Steve O’Connell, a former mortgage salesman (he quit that job when he found the tax-payer paid more generously), has got his pension pot sorted, with £220,000 guaranteed income for the next four years, as the results from the London Assembly elections trickled in from Olympia.The subterraneanly low-profile Conservative, who has been an Assembly Member for eight years (not that anyone has noticed), looked to have things tied up in Croydon and Sutton by 4pm, when the count – helpfully shown in graphic form by election agency London Elects – was nine-tenths complete.
At least that was the case until about 50 minutes later, when someone discovered an as-yet uncounted box of votes. One box-load, though, was not be enough to swing things away from the Conservatives.
For the second time in four years, O’Connell’s cosy sinecure was saved for him by the voters of Sutton, as the Labour candidate, Marina Ahmad, won the majority of support in Croydon.
“Silent Steve” O’Connell’s majority was only marginally larger than last time. Indeed, with an improved turnout compared to the elections in 2012, both Tories and Labour saw their share of the votes reduced, with UKIP’s Peter Staveley’s vote share up 3 per cent, after another sorry showing for the third-placed LibDems.
For Ahmad, defeat may be doubly galling because, over in Wandsworth and Merton, Leonie Cooper showed that it is possible for Labour to end long-term Tory incumbency.
That seat, like Croydon and Sutton, has been a Conservative hold since City Hall opened for business in 2000, and so for the last eight years has helped to proling the humdrum political career of former MP Dick Tracey – one of the most useless sports ministers ever known (and there’s plenty of competition for that accolade).
And like Ahmad in Croydon and Sutton, Cooper needed to overcome a 10,000-vote majority from 2012. Cooper did so, and then some, winning by a 4,000-vote margin with a 11 per cent swing. It all left Ahmad to ponder what might have been.
Merton and Wandsworth and the other constituency results in favour of Labour point strongly towards Sadiq Khan being the next Mayor of London later tonight. Early indications had Khan on 44 per cent of the vote after first preference, while Tory Zac Goldsmith had just 35 per cent.
O’Connell’s eight years at City Hall have seen him enjoy the patronage of a Tory Mayor, including a little extra earner on the Metropolitan Police authority – not that do-nothing O’Connell bothered to save any of Croydon’s police stations or managed to increase the number of police on our streets. His next four years under a Labour Mayor will doubtless see him with less to do, and doing even less, if that is possible.
But the money will be good.
The as-yet unresolved imponderable is the outcome of the party list voting, with some suggestions that Labour has not done so well there as to maintain the four London-wide members they have had since 2012, and so cancelling out the Merton and Wandsworth gain.
With Croydon resident Fiona Twycross being No1 on the Labour’s list, she should have another four-year term at City Hall. She sounds eager to work with a new Mayor: “It would be a fantastic day for London if Sadiq wins.
“I think that following what’s been a divisive campaign by the Tories, it would be a decisive rejection by the people of the tactics that have tried to split communities.”
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