Camden Council elections: ‘Everything must change for everything to remain the same'

OPINION: Council leader Georgia Gould will run into stormy weather with her group at some stage, says outgoing councillor Douglas Beattie

Friday, 20th May — By Douglas Beattie

Douglas Beattie

Douglas Beattie

Journalist and former Labour councillor Douglas Beattie looks at the Camden Council election results and what he thinks they mean for politics in the borough over the next four years

THAT old line “everything must change for everything to remain the same” leapt to mind on seeing Labour’s predictable election landslide across Camden with a slate of largely unknown candidates.

After what were said to be the high watermarks of the previous two rounds of council elections Labour now has a squad of councillors totalling 47, with one representing what had long been considered true blue Tory Hampstead Town.

A senior figure in the Labour group made it clear to me that this storming of the Hampstead high castle by the forces of social democracy had truly been a surprise. Less so the fall of former Tory leader, Oliver Cooper, who vacated Hampstead only to see his hopes dashed in Belsize.

There’s likely to be crowing from Labour at the next full Council meeting about the “local Conservatives” losing their high-profile leader, but this will serve only to demonstrate how effective Cooper had been in post.

This result, in part, has led to the Liberal Democrats becoming the official opposition at the town hall, with a mighty four councillors, but a real chance to rebuild. Their leader, Tom Simon, finds himself playing the role of the quiet man seeking to turn up the volume.

New Conservative leader, Gio Spinella, has only two colleagues to call on but his One Nation pro-EU views and more in keeping with Camden than those of his predecessor. Both will need help from their small band of colleagues. They may even seek to work together informally at times when taking on a Labour group which, for the moment, is more united than at any time in the recent past.

This is something which will delight Labour leader, Georgia Gould, whose political pitch is constant sunshine. However long she sticks around, having already been leader for five years, experience suggests there will eventually be stormy weather of some sort ahead in keeping so large a group totally onside.

Her immediate task was to refresh a Cabinet which has remained largely static for years. However, the addition of two administration loyalists – Marcus Boyland and Sabrina Francis – is hardly major surgery. It will be interesting to see the extent to which Chairs of Scrutiny will be voices truly willing to offer constructive criticism in public, perhaps especially Samata Khatoon, the new chair of Housing.

Unlike MPs there is little room for councillors to speak out and not find themselves in hot water. Recent history tells us as much. Lorna Russell, who came up short for the Greens after a positive campaign in Highgate, will be a real loss to the council. In eight years with Labour she rightly garnered the reputation for standing squarely by her principles.

This leaves the Greens with a single representa­tive, though Sian Berry is a formidable presence. From a position of great strength Labour would do well to take note because politics does not stand still.

Already the charge is Gould and Co are not a listening administration, but they will need to pay attention if they hope to retain their sizable majority at the polls in four years’ time.

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