The winners: Labour celebrate as they finish up with 40 councillors
Published: 24 May, 2014
By RICHARD OSLEY
CAMDEN’S Labour Party are celebrating a landslide victory in the local elections, holding power at the Town Hall with a record number of councillors.
It marched on territories that have in recent years been out of bounds, unseating Liberal Democrat leader Keith Moffitt in West Hampstead and decimating his party to just one councillor.
Eight years after commanding the most seats in Camden and leading a power sharing pact with the Tories, the Lib Dems are left with only Councillor Flick Rea on the green benches. Last night, they saw 12 seats eliminated, ten at the hands of the Labour tornado sweeping through north London.
It means a return to duty for for former councillor Richard Olszewski in Fortune Green, alongside new face Lorna Russell, who was said to be close to fainting when it dawned on her that she had actually won.
In West Hampstead, meanwhile, the shell-shocked Lib Dems, including a one-time council education chief John Bryant, were chased out by a slate of new Labour faces: Philip Rosenberg, Angela Pober and James Yarde, who at 22 is the youngest Labour councillor ever elected in the borough. Cllr Pober pointed to the plasters covering the blisters on her feet and said legwork had earned this victory.
The party also saw its first black woman elected in Sabrina Francis in Bloomsbury, where a promised charge from the Conservatives never really materialised. It unseated a niggly old rival in Cantelowes where Paul Braithwaite found himself outflanked by Danny Beales, who polled more than 2,000 votes. There was a gain in Camden Town, where the Lib Dems were bereft on energy after Councillor Chris Naylor’s decision to step down, while more importantly, there was a three-seat improvement for Labour in Haverstock, where Jill Fraser and Matt Sanders’ local profile proved an inadequate shield.
Not since the council membership was reduced to 54 seats has Labour hit 40 councillors. Amid their celebrations, however, there was one obvious disappointment for them when the Greens stood defiant in Highgate. Rather than than block a path for Labour’s new candidate Oliver Lewis, Sian Berry took out cabinet councillor Valerie Leach, after several recounts, instead.
There was a delay too in Kentish Town where four ballot papers were mislaid but the Labour majority was so large that nobody was in the mood for searching for them.
And then it was time for the Tories to muscle their way back into their old seats as the official opposition. Leila Roy edged out Lib Dem Tom Simon, as the Conservatives finally secured a clean sweep in Belsize, a feat they’ve been desperate to achieve since surrendering control in 2006 there. In Hampstead Town, newbies Tom Currie and Stephen Stark brought the curtain down on Linda Chung’s roll for the Lib Dems there.
It all meant the entire south of the borough - Frank Dobson’s constituency - was red. Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz, meanwhile, was left answering questions as to how his attempts to win Hampsted and Kilburn at the General Election next year could retain much hope when 13 councillors had become 1.
That one, Cllr Rea, said: “It will be a shame not to have Keith there with me. It looks like it won’t be as much fun. I’ve been a councillor for 28 years and I’ve been here before. We built the party from two councillors. You just have to take it as it comes.”
Victorious Labour leader Councillor Sarah Hayward said: “It is an amazing result. I’m personally gutted to lose Valerie, but overall it is amazing. I think we’ve done a really good job over the last four years in incredibly difficult circumstances. We went into it with a positive agenda, while the Liberal Democrats have shown themselves for what they are. They built a coalition on saying what they were anti but in government they had to say what they were for and the people didn’t like what they heard. It’s all a combination of national issues and local campaigning.”
Chief whip Councillor Gio Spinella admitted the Conservatives had hoped for more than just two gains and that they would examine how Labour had conquered Camden and other areas of London.
But he added: “The political geography of London has shifted, we have to take stock of the changes and adapt our strategy. The result in the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, in Camden and Brondesbury, showed us as the largest party in the constituency. It means we are in a good position for the parliamentary seat.”
Cllr Berry, whose win is a hold for the Greens, as she steps up where exiting councillor Maya De Souza steps down, said: “It’s important that Camden has other voices apart from Labour at the council and we worked hard in Highgate to keep our seat there. Maya has shown over the last four years what can be achieved even with one councillor, while the results today have shown Greens are becoming the main opposition to Labour in some parts of London. If you look at Islington, it’s all Labour after today’s election - and one Green.”