How much of London will be a tale of the Conservatives versus Labor when voters go to the polls on May 5 will be a different matter in the south-west of the capital.
Kingston-upon-Thames is typically seen as the territory of the Liberal Democrats, though the Conservatives have been tipped to pose a challenge this time around, making it a borough worth keeping an eye on.
The Liberal Democrats benefit from a strong base of support in Kingston-upon-Thames, but high levels of municipal taxation (the highest in London) and numerous local issues and controversies may provide support elsewhere on 5 May.
One issue that has caused considerable controversy in the borough is the proposed redevelopment of a beloved swimming pool and leisure center.
The Kingfisher Leisure Center was closed in December 2019 to allow for “urgent repairs” to the building’s roof. Nearly a year later, and with no visible progress, Lib Dem-run Kingston Council announced plans to demolish and rebuild the facility completely, much to the chagrin of many locals.
The issue led to Lib Dem councilor Jon Tolley withdrawing from the party last year due to allegations that the party leadership was “dishonest” to citizens about the true cost and schedules of the plans.
The future of Seething Well’s filter beds – which supplied London with clean water in the 19thth century – has also emerged as a hot topic in the district. The privately owned area has been stripped of vegetation and earmarked for development in recent years despite its designation as an area of nature conservation importance. Locals have accused the council of failing to act.
The Kingston Independent Residents Group (KIRG), an independent party made up of locals and former councilors from both the Lib Dem and Tory persuasion, is hoping to take advantage of hyperlocal issues and a newly drawn border map. The party’s deputy chairman is James Giles, speaker for Russia Today’s Sputnik program and election agent for George Galloway.
The Conservatives had a majority in the Kingston Council from its inception in 1964 to the 1980s, although they would not control the council again until 2014.
During the intervening years, the Liberal Democrats established a foothold in the borough and won each election in 1986, 1990, and 1998, when no party had a majority large enough to control the council.
At the last election in 2018, Lib Dems comfortably regained control of Kingston Council from the conservatives who had won in 2014.
When the borough strongly voted Remain in the Brexit vote in 2016, support for the Tories crumbled in 2018, with the Lib Dems snatching 19 seats from the Conservatives and two from Labor.
Overall, Lib Dems won 39 of the district’s 48 council seats, increasing their share of the popular vote by more than 20 percent compared to the previous election. The Conservatives would hold on to the remaining nine seats. The turnout in 2018 was 47.3 percent in the entire district.
Prior to this year’s election, Kingston was the subject of a review by the Local Government Boundary Commission, which concluded that the number of city council members should remain at 48, while the number of departments would increase from 16 to 19.
In the years since the last election, the Kingston Lib Dems have been plagued by mutual struggles, which have seen the composition of the council change.
Less than 100 days after Lib Dem claimed victory in Kingston, City Councilor Sharon Sumner dropped out of the Green Party, citing a disagreement with Lib Dem leadership over a decision to close the municipality’s last nursing home and a need to act on the climate crisis. . . Ms. Sumner would eventually resign from the council as early as the beginning of 2022 due to allegations that she was “bullied into silence” by the council leadership. Her seat remains vacant until the local elections take place.
In March 2020, a few days before the country would go into its first lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Councilwoman Liz Green was ousted by her own party after leading the Lib Dem group for seven years. She was replaced by Caroline Kerr, who had won her seat on the council in 2018.
But Councilman Kerr would resign as leader only 18 months later in October 2021. The Lib Dem group would continue to elect Andreas Kirsch as its new council leader.
Lib Dem councilor Jon Tolley, owner of the iconic Banquet Records in Kingston, left the party in September 2021 due to political disagreements with the party leadership. He would continue in the council as an independent Lib Dem, but later announced that he would not run for re-election in May this year.
Conservative councilor Nicola Sheppard resigned from her party in March 2022 to sit as an independent in Kingston Council.
Kingston has one of the smallest populations in all of London’s boroughs, with an estimated population of 179,142 according to GLA data from 2020. This is an increase from 160,060 recorded in the 2011 census.
Kingston’s age profile is similar to that of London as a whole with a relatively young population and an average average age of 36.2 years.
About 65 percent of the borough’s population consists of adults of working age (18 to 64 years), while under 18s represent 21.7 percent. Over the age of 65 make up 13.3 percent of the population. Despite this, there are a significant number of residents in the district living up to the 90s.
Like neighboring boroughs of south-west London, Kingston’s population is less diverse than the rest of the capital in terms of ethnicity.
More than two-thirds of the district’s population (69 percent) are white, while people with Asian heritage make up 20 percent. People of mixed heritage make up 5 percent of Kingston’s population, while people of black ethnicity make up 3.1 percent.
Known as one of London’s “green and green suburbs”, Kingston is one of the more affluent districts of the capital.
The district boasts lower-than-average poverty and child poverty rates of 18 and 23 percent, respectively, and has an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.
However, Kingston is home to the highest municipal tax rates in London. The average annual bill for a Band D property in Kingston is £ 2,097.80.