As Labour win with ease in Camden, are we heading for a one party state?
Boroughwide council elections take place next year
17 May, 2021 — By Richard Osley
Anne Clarke won in Barnet and Camden
VOTERS will be urged to consider the “one party state” in neighbouring Islington in the run up to next year’s council elections, as Labour registered another heavy polls victory at City Hall.
Number crunchers are waiting to see what a ward-by-ward breakdown will show, one of the last indicators of support before boroughwide elections for council seats this time next year.
But with Anne Clarke proving to be a comfortable winner for Labour in the Barnet and Camden constituency and Sadiq Khan returned – albeit ruffled – for a second term as the capital’s Mayor, opposition parties will have their work cut out to disrupt the balance at the Town Hall.
Three years ago, there were warnings that nearly every seat in the council chamber could turn red.
This did not quite happen but Labour only faces eleven opposing councillors in Camden meaning the party’s main obstacles can often come from mini-rebellions within its own ranks.
The case of Islington was mentioned again this week where a near wipeout left its chamber coated red with only one Green opposition councillor.
Lib Dem Luisa Porritt said her party will do better at next year’s elections
Labour romped home in five council by-elections on Thursday to cement further the dominance on that side of the border.
In Camden, Labour has chased Green councillor Sian Berry and veteran Lib Dem Flick Rea at election time in a bid to gobble up some of the remaining seats, This strategy was criticised as a threat to democracy last time but Labour’s response has always been that the point of elections is to try and win them.
And they looked in a prime position to stay control after Ms Clarke’s win with a lead of more than 13,000 votes over her Conservative challenger.
Historically, Barnet has had more Conservative support than Camden, so it could be logical to assume that Ms Clarke benefited from an extra shot of Labour votes from the Camden side of the borough boundary – although party organisers say it would be foolish to underplay its support in Barnet.
The situation is a far cry from the Labour defeat in the Hartlepool parliamentary by-election, which led to an inquest into the party’s performance even before more encouraging results for leader Sir Keir Starmer rolled in from the regional mayoral elections.
Sadiq Khan insisted he had an “overwhelming mandate” in London, even if it had been predicted that he would win the contest on a single round of preferences.
In the end, around 17 per cent of the eligible electorate had put him down as a first choice – a proportion not helped by the overall low turnout. Some blamed that on Covid fear, others on apathy; the appearance of novelty candidate Count Binface received a lot of airtime as hustings and debates were shelved.
Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper, the leader of the opposition in Camden, also did not view it as a resounding victory across the city.
“A lot of political pundits ended up with egg on their face,” he said. “Instead of a victory lap, Sadiq Khan had a nervous 24 hours, and suffered a substantial swing to Shaun Bailey, who fought a far more focused campaign on crime.”
Conservative leader Councillor Oliver Cooper
He added “Like the crumbling red wall in the north, there is a crumbling red wall in London too – albeit more slowly. All three north west London Assembly constituencies voted for Sadiq Khan in 2016 but two of those three voted for Conservative this time. That’s primarily because large numbers of black British and British Asian voters backed the Conservatives for the first time.”
The one north-west London constituency that did not back Mr Bailey was Barnet and Camden, but Cllr Cooper added: “The Greens have had some success in breaking through but the other parties have gone backwards with even the Lib Dems winning just 4 per cent and losing their deposit.”
It is swings and roundabouts for the Lib Dems, because not that long ago they won across the board in Camden at the European elections.
This did not translate into general election success, however, and now the party will be waiting for the ward-by-ward scores to see what the battleground looks like, particularly in Belsize ward where it has two councillors to defend but shares the territory with a Tory.
Lib Dem group leader Luisa Porritt – who was also the citywide mayoral candidate – had always warned the system was set up for a two-horse race. She said nevertheless the group remained “optimistic”, adding: “We did well in areas where we are challenging the Conservatives, including the south-west constituency, Wimbledon, Westminster and parts of the Barnet and Camden constituency.
“I have no doubt we can do even better in council elections next year, where residents will be voting on our strong record in local government and when we hope the pandemic will no longer restrict us from our strength of community campaigning.”
Green councillor Sian Berry has been re-elected to the London Assembly
Cllr Sian Berry, who was also the Greens’ mayoral candidate, once again warned of the case of Islington, however, and reminded people that they would have three votes in each ward next year, which could be split among candidates from different parties.
At the last council elections, the Greens only spent money in the Highgate ward and felt penned in by Labour’s attempt to unseat Cllr Berry – but she said more people were signing up and could help the campaign target more areas of Camden.
She said: “We need a diverse, plural council which is healthy in its own right – no matter who is holding power. Having a diversity of voices is important. The fact some people will have voted for me as a first preference and then Sadiq as second bodes well for how people can use their three votes in the council elections – and for breaking into some of these one-party states like Islington.”
Labour council leader Councillor Georgia Gould said that she was pleased with the party’s results locally, but the prospect of a complete Islington-style wipeout was unlikely.
“It’s not going to happen – we’ve always had a diverse political scene, so I’m not imagining we are going to win every seat in Camden,” she said.
“It is a fundamentally a fight between Labour and the Conservatives to lead the council in Camden. We’ll have a thriving opposition I’m sure but I want us to come back as a strong Labour council and to stand up with a mandate that says: We do not accept austerity and cuts.”
Cllr Gould added: “We are in a situation where so many of the values that we hold dear in Camden – investment in public services, investing in council housing, addressing inequality, taking action against the climate crisis – they are not the values of this government – so we need a really strong Labour council.”