John Gulliver: ‘We did more than blow the doors off…'

'I went into the count thinking I would be going to spend the next few years writing books and doing more travelling around Britain'

Monday, 16th May

Paul Dimoldenberg

Paul Dimoldenberg saw Labour win in Westminster

THERE surely won’t have been a greater council election fairy tale than that of Paul Dimoldenberg who, in the early hours of Friday morning, was elected to the Hyde Park ward held for so many years by his former 1980s bête noire, Dame Shirley Porter.

The former Westminster Labour leader, one of the country’s longest serving opposition councillors having first been elected to the council in 1982, said this week he had initially stood in a “decoy operation” and was expecting to lose and travel the country in retirement.

His has been for many years a thankless task with the Labour group routinely scorned as an insignificant rabble in council meetings by a braying bunch of Tories who never thought they could actually lose control of the council.

Perhaps herein lies a little lesson for Camden counterparts not to get complacent.

There had been 58 unbroken years of Tory rule up until Friday’s result that produced a glorious piece of synchronicity for the veteran Dimoldenberg, who wrote The Westminster Whistleblowers book about Dame Shirley – still alive, now 90 years old – and the infamous Homes for Votes scandal.

“Yes, there is satisfaction, actually yes, a lot of satisfaction for me in now being a Labour councillor for a ward represented by Shirley Porter for so many years.

“To turn Hyde Park red, it’s just, well… I was thinking of that famous Michael Caine line: ‘You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off’.

“We blew more than the doors off. We bloody turned Westminster red.”

Last year Dimoldenberg announced he would not contest his Queen’s Park safe seat, later agreeing to stand in the Tory stronghold Hyde Park simply to divert Conservative resources away from other marginal wards.

He said: “We certainly never thought we’d actually win Hyde Park, or the council. But we had a real bonus – the unpopularity of Boris Johnson. So many former Conservative voters were saying they were going to vote Labour, or for the minority parties, or stay at home. That explains the lower turnout.

“The Partygate controversy really affected Conservative voters too. Boris Johnson with his 12-15 parties at Downing Street and Whitehall, wine being brought in in suitcases.

“This did not go down well with decent law-abiding and long-standing residents.”

Dimoldenberg described the “daunting responsibility” of taking over the running of the council for the first time.

“I expected to increase our vote and get closer to the Conservatives. I went into the count thinking we would have done well, but that I would be going to spend the next few years writing books and doing more travelling around Britain.

“We didn’t realise the simple act of contacting residents would provoke such a positive response. This was the first time there that people had been asked what they wanted and what they needed to be done. We were hearing this back from all over.

“We’ve had plans to win, but we’ve always fallen short. What happened on Thursday was that all stars were aligned and in the right direction.

“I think the Tories had taken Hyde Park and the whole of Westminster for granted. It’s going to hit them hard now. They will need to take some time to recover their poise and purpose.

“But things will never be the same in Westminster again.”

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