Eight of London’s 32 boroughs to have new political leaders

by Dave Hill

Only four of the capital’s 32 councils underwent changes of political control at the elections a fortnight ago, and in two cases the change was not very significant.

The replacement of Conservative administrations in Kingston and Richmond by the Liberal Democrats – in the latter case with help from the Greens – were clear cut. But Labour’s securing a majority in Tower Hamlets, which had previously been under no overall control (NOC), was less important due to a Labour Mayor already being in place, and he was re-elected comfortably. And the Conservatives’ won control of Barnet following a NOC period of less than three weeks, due to a deselected councillor resigning from the Tory group, thus briefly depriving the party of the majority of one it had got by on since May 2014.

However, the changes in the leaderships of the boroughs – some official, some impending –  have been more extensive and in several cases look likely to have quite big policy impacts. In all, there will almost certainly be eight London boroughs – one in four – with different people as their political head, six as council leader and two as mayor, once the formalities in all cases have been completed. Here’s an alphabetical list with a little information about each of them.

Enfield: Nesil Caliskan

Councillor Caliskan is just 29 years old and has been a councillor for only three years, after winning a by-election in May 2015. She is expected to be confirmed as the council’s new leader at a full council meeting next Wednesday evening, having wrested the leadership of Enfield’s Labour Group from Doug Taylor by the narrow margin of 24 votes to 22. Taylor has led the council since 2010 and led Labour to two victories, extending their margin both times. The Enfield Independent has reported that he was backed by the local branch of Momentum and that Caliskan is considered “closer to the party’s right wing”. As council leader, she will become the youngest in London, the first woman to lead Enfield and first person of Turkish heritage to lead any council in the UK. T-Vine, a magazine for British Turks, has profiled her.

Greenwich: Danny Thorpe

Rumours that Denise Hyland would not continue as Labour leader in Greenwich proved correct when she decided not to seek re-election as Labour Group leader. The local 853 blog has reported that Thorpe won the Labour Group ballot by a single vote. Although he won’t formally become leader until the full council meets on Wednesday, Thorpe has been announcing his nominations for cabinet appointments on Twitter. They include Hyland, who is set to  lead on economy, skills and apprenticeships. Greenwich-born, Thorpe has been a councillor since 2004. He was lead for regeneration and transport from 2014 until 2016, when he became deputy leader and his portfolio became regeneration and sustainability. As leader, he will also be in charge of policy on community and corporate services.

Haringey: Joseph Ejiofor

The new Labour leader of the nation’s first “Corbyn Council” is on Momentum’s national co-ordinating group although, unlike many Momentumites, he is a long-standing Labour Party member. He appears to already have cabinet posts lined up, as exclusively reported by On London yesterday. Ejiofor was previously deputy leader under Claire Kober, who stepped down as a councillor prior to the elections.

Harrow: Graham Henson

Despite some anxiety during the campaign, Labour retained control of Harrow and increased its majority to seven. However, Sachin Shah, who was the leader going into the election, was well beaten by Heaton, 22-13, in the ensuing contest to lead the Labour group. Henson was in charge of environment policy under the previous administration. He is expected to be formally become council leader next Thursday.

Kingston: Liz Green

A former leader a long-serving councillor, Liberal Democrat Green is already listed as leader of the council on Kingston’s website, following her party’s resounding eviction of the Tories – the Lib Dems have a majority of 30, having gained 21 seats. She has told the Surrey Comet that an “emergency budget”, promised in her party’s manifesto, will be introduced and a scrutiny panel for residents brought back. The Lib Dems highlighted local opposition to the Conservative approach to development, especially in allowing plans for high-rise buildings.

Lewisham: Mayor Damien Egan

Egan was practically assured of succeeding Sir Steve Bullock as Labour Mayor after securing the Labour candidate nomination in September, having re-positioned to the left in order to court the influential local Momentum faction. He was in charge of housing policy under Bullock and has appointed Paul Bell, the Momentum-backed mayoral hopeful who was runner-up in the candidate selection contest, as his successor in that role. London’s housing sector will be watching with interest.

Newham: Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz

Fiaz defeated long-time incumbent Sir Robin Wales to become Labour candidate after a tortured and questionable re-selection process, covered extensively by On London. She has promised to lead one of the capital’s three “one party states” – the others being Lewisham and Barking & Dagenham – in a more inclusive style with much more community involvement. Read an in-depth Q&A with her from the selection contest period here.

Richmond: Gareth Roberts

Liberal Democrat Roberts will be announced as Richmond’s new leader next Tuesday following the latest political turnaround in this famously big-swing borough – his party gained 24 seats to give it a majority of the same number. The Lib Dems were helped to victory by a successful local electoral agreement with the Green Party in some wards, which led to the Greens winning four seats. It will be interesting to see how the dominant Lib Dems work with their junior Green partners. Roberts is a prolific tweeter.

I’ve asked for more information on some of the new borough leaders and will update this piece if and and when it arrives.

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