On May 5, voters across the UK will head to the polls to decide who will run their local authority. Sutton, a typical stronghold for the iberal Democrats, has been tipped as a potential Tory gain this year after the Conservatives slashed their rivals’ majority at the last council elections in 2018.
Unlike the other Lib Dem strongholds of Kingston-upon-Thames and Richmond, Sutton voted Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum. At the next General Election in 2019, the borough elected Conservative MPs to its two parliamentary seats.
But as OnLondon’s Dave Hill puts it, “Sutton’s Lib Dem hegemony is the product of campaigning and local activism rather than demographics”.
One local issue that is likely to be a key factor when voters head to the polls this year is that of an incinerator in the northeast of the borough.
Operational since 2018, the Beddington incinerator (or Energy Recovery Facility as it is officially known) has burned waste from Sutton, Croydon, Kingston and Merton. The issue resulted in the Lib Dems losing all three seats in the Beddington North ward to independent candidates in 2018.
Just as campaigns were gearing up ahead of this year’s elections, the issue raised its head once again when the facility’s operator put forward plans to burn thousands more tonnes of rubbish a year, including waste from other parts of the country.
Sutton Council has opposed the plans, but with Labour hoping to make gains in the north of the borough this year, the Lib Dems could see themselves fighting a battle on two fronts.
Meanwhile it remains to be seen how national issues such as the Partygate scandal could affect the Conservatives’ popularity.
Southwest London has become something of a fortress for the Liberal Democrats and it is perhaps most evident in the borough of Sutton, where they have controlled the council for more than three decades.
The Conservatives enjoyed a period of domination in the borough from its formation in 1964 through to 1986. That year, the Liberal Democrats won the most seats but were just shy of having an absolute majority, leaving no party with overall control of the council. Since then, the Lib Dems have won back-to-back council elections in Sutton.
While they retained control of the council at the last elections in 2018, the Liberal Democrats saw their majority slashed, losing nine seats to the Conservatives and three to independent candidates. Across the borough, the Lib Dems’ share of the vote shrunk by 4.2 per cent, while the Conservatives’ share rose by 6.5 per cent.
Overall, the Lib Dems won 33 seats in 2018 while the Conservatives won 18. Three seats were won by independent candidates. The turnout for the election was 41.16 per cent.
Following the findings of the Local Government Boundary Commission, the number of wards in Sutton will increase from 18 to 20 for this year’s election, while the number of seats on the council will increase to 55.
Two by-elections have been held in the borough since 2018, with the incumbent parties winning in both seats.
Earlier this year, Sutton council agreed a 1.99 per cent increase to the general portion of council tax.
City Hall estimates put Sutton’s population at around 207,707 as of 2020, up from 190,146 in 2011.
The age profile of the borough is similar to that of London as a whole and the rest of England. According to City Hall projections from 2020, 64.3 per cent of Sutton’s population is made up of people aged 16 to 64, compared to 68.5 per cent across London and 62.2 per cent in England.
Under-16’s make up 20.3 per cent of Sutton’s population, while over-65s make up 15.4 per cent.
Compared with London as a whole, Sutton has a considerably less diverse population in terms of ethnicity. Around 61.9 per cent of the borough’s population is made up of people from White British backgrounds compared to 38.6 per cent across the capital.
People from other White backgrounds – a category which includes people from Europe, Australia and the USA among others – make up 9.2 per cent of Sutton’s population.
The largest foreign-born population in the borough is that of the Filipino community. The “other Asian” demographic category, which includes people of Filipino heritage, makes up around 6.7 per cent of Sutton’s population.
People from Black African backgrounds make up 3.1 per cent of Sutton’s population, while those from Black Caribbean backgrounds account for 1.6 per cent.
Sutton has one of the lowest poverty rates in the capital according to figures from Trust for London, with 16 per cent of the borough’s population living in poverty. The child poverty rate is slightly higher at 29 per cent. Unemployment in Sutton stands at around 5.3 per cent.