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Westminster Tories deserved to lose

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May 6, 2022 - 1:30pm

They’ve done it. Labour have finally captured the London boroughs of Westminster and Wandsworth. For decades these Tory fortresses have held out against a rising red tide in London, but now they’ve gone.

The loss of Westminster (City of) will be keenly felt in Westminster (Palace of). However, Keir Starmer would be deluded if he extrapolates this local triumph to the country as a whole. Labour’s results beyond London just aren’t good enough to assure the party of victory at the next general election.

However, that doesn’t mean that the Tories should take the loss of the borough lightly. While the local electorate may be highly atypical of the nation, the performance of Westminster City Council provides an example of where the Conservatives are going wrong. 

Consider, for instance, the fiasco of the Marble Arch Mound — which was Britain’s worst tourist attraction until it closed earlier this year. For reasons that were never properly explained, the Council decided that what the West End really needed was an artificial hill made out of scaffolding and astroturf. The budget was both excessive (£6 million) but also insufficient — thus ensuring its status as a (literally) massive embarrassment. 

As a symbol of municipal incompetence it was enough on its own to justify the removal of the administration responsible for it. However, there’s a lot more for the Westminster Tories to regret. There is, for instance, the planned demolition of Orchard House on Oxford Street — a characterful Art Deco building that Mark and Spencers plan to replace with a bland piece of spreadsheet architecture. Needless to say, the City Council nodded that one through.

And then there’s Victoria Street. Despite having Westminster Cathedral at one end and Westminster Abbey at the other, this has long been one of the worst thoroughfares in London — a bleak canyon of ugly blocks (which includes the council headquarters, of course). In recent years, regeneration has given the entire neighbourhood the chance of a fresh start. However, the opportunity has been comprehensively wasted. Victoria Street and the surrounding area is now home to some of the worst buildings of the 21st century — including a winner of the Carbuncle Cup. 

The primary aim of a Conservative-run local authority should be to make places better. Sadly, Westminster City Council has spent the last twenty years facilitating terrible corporate architecture. It might have been worth it if all that new construction had made a meaningful contribution to solving the housing crisis. But as London gets uglier it’s also becoming more unaffordable. 

Tory-run councils aren’t exclusively to blame for this state of affairs. But nor have they done enough to realise an alternative plan for London — one that relentlessly pursues the CreateStreets vision of beauty combined with affordability. 

Of course, in London, the Tories are fighting against demographic trends that aren’t in their favour. However, that makes it all the more important for them to offer something genuinely conservative. Instead, they’ve just rubber-stamped over-priced ugliness. Londoners can already get that from Labour. 

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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Tony Price
Tony Price
2 years ago

Could there possibly be a connection between the political donations of property developers (which I believe are c.25% of Conservative Party donations) and unsuitable commercial development? Also the slashing of council funding by the central government which leads those councils desperately searching for new sources of funds, happily supplied by ….. property developers in return for planning permissions.

Pamela Booker
Pamela Booker
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Of course there is. It’s all about the money now rather than statesmanship.