Conservative anxieties about losing control of Westminster City Council to Labour are not being helped by intimations of ructions in their own ranks, with a number of councillors standing down. On Friday, the latest of these, Paul Church, who has represented the prized West End ward for the Tories since 2014, announced on Twitter that he had taken “the difficult decision not to re-stand in May”.
Speaking to On London, Church emphasised that he still fully supports the Conservative Party, but does not like “the direction the council has been taking regarding property developers and overdevelopment in the West End”, a point he has been making publicly for some time along with have residents’ groups such as the Soho Society.
Last month, Church said he has “tried to stand up for the communities I was elected to represent against the dominance of property developers and their agents” and claimed he had been “bullied, silenced and threatened by their powerful allies”. His conclusion? “Local government shouldn’t be like this.” He appears not to be alone, of which more to come.
In the meantime, let’s reflect on the context for and fallout from his forthcoming non-appearance on the West End ward ballot paper. The big backdrop, of course, is the recent rapid speed of change in many London neighbourhoods and opposition to it from local residents. Mayfair, Soho and other prime neighbourhoods have seen such regeneration tensions at their most pronounced. Closer to home, there’s been the exposure to a wider public of council deputy leader Robert Davis’s lavish receipt of “gifts and hospitality”, following Private Eye’s past excavations.
Labour, unsurprisingly, have responded with generosity to the news about Church. One of their West End candidates, Patrick Lilley, told him how much he respects him, including for “your high volume of casework and resisting developers”. Labour group leader Adam Hug tweeted much the same, saying “from all the feedback we are getting on the door[step] in West End I know you were respected by residents for often taking their side”.
Hug had already promised that a Labour administration would “put the needs of residents before those of developers” and have “a transparent relationship with developers and other powerful interests”. Labour is also saying it would seek higher percentages of affordable homes to be built as part of approving planning deals. Game on.
Photograph from Visit London.