The very last contest of the 2018 London borough elections was held in Willesden Green ward in Brent on Thursday 21 June. As with the one that took place the previous Thursday in Southwark, this was a deferred election brought about by the death the weekend before the full election day of 3 May of a veteran councillor. Willesden Green’s loss was Lesley Jones, who had been a Labour councillor for Willesden Green since 1998 and also served a term as Brent’s Mayor.
Willesden Green ward is based around the High Road in Willesden, south of the Jubilee Line between Willesden Green and Dollis Hill stations. It is a hyper-diverse tract of a very diverse borough, with communities from all over the world represented amid its late-Victorian and Edwardian terraces. In the local elections of 2006 and 2010, when the Liberal Democrats were doing well against Labour in areas like this, the ward was very competitive – indeed, the Lib Dems were its leading party, with Jones taking one of its three seats for Labour. But Lib Dem strength had shallower roots in Brent than in north Southwark, and the party was severely punished for joining the coalition national government with the Conservatives. In 2014, Labour gained both the Willesden Green Lib Dem seats. The latter lost all but one of their Brent councillors in that year and she subsequently went Independent.
There was no sign of any Lib Dem revival in the deferred election result in Willesden Green or of any other challenge to Labour’s dominance. The party won nearly 70 per cent of the vote, a swing of (depending on how exactly one calculates it) seven t0 eight points from the Conservatives and more from the Lib Dems. The council team for Willesden Green now comprises Fleur Donnelly-Jackson (who won 1,683 votes), Elliott Chappell (1,679) who replaced Lesley Jones on the ballot, and incumbent councillor Tom Miller (1,618), who was elected alongside Jones in 2014. Shaka Lish of the Green Party was their closest competitor, a long way behind with 289 votes. Valid turnout was 25 per cent, which is significantly lower than that in the other Brent wards in May.
This election was a more encouraging indicator for Labour than the Southwark Council result and the Lewisham East parliamentary by-election also held last week, in that the party’s Corbyn-era coalition of support held up very well. Labour now has an enormous majority on Brent Council, with a group of 60 councillors facing opposition only from three Conservatives. Given that Brent local politics can often seem to involve starting a fight in an empty room (the six-strong Tory contingent elected in 2014 spent most of its term divided into two rival groups of three), managing a group of this size will take skill and luck on the part of council leader Mohammed Butt and chief whip Sandra Kabir.