Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on a ‘dangerous political moment’ for the Conservative Prime Minister
When Boris Johnson got up this morning, he was living in a Labour-controlled local council.
Labour won Westminster City Council yesterday, the first time since 1964 that the Conservatives had lost control of the London borough which is the home to the national government, Buckingham Palace… and Downing Street.
On a night of Conservative carnage in local elections in London, the “local” Tories also lost Wandsworth, the “beacon” of Thatcherism since 1978.
North London borough Barnet was lost to Labour, too.
In Sutton, the Liberal Democrats clung on to control, just, winning 29 of the 55 available seats, as Labour won its first council seats in the borough for 20 years.
The Conservatives in Sutton, who 12 months ago had high hopes of wresting control from the Liberal Democrats for the first time since 1986, belly-flopped, winning 20, only two more than they held from 2018.
The reason for the shattering of Tory strongholds in London was, according to Ravi Govindia, the now-former leader of Wandsworth council: Boris Johnson.
Councillor Govindia admitted that the Prime Minister’s leadership was an issue during the campaign.
“Inevitably other events have clouded the judgement of people in Wandsworth,” he said.
Not sounding in the slightest bit bitter – what happened to the sage advice never to blame the voters? – Govindia said, “We have done exactly what the residents of Wandsworth wanted. To find that counts for nothing is a sad reflection of the importance of local government not being recognised.”
In Wandsworth, Labour gained nine council seats, to now stand at 35, while the Tories lost 11, to 22, with a single independent councillor re-elected.
London Mayor and Tooting lad Sadiq Khan hailed the Wandsworth win as a “historic, joyous night for Labour”.
However, while Sir Keir Starmer’s party gained ground in the capital, there was a mixed picture elsewhere with the loss of Hull to the Liberal Democrats but success in the new Cumberland authority.
In Merton, while it appears that Labour will retain control of the council, it is not without its casualties, as council leader Mark Allison failed to get re-elected. The count there, despite being almost complete, has been abandoned until later today with a further recount required in Lower Morden ward.
In Richmond, the Tories have been all but wiped out, losing 10 of the 11 seats they held on the LibDem-controlled council.
The Liberal Democrats won 48 of the 54 Richmond council seats, while the Greens won five.
Much of the feedback from the counts held around the capital overnight suggested that Conservative voters had sought to punish Johnson and his government of liars, cheats and crooks by sitting on their hands and simply not voting, rather than necessarily voting for alternative parties.
“I think this is a warning shot from Conservative supporters and I think our loss today is…[due to] a fair number of Conservative voters who just didn’t go out to vote, stayed at home,” said Daniel Thomas, the Conservative leader of Barnet council, which has turned red for only the third time in 58 years.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, veteran pollster Sir John Curtice summarised the local election results in so far by saying, “The truth is the Conservatives have suffered more or less the kind of support that we might have anticipated given the evidence of the opinion polls.
“They are down by about 4 points in the sample of wards where we have been collecting the detailed voting figures overnight, and down by as much as 6 points as compared with last year.
“So don’t let anybody run away with the idea that the Conservatives haven’t suffered a loss. They have done.”
But taking a view across the rest of the country, Sir John suggests that, given the turmoil that Johnson’s Tories have created, Labour’s results under Keith Starmer have been underwhelming.
“The Labour Party has been wanting to argue throughout the night that these local election results clearly demonstrate evidence of progress,” Sir John said.
“Now, in London that is true. It looks as though Labour’s vote is up by about a point as compared with 2018 and they did pretty well in London in 2018 and London will now be even more clearly very much a one-party Labour fiefdom.
“But outside of London as compared with 2018 when the seats were last contested, it looks as though Labour’s vote is actually down slightly.”
And the nation’s favourite election expert added: “Labour hasn’t done quite as well as Jeremy Corbyn did.”
At BBC London, their veteran political editor, Tim Donovan, said, “While there may be some reasons for Boris Johnson to be cheerful in parts of the north and the Midlands, it will be eclipsed by the loss of these totemic councils.
“It is a dangerous political moment for him.”
Speaking of the fall of Westminster to Labour, Donovan said that the Tories had been hit by “a toxic mix of economic woes and distaste for the covid lockdown antics at the heart of its own SW1 postcode – layered over existing unhappiness about Brexit”.
With results still to come in, in looks like Labour now controls 24 of London’s borough councils, a record high, with the Tories down to four.
Croydon’s election count has yet to begin: it is due to get underway at 5.30pm today, with the votes in the first-ever elected Mayor contest to be tallied first.
Die-hard Croydon Tories are expressing themselves as “cautiously pessimistic”, after seeing the incoming ballot boxes.
They suggest “interesting” results coming in Fairfield (where the GReens are seeking their first-ever Croydon council seat) and even a possible Tory loss in Old Coulsdon to the LibDems, who have not had any councillors in the borough for 20 years.
While predicting possible Conservative council seat wins in New Addington South and Addiscombe East wards, one Tory insider has told friends this morning, “I reckon we will not win either the council or the Mayor.”
- For the official list of council election candidates, by ward, click here
- For our report on the eight candidates for Croydon Mayor, click here
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