Lewis Baston: London Tories can take a little heart from recent borough by-elections

Lewis Baston: London Tories can take a little heart from recent borough by-elections

As well as voting for a Mayor and London Assembly members on 2 May, Londoners in 15 wards elected new councillors in borough by-elections. As is customary, I’ve analysed all the results for On London although perceptive readers will note that this a large batch of them reported later and with less local colour than usual.

Overall, the Conservatives will have taken some heart from scoring two gains at Labour expense and from most of the by-elections showing a small swing from Labour in their favour. This was consistent with the last set of borough elections in May 2022 seeing Labour finish 16 points ahead of the Tories across Greater London as a whole, whereas Labour’s 2024 mayoral win was by 11 points.


The contests were scattered across the city and had various different causes and dynamics. The approach of the general election, since announced, was a factor in several of them.

Two Hackney Labour councillors vacated their seats mid-term because they had been selected as parliamentary candidates: Steve Race (Hoxton East & Shoreditch) for the Labour seat of Exeter and Polly Billington (De Beauvoir) for the target marginal Thanet East.

Another sign of Labour’s ambitions in the south of England was that Tom Rutland stood down from Lambeth Council (Streatham Common & Vale ward) in pursuit of the East Worthing & Shoreham parliamentary seat, which has never previously been won by his party.

Meanwhile, Conservative Aisha Cuthbert gave up her council seat in Bromley (Shortlands & Park Langley) to fight the Kent parliamentary seat of Sittingbourne & Sheppey, which still seems reasonably safe for the Tories.

A vacancy in Lewisham’s Deptford ward was created in March because Brenda Dacres secured a different kind of promotion by being elected Mayor of Lewisham in a by-election for that position.

Moving out rather than hoping for a move up was the reason for Camden’s opposition Conservative group leader Gio Spinella (Frognal) to leave the council. “I am tired, I feel drained and I have nothing more to contribute,” he said. It was a candid statement about how even a dedicated and energetic local politician can burn out. I wish him a successful period of recharging his batteries.

Work commitments led Conservative Jade Appleton (Park Hill & Whitgift) to step down from Croydon council. Her Croydon colleague Mike Bonello, who represented Woodside for Labour, had also felt the pressure of work. In Islington, former mayor Dave Poyser concluded that after a decade representing Hillrise for Labour his “time was up”. Conservatives Alan Chapman (Hillingdon, Hillingdon East ward) and Stuart Graham (Kensington & Chelsea, Norland) have moved out of their respective boroughs.

Two of the by-elections resulted from Labour councillors falling out with their party. Lara Parizotto resigned from the party in October 2023 over the Labour leadership’s response to the war in Gaza, and from her Brentford West seat on Hounslow Council in March. Sonia Winifred (Lambeth, Knight’s Hill) resigned after voting for a Green Party resolution on Gaza in defiance of the Labour group position.


Six of the 15 by-elections produced Labour holds with little competition. They were:

  • Croydon, Woodside
  • Hackney, Hoxton East & Shoreditch
  • Islington, Hillrise
  • Lambeth, Knight’s Hill
  • Lambeth, Streatham Common & Vale
  • Lewisham, Deptford

The Labour winner in Croydon Woodside, Jessica Hammersley-Rich, has become yet another London councillor also selected as a parliamentary candidate, in her case for Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath constituency. She is very unlikely to win there, but with a name like hers is maybe destined to become a hard-line Labour Chancellor. She would certainly be a headline-writer’s dream.

Faruk Tinaz held Hackney’s Hoxton East with ease and Ollie Steadman did the same in Islington Hillrise, as did Emma Louise Nye in Lambeth Knight’s Hill.

In Lambeth’s Streatham Common & Vale, Sarah Louise Cole’s win by the comfortable margin of 1,385 votes over the “Local Conservative” runner-up was nonetheless Labour worst performance of the day in terms of swing. Campaigning was dominated by one of London’s most controversial Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes. It was “suspended” in March, a move welcomed by Sadiq Khan. This drew the sting from by-election opposition, but memories were raw enough to make Labour’s vote share droop.

The best Labour result was in Lewisham Deptford, building on an increased share it won in a by-election in the same ward last autumn. Mayor Dacres is succeeded by David Walker.


Two wards saw Labour hold back serious challenges:

  • Hackney, De Beauvoir
  • Hounslow, Brentford West

Labour had squeaked home in a July 2022 by-election in De Beauvoir ward, finishing just 27 votes ahead of a Green Party candidate. It afterwards emerged that the “personal reasons” given for the previous Labour councillor’s resignation was a police investigation that would later result in his admitting three counts of possessing indecent images of children. There was, then, clearly a chance of Labour losing. However, Jasmine Martins fended off the latest Green challenge, this time by 119 votes.

In Hounslow’s Brentford West ward, Labour’s main opposition came from Theo Dennison, a former council cabinet member who left Labour amid acrimony during the 2018-22 term, running as an Independent. Dennison is a political campaigns consultant whose clients include George Galloway’s Workers’ Party. He claims a share of the credit for Galloway’s parliamentary by-election win in Rochdale. But Labour’s Emma Yates prevailed.


Two wards were gained by the Conservatives from Labour:

  • Sutton, St Helier West
  • Wandsworth, West Putney

These were in wards where Labour had broken new ground in the 2022, taking a St Helier West seat in the Liberal Democrat stronghold of Sutton for the first time and gaining two seats in Wandsworth’s West Putney ward as it won control of the former Tory flagship for the first time since 1974. In both cases, the ward seats were split between Labour and Conservative councillors.

This time, the outcome in the Sutton ward was ignominious for Labour, which slid to third place as the Tory candidate Catherine Gray (pictured) won by just six votes from the Lib Dem in second. The ward contains part of the St Helier council-built housing estate, which the straddles the Sutton-Merton border. It has tended to the Lib Dems with the Conservatives gaining ground recently. Gray’s win will, of  course, be welcome but the squeeze of the Labour vote in a ward within the Tory-held marginal Carshalton & Wallington parliamentary seat could be ominous for the party.

In the Wandsworth ward, planning issues were important in the campaign, particularly in relation to densification and housing. The Putney Society has been among civic groups arguing that the Labour council has deviated from its Local Plan. The swing of five per cent to the Tories in the seat was enough for their candidate Nick Austin to win it. Reproduced across the borough it would probably be enough to secure a narrow Town Hall majority.


Two wards saw Labour perform well in outer London areas without winning:

  • Bromley, Shortlands & Park Langley
  • Croydon, Park Hill & Whitgift

Sutton aside, the 2 May by-elections revealed the same absence of an inner-outer polarisation seen in voting for Mayor of London. The general run of results suggested a small swing to Conservative since 2012, but in these affluent suburban wards the swing was in the other direction.

Labour’s slow advance in Bromley continued, though Tory Gemma Jade Turrell won Shortlands & Park Langley by 848 votes. In Croydon’s Park Hill & Whitgift ward there was much sharper movement in Labour’s favour, even though Conservative Andrew Price won. This will encourage the party after its reverses in the borough two years ago. The contest was notable also for Andrew Pelling’s debut as a Lib Dem. During his long Croydon political career spanning different types of elections, Pelling has already represented both the Conservatives and Labour and well as running as an Independent.


Finally, three wards resulted in comfortable Tory holds.

  • Camden, Frognal
  • Hillingdon, Hillingdon East.
  • Kensington & Chelsea, Norland.

Steven Adams won in Frognal, Martin Kelly won in Hillingdon East by over 1,500 votes and Stéphanie Petit won on Norland with a 51 per cent share.


Taken together, the 15 borough council by-election results suggest that London is likely to be a low-swing region in the forthcoming general election, counterbalancing Labour’s better than national average performances in 2017 and 2019.

X/Twitter: Lewis Baston and OnLondonSupport OnLondon.co.uk and its freelancers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Photo of Catherine Gray from her X/Twitter feed.

Categories: Analysis

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