In what must surely be a damning verdict on Lambeth council policies, the Progress supporting Labour candidate in the Gipsy Hill managed to turn a safe Labour seat into a 34 vote marginal.
In the 2014 council elections councillor Niranjan Francis had a 1800 majority over his nearest rival a Tory. In yesterday’s election, on a slightly lower turnout, Luke Murphy managed 1220 votes compared to his Green opponents 1184 votes.
It was a pretty unprecedented by-election, not just because two Jeremy Corbyn supporting candidates were excluded by the Progress dominated selection committee, but because the campaign for Labour was virtually entirely run by full-time councillors drafted in from all over Lambeth. Even with this mass of full-time workers, including the local MP and leader of the council campaigning, the Progress backed candidate only won by a whisker.
The reasons are obvious. The Progress led council in Lambeth has been pushing ahead with some of the most unpopular policies ever seen in Lambeth – closing libraries and turning them into gyms, pursuing plans to bulldoze council estates and destroy communities. In Gipsy Hill the Central Hill estate is targeted for demolition while the local library is losing virtually all it’s staff and being handed over to an unelected Trust.
To top it all the Progress group then suspended for six months councillor Rachel Heywood who dared to speak out against these policies; this from a LP that completely dominates the council with only three Tories and one Green as the opposition. Why would you need such draconian discipline with a majority of 56 councillors? Because you know your policies are deeply unpopular with the electorate and with some of your own councillors.
As Kate Hoey MP tweeted after the result – “The council leadership need to listen and lift the suspension of councillor Heywood”. Some hope with the current council leadership!
Lambeth Progress Labour’s justification has always been that they and their policies are vote winners – now it is clear that they are vote losers. In the 2018 elections they will not be able to concentrate their full-time resources onto just one ward, they will be defending 60 plus seats.
On the current policies it is clear the Labour vote is disappearing towards the Greens. Only new councillors and a new council leadership supporting the policies of Jeremy Corbyn will be able to prevent this. That is what Momentum should fight for.Stuart King
Lambeth MomentumStuart King