The ‘West End Extra’ reports;
“THE Conservatives secured control of City Hall for another four years on Friday but are facing difficult questions after the most successful Labour election for more than two decades.
The loss of one seat in Maida Vale and three in Churchill was described as a “shock” by one Tory who said they had been left struggling to explain Labour’s success.
Despite winning nearly two-thirds of seats, the 44 newly-elected Tory councillors quickly left the ballot count on Friday evening, leaving Labour’s 16 candidates to celebrate their strongest position since 1990.
They increased their overall share of the votes by 7.4 per cent, up to 32.8 per cent, while the Conservatives were down 2.5 per cent at 40.7 per cent.
Tory leader Philippa Roe downplayed the scale of the loss. She said: “It’s very disappointing, naturally. But we faired considerably better in Westminster than many other boroughs in the rest of the country. We are actually glad to have done as well as we did, given the current mood.”
But Labour leader Paul Dimoldenberg said: “Obviously the Tories will be reeling. It’s the biggest Labour group since 1990. They are used to having everything their own way but we are on their trail and we are going to take huge confidence from these results.”
One Conservative member, who asked not to be named, told the West End Extra: “I thought it would be a small majority, I didn’t think we would lose, but I think the Labour party got their vote out very effectively in Churchill and Maida Vale and we’re not quite sure how. I’m puzzled. It may have been the use of social media.”
The Green Party overhauled the Liberal Democrats to take the title of Westminster’s third party, increasing their share of the votes to 14.3 per cent. The Lib Dems slipped into fourth, dropping 11.5 per cent on 2010 with just 6.2 per cent of the votes, and marginally in front of UKIP, whose seven candidates failed to make a real impact, netting just 4.1 per cent.
Labour now hold more than 25 per cent of seats, but although the results knocked the balance of power in City Hall, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on its function, with the Conservative majority meaning they are still able to overrule opposition motions and pass their own without amendment.
Both parties anticipated a close-run contest in Churchill and Maida Vale wards ahead of the vote last week.
It quickly became clear that Labour had made gains as the votes were totted up at the Queen Mother Sports Centre in Victoria.
After predictable results were announced in the Tory heartlands of the south and Labour strongholds in the north, the first Labour victory came in Maida Vale as two newcomers, Labour’s Rita Begum and the Conservative Thomas Crockett, tied on 1,063, being elected along with long-standing Tory Jan Prendergast.
Rita Begum said she was looking forward to working hard for the people who had supported her. Asked about working in the only ward to be politically divided, she said: “It’s not a rivalry, it’s not a battle. We are all supposed to work together. We’re going to be serving the community, it’s not about our political party.”
Cllr Begum, whose father passed away while she was campaigning, said: “He knew that I was standing and he would love that I won, and I’m sure that he’s watching over me. He would have been so proud of me.”
Tory candidate Frixos Tombolis, who has served as a councillor for more than 16 years, lost out in Maida Vale after leaving a safe seat in the West End to fight the marginal ward. Last week the West End Extra revealed the “dysfunctional” infighting within the local Tory party that led Mr Tombolis to seek a new home.
The real Labour coup came in Churchill ward in Pimlico where three first-time candidates stole control of the ward that had been all blue since 1990.
After a tense wait, Murad Gassanly, Jason Williams, and Shamim Talukder, were named victors to the loudest cheers of the night at as the sports hall began to clear out at 7pm.
One Tory insider told the West End Extra: “It’s a serious setback because I don’t think they will be able to get it back.”
Cllr Dimoldenberg said it was a “very important” result, adding: “For over 20 years there has been no Labour representatives in the south of Westminster – we have now rectified that.
“Winning all three seats in Churchill and one in Maida Vale shows that there are no ‘no go’ areas for Labour.”
Cllr Roe said the Tories were “absolutely confident” they could win back the ward at the next election and blamed a “significant collapse” of the Lib Dem vote and the presence of an independent candidate, Muhammad Uddin, a former Tory activist, who took 250 votes.
It is the only red ward in the south of the borough and one Tory said it will represent a “significant embarrassment” to the well-funded and influential Cities of London and Westminster Conservative Association, who will now have to work alongside their Labour colleagues.
Mark Field MP was quick to welcome the trio and promised a harmonious relationship.
Cllr Gassanly said: “He’s happy to work with us and we are happy to work with him.”
Cllr Roe said: “I hope that we will have a constructive dialogue with the three new Labour councillors.
“They are new, I’m sure they are very keen to make their mark, therefore I just don’t know whether they will see this as an opportunity to be difficult. Time will tell.”
Tory candidate Andrew Havery, who represented Churchill for 12 years, missed out by less than 50 votes. He was quick to welcome the victors and told Cllr Dimoldenberg on Twitter: “I wish your victorious councillors all the best. They should feel free to ring me about any issue if they think it would be useful.”
The Churchill result was far from guaranteed and the ballot papers underwent three recounts before the Tories accepted defeat.
The win was seen as a homecoming for Labour who had controlled the ward until 1990 and maintained a strong support base on the two housing estates Churchill Gardens and Ebury Bridge.
But Cllr Gassanly said they had picked up support from the across the ward that has one of the starkest divisions of wealth in the borough.
He added: “It’s not just on the estates, it’s across the ward. We’ve had so much support.”