Here’s your… new …Labour council as winners can hardly all fit on the stage

Council leader Georgia Gould admits unhappiness with national government played a part in gigantic win

Thursday, 12th May — By Richard Osley

_58A9811 Camden Labour winners 2022

Labour’s winning council election team

LABOUR  crushed its opponents at the Camden Council elections on Thursday, winning 47 of the 55 seats available.

The party secured representation in every ward of the borough bar two. The sense of déjà vu from recent elections was perhaps only tempered by the arrival of 25 new councillors.

The pre-election exodus – some voluntary exits, others not – has made way for this wave of fresh faces, with Camden Council leader Georgia Gould declaring it the “most diverse” Labour team to ever win election.

Organisers feel they have gone some way to responding to the glaring criticisms that arose during the global racial injustice protests two years ago – when it was noted that the party, despite its near evergreen dominance at the Town Hall, had only ever seen three black councillors elected.

Council leader Georgia Gould, right, is re-elected in Kentish Town with Jenny Headlam-Wells and Meric Apak

Asked whether the new cast also had a diverse range of political views following the selection controversies during which “the left” felt it had been purged, Cllr Gould said: “The councillors that have been elected have a diverse range of passions, skills and interests and I don’t think they will be holding back in the big debates that we will need to have about how best to serve our borough.”

In a group meeting later this week, she will tell the new recruits not to be shy and to challenge the council when they feel it has not got its policy right. The backbenchers who have departed against their will may snort at such comments but the ruling group now has the strength of its electoral success.

Knowing they stood no chance of winning control overall, the opposing parties almost tackled the boroughwide ballot as five by-elections, leaving a dozen or so constituencies as safe Labour zones.

In the areas where there was a prospect of more of a contest, Labour passed the exam: winning the three seats in each of new South Hampstead and Primrose Hill wards, and containing the Lib Dem and Green threat in Fortune Green and Highgate respectively.

The only districts where Labour did not win at least one seat were the Conservatives’ final fortress, Frognal, and Belsize, where the party looked on as the Lib Dems took out the Tory leader.

The best illustration of how easy the victory ultimately was came in Hampstead Town, where Adrian Cohen – essen­tially a “paper candidate – gained a seat from the Tories.

While Sir Keir Starmer was still being asked questions about the party’s performance outside of London, where people apparently angry with the government also turned to the Greens and the Lib Dems, voters in London chose Labour. Taking Barnet has been a long-term project for the capital, Wandsworth a hope and Westminster a luxury bet – and yet all three fell into the party’s hands, ending Tory rule.

Cllr Gould could not help but acknowledge that the local party had been aided by people who wanted to send a message to the prime minister, Boris
Johnson – an analysis shared by the local Tories and other parties.

“The national picture has obviously played a part and there is anger at the lack of action on the cost of living crisis, and a prime minister who broke the lockdown rules he set for everybody else,” she said.

But asked if after weeks of demanding door-to-door campaigning, it felt disappointing to have the victory simply signed off as an attack on Mr Johnson, Cllr Gould said: “It is a vote of confidence for the support we provided during the pandemic and the agenda we have set out in a detailed manifesto.

“And for those who wanted to send this government a message, I’m glad they felt able to vote for Labour.”

Whether Mr Johnson was stung by the results is a moot point – he admitted this week it had been a tough night with the loss of more than 500 seats on local councils, but suggested across the country the results had not been as damning and that some areas were backing his party.

The national news agenda sped quickly along to the row over whether either Mr Johnson or Mr Starmer should resign over the former’s fine for a lockdown gathering, and the latter’s alleged ‘Beergate’ breach currently being investigated by Durham Police.

Mr Starmer says he will step down if he received the sort of fine levied on Mr Johnson.

Back in Camden, Cllr Gould said the council would get straight to work to try and help residents struggling to stay warm or even afford food with the distribution of a £2million support fund.

She said: “The local Conservatives said barely anything about how they would help people who are already feeling the pain. We are a borough where we already had 43 per cent of children growing up in poverty. People are really struggling, people are scared.”

Two votes for Labour in Kentish Town: Vicky and Keir Starmer head into cast their ballots

Cllr Gould said the party had also won local support for being serious about climate change.

But the scale of Labour’s victory has led to familiar concerns raised about how the council will be scrutinised with so few opposition councillors.

“Ultimately the composition of the council has been decided by the electorate,” Cllr Gould said.

“Of course we welcome scrutiny, and we will look to increasingly bring community voices into the Town Hall. We’ve seen that process with the Citizen’s Assembly on climate change and will now have a panel which checks that we are making good on the promises from that work.”

In electoral terms, Cllr Gould is now the most successful leader of Camden Council in recent memory, and unlike her predecessors has not faced challenges from within her group.

She will soon promote at least two new faces to her cabinet but insisted her backbenchers would be encouraged to play active roles throughout.

“I think we will see that a team of good community champions who know the wards they have been elected in,” she said. “They will bring new ideas, energy and creativity to the council.”

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