Conservatives suffer heavy losses in London council elections
Just six years ago, Boris Johnson departed London’s City Hall as a popular mayor who had softened the party’s once toxic brand in the capital.
But on Friday, Conservatives were left clinging on to only a few remnants of electoral power within the city as voters in key boroughs, concerned with the cost of living and put off by the partygate scandal, turned their backs on the former mayor.
Barnet council and Westminster City Council, which had been under Tory leadership since their creation in 1964, swung to Labour, as did Wandsworth, regarded as the favourite council of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and under Conservative control since 1978.
Labour also held on to councils such as Barking and Dagenham.
In Thursday’s election, all seats across all 32 London boroughs were up for grabs, while votes were also cast for mayors in five councils.
Votes are still being counted but Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer argued that his party had passed a “turning point”.
“We’ve changed Labour and now we’re seeing the results of that,” he said, speaking in Barnet.
The Liberal Democrats also made some gains, including in Richmond-Upon-Thames, where the party now holds 48 out of 54 seats, an increase of nine from 2018.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, maintained control of Bexley, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hillingdon — home to Johnson’s constituency Uxbridge.
Oliver Dowden, Tory party chair, sought on Friday to play down the losses.
“Of course we’ve had some difficult results and you can see that in London,” he told BBC Breakfast. “I would say, though, that we are midterm and it’s quite a mixed picture because you look elsewhere, whether that’s in Hartlepool or Nuneaton and Thurrock, we’ve actually made gains.”
However, party officials in London have voiced scepticism at Johnson’s leadership, arguing that the loss of symbolic councils was indicative of wider concerns over the prime minister.
Ravi Govindia, leader of the Wandsworth Tories, said: “Let’s not be coy about it, of course national issues were part of the dilemma people were facing.” He added that people “raised the issue of Boris Johnson” on the doorstep.
This sentiment was echoed by Daniel Thomas, the Conservative leader of Barnet, who argued that the results would not “bode well” for the Tories in future national elections. “I think this is a warning shot from Conservative supporters,” he said.