Thursday’s by-election in Lewisham’s Deptford ward followed the resignation of Labour councillor Stephen Hayes. An employment adviser for a mental health charity, he stood down after his own mental health reached a crisis point in September. “It has been an honour and a privilege, and I’m sorry that I cannot continue to represent my ward in an effective manner,” he said. On London sends best wishes to former councillor Hayes for his recovery.
Deptford ward is in the north of Lewisham, though it does not touch the borough’s short stretch of border with the south bank of the Thames. It sits where the railway line out of London Bridge station fans out three ways between New Cross Gate, New Cross and Deptford stations. The ward is dominated by post-war council-built housing, only a small proportion of which has been subject to Right to Buy, with smaller proportions of older owner-occupied and privately rented housing near the High Street and New Cross Road.
There are several large estates, including the Woodpecker (also known as Milton Court), Achilles Street and the area around Sanford Street in the triangle north of New Cross. The council estates of Deptford have been repeatedly redeveloped: the Woodpecker which, by the 1990s, had become notorious for gangs and crime, had its tower blocks demolished and replaced by low rise social housing.
Deptford’s history, though, goes back much further. It is maritime and incident-strewn: Peter the Great of Russia came in 1698 to learn about shipbuilding, and playwright Christopher Marlowe was stabbed in a pub brawl there in 1593. There are traces of the old town around Deptford High Street and its fine churches of St Nicholas and St Paul. It is the only area of the ward that could be described as fashionable.
Modern Deptford is one of London’s well-established black areas – the ward is over a third black, part of a belt of African and Afro-Caribbean communities stretching east from Brixton and Peckham. It has a large mixed-race population, reflecting the integration of working-class white and black communities, and representation from white and a smaller number of Asian people. The population of the ward is quite well-educated, and around 12 per cent are students, reflecting the proximity of Goldsmith’s College.
Deptford ward was a creation in the 2022 boundary changes, taking territory from the previous New Cross and Evelyn wards. Its first contest last May saw Labour, as is customary in Deptford, victorious. The by-election produced an even more emphatic win for the incumbent party in this safe territory, which was a break from the recent pattern in other London council seats for there to be small swings against the locally governing party.
Labour candidate Dawn Atkinson, co-founder of the Evelyn Community Store which provides food for low-income families and a past honorary Mayoress of Lewisham, won with 1,596 votes (71.2 per cent). Green Party candidate Tim Crossley was runner-up with 382 votes (17.0 per cent), followed by Conservative Siama Qadar (174 votes, 7.8 per cent) and Liberal Democrat Alan Harding (91 votes, 4.1 per cent). Turnout was 20.9 per cent – not impressive but also far from disgraceful for a perfunctory campaign in a very safe inner city Labour ward. It was a touch higher than the turnout in the Hackney mayoral by-election held on the same day, which On London will cover separately.
Atkinson’s win came with an increased Labour share of the vote. Measured the conventional way, it went up by 17.7 percentage points, with the other three parties all slipping a little. However, Labour gains were from the left-wing Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which stood in 2022 but not in the by-election, and from Independents. It was the party’s best result in the succession of by-elections in safe London wards since the full elections of May 2022.
X/Twitter: Lewis Baston and OnLondon. Photo from Lewisham Labour. If you value On London’s coverage of the capital, become a supporter or a paying subscriber to editor and publisher Dave Hill’s personal Substack for just £5 a month or £50 a year. In return you get a comprehensive weekly London newsletter and offers of free tickets to London events. Thanks.