UK elections: Labour takes London district from Conservatives

Loss of Wandsworth for first time in 44 years adds to pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan claps and smiles alongside MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan in Wandsworth
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and MP Rosena Allin-Khan were among those celebrating a big night for Labour in Wandsworth [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

Britain’s ruling Conservative Party lost control of Wandsworth, a longtime London stronghold, for the first time in 44 years, adding to the pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer said local election results were a turning point for the party.

“Fantastic result, absolutely fantastic. Believe you me, this is a big turning point for us from the depths of [the] 2019 general election,” he told party supporters in London.

Ravi Govindia, the outgoing Conservative leader in the borough, said local issues had “counted for nothing”.

“Other events have clouded the judgement of people in Wandsworth – national events,” he told the BBC, the UK’s public service broadcaster.

The ballot is an electoral test for Johnson since he became the first British leader in living memory to have broken the law while in office. He was fined last month for attending a birthday gathering in his office in 2020, breaking social distancing rules then in place to curb COVID’s spread.

The loss of key councils in London, where the Conservatives were almost wiped out, will increase pressure on Johnson, who has been fighting for his political survival for months and faces the possibility of more police fines over his attendance at other lockdown-breaking gatherings.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the Labour win was a “fantastic result” for the people of Wandsworth.

Voters in many parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland went to the polls on Thursday with Johnson’s government feeling the heat from the soaring cost of living, and facing a voter backlash over a string of scandals.

The Conservatives had controlled the council in Wandsworth since 1978.

Johnson upended conventional British politics in the 2019 general election by winning and then promising to improve living standards in former industrial areas in central and northern England.

The loss of Wandsworth, Barnet and Westminster symbolises the way that Johnson, who won two terms as mayor of London, has lost his appeal in the capital. His support for Brexit has cost him support in London, where a majority of voters supported staying in the EU.

‘Some difficult results’

Outside the capital, the Conservatives lost overall control of councils in Southampton, Worcester and West Oxfordshire.

But the party has not done as badly as some polls had predicted. One poll in the run-up to the elections said the Conservatives could lose about 800 council seats.

“We’ve had a tough night in some parts of the country,” Johnson told reporters on Friday. “But on the other hand, in other parts of the country, you’re still seeing Conservatives going forward and making quite remarkable gains.”

John Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said early trends suggested the Conservatives were on course to lose about 250 seats. He said the results suggested Labour may not emerge as the largest party at the next election.

Oliver Dowden, the chairman of the Conservatives, said the party “had some difficult results”, but Labour was not on course to win the next general election.

However, some local Conservative council leaders called on Johnson to resign after the party’s poor performance, which they blamed on him being fined and the cost-of-living crisis.

John Mallinson, Conservative leader of Carlisle city council, told the BBC that had found it “difficult to drag the debate back to local issues”.

“I just don’t feel people any longer have the confidence that the prime minister can be relied upon to tell the truth,” he said.

Simon Bosher, the most senior Conservative in Portsmouth, said the party’s leadership in Westminster needed to “take a good, long hard look in the mirror” to find out why they had lost seats.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies