Labour tightened its grip on Greenwich politics today with a record win in the council elections, leaving the Conservatives with just three seats out of 55.
Tory leader Nigel Fletcher was among the casualties as Labour won two seats in Eltham Town & Avery Hill, previously thought to have been the party’s strongest seat.
But Labour ran its luck in East Greenwich, where the Silvertown Tunnel has angered locals – the Greens narrowly missed getting their first councillor there, with Stacy Smith finishing just 68 votes behind her Labour opponent Majid Rahman.
A Friday of high emotion saw a new wave of young and diverse candidates sweep to power in a wave of crushing victories around the borough. One of the winning candidates, Sammy Backon, could not get time off from his job as a nurse to savour his win in Eltham Town.
The result beats Greenwich Labour’s previous record win from 1971, when the party won 55 out of 60 seats.
Seats created to serve the new development across the borough such as Greenwich Peninsula recorded comfortable wins for Labour.
The council’s Labour leader Danny Thorpe said that voters had backed “a council that has stood by their side for the past two years during the most horrific time, and sent a message to this appalling Conservative government when they’ve been abandoned and left alone”.
The party came close to a 53rd win when Don Austen, a former councillor standing again in Mottingham, Coldharbour & New Eltham, came just nine votes behind Conservative John Hills, a result which followed a recount. Party sources said that before the recount, the majority was eight.
The borough’s opposition is now down to former Conservative leader Matt Hartley and Hills in Mottingham, Coldharbour & New Eltham; while Pat Greenwell clung on in Eltham Town, clearly upset after her colleagues Fletcher and Malcolm Reid lost.
“I am absolutely devastated – they have worked incredibly hard,” she said. Thanking her constituents, she said: “They realise that local issues is what being a local councillor is all about. I will try to serve them to the best of my abilities in the absence of my colleagues, who deserved a better result than this.”
The success for Backon – who is the husband of Thamesmead West victor Chris Lloyd – and Lauren Dingsdale was met with huge cheers from the Labour contingent before it was officially announced, with one candidate yelling it across the hall. Dingsdale, who had her baby son with her, said she was “overjoyed” to win.
Other ousted councillors include Spencer Drury, a former leader of the Greenwich Conservatives, and Charlie Davis, a former London Assembly candidate. Davis fell 183 votes short of Labour’s Simon Peirce – on the council at his third attempt – in Eltham Park & Progress, which was closer than many had thought.
But their exit, announced last, had been widely expected, even among the Conservatives with boundary changes making this less friendly territory.
Despite the high emotion, the count was a good-natured affair; one unwanted guest at the count, a candidate for the far-right Britain First party, disappeared before his loss in Eltham Page was announced.
Labour sighs of relief at the East Greenwich result nearly blew down the walls of the Waterfront Leisure Centre, but one of the winning candidates, Maisie Richards Cottell, paid a generous tribute to her Green opponents, Smith, Matt Browne and Karin Tearle.
“You threw the kitchen sink at it, and so did we,” Richards Cottell said. “We’ve had a baptism of fire and we’ve all been better candidates for it.”
And the tears really flowed when Labour took all three spots in Blackheath Westcombe – ending Geoff Brighty’s lengthy career as a Tory councillor, which began in 1982.
Winning candidate Leo Fletcher even scooped colleague Christine St Matthew Daniel off her feet as Labour completed their dominance of the north of the borough.
Labour had expected to find the task harder because the ward now includes all of the private Cator Estate, but canvassers said they were surprised to find it was actually one of their strongest areas.
Further down the poll, Blackheath Westcombe had a Communist Party of Britain candidate, Stewart McGill, but he was beaten by the Official Monster Raving Loony candidate Trevor Allman by 125 votes to 79.
There was some blowback from the low traffic neighbourhood fiasco in West Greenwich when local resident Hayley Jeffrey, who supported the measures scrapped by Labour, scored exactly 1,000 votes for the Greens – but Labour’s Pat Slattery and Aidan Smith, sporting a broken nose after an accident with his bike, still won comfortably.
While Labour remains in charge, its new group of councillors is now unrecognisable from the largely pale and stale cohort who dominated the borough a decade ago – the party’s campaign being driven by a 19-year-old agent, Joshua Grills, already being tipped as MP material.
One observed that council leader Danny Thorpe, who turned 40 during the campaign, would now be one of the party’s older councillors – something unthinkable not so long ago.
The party’s success in the south of the borough, his home patch, could well shore up his position as the new councillors prepare to elect their leader next week. But the close shave in East Greenwich could still drive calls for change.
As for the Tories, they face an uncertain future after being all but wiped out in their power base of Eltham, and the very real prospect that things could get even worse for them at the next poll – like many of their party colleagues in London who are also facing a long and grisly hangover from the lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.
Updated at 1am to include the previous record win and the Communist/Loony result in Blackheath Westcombe.
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