6.30am update: Both Clive Efford and Matt Pennycook have been re-elected as MPs for Eltham and Greenwich & Woolwich – but neither would be drawn on the future of their party as Labour slumped to a humiliating defeat in the general election.
The borough also has a new MP in Abena Oppong-Asare, who succeeds Teresa Pearce as the Labour representative for Erith & Thamesmead.
But Labour’s success in Greenwich and elsewhere in London was set against a background of shattering losses outside the UK’s major cities as the Conservatives headed for an overall majority in the House of Commons, one that guarantees Britain’s exit from the European Union and leaves Boris Johnson as the most powerful prime minister since Tony Blair.
There had been whispers during the early part of the count at the Waterfront Leisure Centre in Woolwich that Efford, the Eltham MP since 1992, was in trouble after a strong Conservative campaign from Louie French, the deputy leader of Bexley Council.
But as Jeremy Corbyn was about to announce his departure from the Labour leadership in Islington, Efford’s victory was confirmed. He took 20,550 votes, down nearly 4,500 on 2017’s poll. But while Efford’s majority was halved, French also saw the Tory vote fall, from 18,832 in 2017 to 17,353. Liberal Democrat Charley Hasted won 2,941 votes while the Brexit Party’s Steve Kelleher lost his deposit with 1,523 votes. Matt Stratford took 1,322 votes for the Greens.
While Efford was delighted to win, he said his party would “have some time to reflect” on the future. “We have to be honest with ourselves as to how we do that and how we win back the trust of people who have clearly sent a message to us,” he said.
French congratulated Efford but said. “We’ve had a lot of lifelong Labour supporters coming over. Tonight we’ve done quite well but not well enough. Nationally it’s very clear that there’s been a complete and utter rejection of Corbynism and I think that’s a good thing for our party – and a good thing for the Labour Party, quite frankly.”
Oppong-Asare had a similar result in Erith & Thamesmead, being returned with 19,882 votes – over 5,000 down on Pearce’s 2017 total and seeing the Labour majority slashed from over 10,000 to 3,758. Conservative Joe Robertson bagged 16,124 votes – just over 600 up on the last election. The Brexit Party’s Tom Bright came third with 2,246. Liberal Democrat Sam Webber managed 1,984 – well up on 2017’s total but not enough to keep his deposit. Claudine Letsae won 876 votes for the Greens.
In Greenwich & Woolwich, Matt Pennycook won with a thumping 18,464 majority – down just over 2,000 on 2017. He won 30,185 votes – 56% of the vote – and finished comfortably ahead of Conservative Thomas Turrell, who took 11,721 votes, also down on 2017’s total. Rhian O’Connor won 7,253 votes for the Liberal Democrats, while the Greens’ Victoria Rance fell short of keeping her deposit with 2,363. The Brexit Party’s Kailash Trivedi, who was not present at the count, got 1,228 votes.
Thanking the voters of Greenwich & Woolwich, Pennycook said: “Because I know what the impact will be on them, particularly the most vulnerable among them, and millions like them throughout the country, that I’m devastated, frankly, by the results we’re seeing across the country tonight, and in particular the knowledge that a hard Brexit for England, Scotland and Wales is now inevitable.
“It’s not the moment to talk about the results across the country and what they mean for my party. All I would say is that all of us who represent the Labour Party at different levels of government and give so much to it need to take a very long and very hard look at why, after nearly a decade of Conservative-led government, things went so badly wrong for us. We have to start that thinking, it has to be in a spirit of humility, it has to be done and it has to start tomorrow.”
In his concession speech, Turrell praised his fellow candidates for their campaigns added: “I think we’ve all seen how divisive national politics has become and I think we all need to play our role in making it cleaner and I think we’ve all led by example in this campaign.”
There was one gain for the Greenwich Conservatives, though. Anthony Higginbotham, who stood for the Tories in Peninsula ward in 2018’s election, was elected MP for Burnley – leaving the Greenwich party looking for a new deputy chair.
Scores of council staff – in T-shirts bearing the slogan “Royal Borough of Greenwich – Everyone Counts” – conducted the count for Greenwich & Woolwich and Eltham – the Erith & Thamesmead count taking place at Bexley Council. They were watched by party activists, some looking at the ward counts and already thinking ahead to next year’s mayoral poll.
The Conservatives were not unhappy with their results, with one able to joke to Turrell before his result: “If you win this, I’ll buy you a car.”
Labour activists were despondent, with an already-subdued mood sinking further when the key Tory win of Workington was announced on TV. Later in the count, one Labour stalwart left leisure centre’s cafe muttering “please turn Jon Lansmann off” as the Momentum chairman pontificated on BBC1. Others were furious at their party’s performance, pinning the blame on Jeremy Corbyn.
But as well as their future of their party – and their own careers within it – Labour activists were gloomy about the future of their council and local government in general after nine years of austerity, and the possibility of five more years of it to come.
The only bright spot for many was the relative speed of the count – with both seats counted and declared by 4.15am, meaning party activists could escape into the cold, wet, dark night after a gruelling final day of the campaign. Those without blue or turquoise rosettes will be waking up later this morning to an uncertain and troubling future.
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