Lib Dems win council seats in deferred Southwark election

by Lewis Baston

In two small parts of London the 3 May borough elections have been unfinished business for weeks after the results were declared everywhere else. In these wards, one in Southwark and the other in Brent, the deaths of candidates during the campaign period meant that the election was countermanded, nominations were re-opened and another election day was set.

In the the case of Southwark’s London Bridge & West Bermondsey ward, Conservative candidate Toby Eckersley MBE, who had served for 37 years for other wards on the council and was well-liked across political lines, died during the weekend before the election. He was going to be a “paper” candidate as Tories were not expecting to be returned in a ward where Labour and the Liberal Democrats were the main contenders, but he was a paper candidate of a rather superior kind.

The deferred election eventually took place last Thursday, 14 June. London Bridge & West Bermondsey ward is one of Southwark’s new electoral units, designed largely to accommodate population growth in the north of the borough. Built from parts of the old Grange and Riverside wards, it contains the sparkling, refurbished London Bridge station, the Shard and the Thames frontage down to Tower Bridge, but most of the electors live in terraces, estates and developments down Bermondsey Street. As with other wards in north Southwark, the area used to be dominated by a formidable Lib Dem election machine headed by Simon Hughes, the area’s MP from 1983 to 2015. Riverside ward remained a Lib Dem stronghold even in 2014, though Labour gained one of the three Grange seats that year. 

The result in the new ward was a 3-0 win for the Liberal Democrats, with Humaira Ali topping the poll with 1,340 votes, followed by party colleagues Damian O’Brien (1,281) and William Houngbo (1,270). Labour’s three candidates filled the next three places, with Julie Eyles finishing a close fourth (1,239 votes).  The Lib Dems took 45 per cent of the total votes cast to Labour’s 42, followed by 8.3 for the Tories and 4.7 for the Greens. 

The three newly elected councillors increase Lib Dem representation on the council to 14. Labour still has a big majority of 35, but the outcome London Bridge & West Bermondsey showed that the Lib Dems are still capable of grinding out a win on the basis of local hard work in this area, which – a decent result in the parliamentary by-election in Lewisham East notwithstanding – is beyond them in most of Inner London. The turnout was 28.4 per cent, which sounds poor but was only a few points less than that in some neighbouring wards in the main elections last month. 

The deferred council election in Brent takes place next Thursday (21 June).

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