s like we got through a shitty situation only to end up in a bottomless pit.”
Allfarthing Lane meanders along the boundary of the new borough of Wandle and the neighboring town of Wandsworth. It also connects the less affluent area around Garrett Road and St Anne’s Hill to Wandsworth Common, where houses cost millions and two-bedrooms fetch over £700,000.
Lifelong residents Jason Steele and Glenn Miller said they call the posh end of the street “Diaper Valley” because of the number of elementary schools — including Wandsworth Preparatory — nearby.
Mr Steele does not plan to vote on Thursday but said a Labor victory would spur him on to vote for Sir Keir Starmer’s party in the next general election.
“If Labor took that advice I would vote in the general election and I wouldn’t vote Conservative, I would lean towards Labour,” he said. He added that the wealth gap in Wandsworth meant a lack of government action to deal with the cost of living crisis could become a hugely important local issue, felt strongly by half of residents in the area.
“Up here is the end of the super rich,” he said, pointing to the Common. “So they don’t really know, they don’t really feel it. When you get to this end and go through the lands…there’s a chasm. I think it’s going to be these people who are going to look at how the Conservatives have done over the last few years and say, ‘I honestly don’t think you can actually vote for that’.”
For former aircraft engineer Miller, who says he votes Conservative “99 percent of the time,” the notoriously low council tax is reason enough to stick with the current council leadership for the time being. But he also cannot see himself voting Tory in the next national election, complaining that the current government has “no organization” and is not doing enough to help the poorest in the face of soaring food and energy prices. He is also concerned about the growing wealth gap in his district.
“The welfare recipients here are really feeling it,” he said, pausing before gesturing across the street and adding: “This is our first £1.5 million house to sell on this street, this corner.”
Opposition parties are fond of stressing that Mr Johnson’s personal ratings and the parties at Downing Street are to blame for any hit Conservatives in the region take. But a loss at Wandsworth will be as much a result of local troubles as it is national. Two elderly women, who walked to the shops with their matching trolleys, said they didn’t have much to say about politics. When told the Conservatives could lose control of the Council, one raised an eyebrow in mild surprise. “You could lose? Maybe we’ll have the sidewalks repaired then.”