853 exclusive: Shooters Hill councillor Danny Thorpe is to be the new leader of Greenwich Council after winning an internal vote of Labour members on Wednesday evening, 853 can reveal.
Rebel councillors had hoped to install housing cabinet member Averil Lekau, who had spoken out against a Thorpe-backed plan for a cruise liner terminal in east Greenwich, but one failed to arrive in time for the ballot, meaning Thorpe secured victory by a single vote.
Councillors voted by 21 to 20 for Thorpe, a councillor since 2004 and a cabinet member since 2014.
Former leader Denise Hyland did not put herself forward for re-election, and a large number of members had hoped to change the council’s direction by installing Lekau as leader.
But while the rebels bungled their leadership attempt, they did install David Gardner – an open critic of council-backed schemes such as the cruise terminal and Silvertown Tunnel – as deputy. He beat Jackie Smith by 23 votes to 19.
The new appointments will be confirmed at the council’s annual meeting on Wednesday
16 23 May.
Cruise port advocate
Thorpe has been on the council since he was 22, and before that was on the Greenwich Young People’s Council. In 2008, he courted controversy by spending a year in Australia while still keeping his council seat – flying in to attend a meeting solely to prevent a by-election, with his air fare reportedly paid for by then-deputy leader Peter Brooks, although some accounts state it was the Labour group that paid for his ticket.
Nicknamed “Selfie” by his detractors for his habit of tweeting pictures of himself, Thorpe became a cabinet member in 2014 under Hyland, later becoming deputy.
The 36-year-old has been a high-profile advocate for controversial development schemes which have split the council’s Labour group, such as the Silvertown Tunnel – a decision on which is due on Thursday morning – and the London City Cruise Port.
More recently, there was a revolt among councillors over he appeared to sign off plans to spend £600,000 renovating disused public toilets in his ward to turn them into a cafe and arts venue – against council protocol – although his supporters attributed this to a clerical error.
A number of blunders on his watch in the planning department have also riled critics – Thorpe held the demanding planning portfolio while holding down a part-time job as a primary school teacher.
The leader and deputy positions in the Labour group are decided internally rather than going to a vote of local party members.
Greenwich has traditionally been run in a paternalistic way by councillors on the old right of the party; the revolt among councillors centred more on the way the council approaches regeneration and relates to its residents rather than a traditional left-right spat.
Critics will fear that Thorpe’s election indicates there may be little prospect of major change at Greenwich Council any time soon.
But highly unusually for Greenwich Labour councillors, he does have experience outside the borough, having spent a spell working as an officer at Hackney Council, suggesting that some of Greenwich’s notorious insularity could end.
In addition, many on the council will hope that closeness of the leadership vote and Labour’s failure to build on its 42 council seats in last week’s elections may prompt some fresh thinking at Woolwich Town Hall.
Story updated on Thursday morning to provide links and a little more context.
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