A spectacular night for Labour in London, for the most part.

Natasha Kendall

Account Director

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As the dust settles on the local elections, there is now time to reflect on the political changes that have taken place in England’s capital.

For the most part, the shifts in power across London were foreseeable, however there were some surprises along the way. We identified the following boroughs as ‘races to watch’, in our previous blog.

Barnet

The London Borough of Barnet was a key Labour target from the start of the election campaign, and the Council that most activists on the ground believed that they could win. The Labour Party gained a massive 18 seats, with the Conservatives, Independents and Lib Dems all losing seats. The new political makeup of Barnet Council is 41 Labour, 22 Conservatives, a significant shift from the previous makeup.

This win will mean a lot to the wider London and National Labour Party, as it suggests that their local campaigning around the mishandlings of the antisemitism row, which is cited as a reason for the Party’s failure to take Barnet Council in 2018, has worked.

Croydon

Croydon was a borough of concern for the Labour Party in the run up to the local elections, as they had previously declared bankruptcy and there was a widespread feeling in the borough that the Labour administration had mismanaged the Council’s funds. Despite this, the Labour Party experience modest losses, of 6 seats, which were gained by the Conservatives and the Green Party.

Following the results of the election on 5 May, no party had a sufficient majority to control the Council, so Croydon is now under No Overall Control. At the same time as the council elections, Croydon residents also elected their first Directly Elected Mayor. Conservative candidate, Jason Perry was elected with a very small majority over the Labour candidate, Val Shawcross, who was very much considered the safe choice in this election. There will need to be significant cross-party working within Croydon to enable the Council to move forward from its financial issues.

Wandsworth

Probably the biggest success for Labour in London was taking control of Wandsworth Council, which had previously been held by the Tories since 1978 and was always described as Margaret Thatcher’s favourite council. The former Conservative Leader of the Council, Ravi Govindia, has blamed the fallout from ‘Partygate’ and other national issues for their failure to retain control of the Council.

Of the 58 available seats, Labour clinched 35, leaving the Conservatives with 22 and 1 Independent Councillor, a gain of 8 seats for Labour from the Conservatives.

Tower Hamlets

One of the most interesting results of election day was the one in Tower Hamlets. I think we all expected the Aspire Party (Lutfer Rahman’s new political party) to make gains across Tower Hamlets, but I’m not sure anyone expected such a seismic shift in the local politics of the borough.

The people of Tower Hamlets also voted for a new Directly Elected Mayor on 5 May, resulting in former Mayor, Lutfer Rahman, being re-elected. Rahman was previously a Labour Leader of the Council between 2008 and 2018, before being elected as an Independent Mayor in 2010, and subsequently won again in 2014 with his new party, Tower Hamlets First. Rahman was found guilty of election fraud and removed from office in April 2015, resulting in a five-year election ban.

Rahman was elected in the second round, with a majority of around 7,000 votes, against Labour’s John Biggs. Similarly, Aspire, Rahman’s new party, gained 21 seats in the local election, giving them a total of 24 seats whereas Labour lost the same number of seats, giving them 19 overall. It will be interesting to see how the new administration interact with other London Boroughs and City Hall.

Kingston

The Royal Borough of Kingston – Upon – Thames has been under Lib Dem control since 2018, when they took it back from the Conservatives. It has changed hands from the Lib Dems, Conservatives and No Overall Control several times since 1964.

Following national trends, the Lib Dems reinforced their leadership of Kingston council, gaining 7 seats – 5 from the Conservatives, 1 from an Independent and 1 from the Greens. The Leader of the Conservative Group, Kevin Davis, lost his seat.

Havering

Very little changed for the London Borough of Havering on election day. In line with the wider London trend, Labour made some gains, winning four seats. The Conservative had a very modest loss of two seats, the Residents’ Group won an extra seat, and two Independent Councillors lost their seats. The Council remains in No Overall Control meaning that Councillors are currently trying to form an administration ahead of a full council meeting later in the month.

Any other interesting results?

Perhaps the shock of the night, the Labour Party gained Westminster Council from the Conservatives, in a historic outcome. The Labour Party gained twelve seats, resulting in an overall majority.

Going against the general trend of London, the Conservatives gained Harrow Council from Labour, with Labour losing 10 seats.

The Lib Dems saw an increase in seats across the city, with this perhaps most apparent in Merton, where Lib Dem campaigning saw them gain 11 seats, mostly in the Conservative area of Wimbledon. Mark Allison, former Leader of the Council, lost his seat to the Lib Dems.

With many councils changing hands, Leaders of Councils losing their seats or stepping down and leadership challenges potentially taking place across London, the leadership of the London Councils will look very different post-May.

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