Tories lose Wandsworth and Westminster in symbolic local election defeats

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Sadiq Khan - REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Sadiq Khan - REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The Conservative Party has lost control of Wandsworth and Westminster, its two flagship London councils, in a symbolic defeat for Boris Johnson in the local elections.

Wandsworth, which has been held by the Conservatives since 1978 and was reportedly Margaret Thatcher’s favourite council, fell to the Labour Party early on Friday morning. Its outgoing Tory leader said voters had concerns about the Prime Minister.

Westminster Council has never been run by another party since its creation in 1964, but is considered an indicator of national mood at general elections, where it is marginal.

Barnet Council, which was targeted as a key battleground at this year’s local elections, also fell from Conservative control.

Nationally, the Tories have faced heavy losses in some other areas, but look to have avoided the landslide defeat predicted by some pollsters.

But the Tories also lost their majority in Southampton, now run by Labour, and West Oxfordshire, which includes David Cameron’s former constituency of Witney and is under no overall control.

In Wandsworth, Ravi Govindia, the outgoing Conservative leader, admitted that voters had said they would not vote for his party because of the Prime Minister.

"Inevitably other events have clouded the judgement of people in Wandsworth," he said, adding that "the issue of Boris Johnson" was raised during the campaign.

Mr Govinda said he had run the "most successful council" and kept council tax rates low.

Wandsworth - REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Wandsworth - REUTERS/Hannah McKay

"We have done exactly what the residents of Wandsworth wanted," he said. "To find that counts for nothing is a sad reflection of the importance of local government not being recognised."

He added: "Let's not be coy about it, of course national issues were part of the dilemma people were facing."

The Wandsworth result is a symbolic victory for Labour because the authority is considered a Tory stronghold in London, and is closely associated with Mrs Thatcher’s rise to power in the late 1970s.

It follows weeks of canvassing in which Conservatives expressed concern that national issues including the cost of living and the 'partygate' scandal were damaging the party’s fortunes locally.

Many candidates avoided overt Conservative branding on their leaflets, while few printed any photographs of Mr Johnson on them.

Although the early indication is that this local election will be damaging for the Conservatives, half of the English council seats will not begin counting votes until Friday morning.

After results were declared from 58 councils, the Tories had lost control of three authorities and were down 79 councillors; Labour had a net gain of two councils and 34 councillors; the Lib Dems had one extra authority and 34 more seats; while the Greens had gained 19 councillors.

All local authorities in Wales and Scotland are also electing their councillors, while Stormont elections are taking place in Northern Ireland.

Speaking overnight, government ministers sought to downplay the scale of Conservative losses and insisted Mr Johnson should continue in post.

Wandsworth - REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Wandsworth - REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said: "I absolutely think we can win the next election, and I do think Boris Johnson is the right person to lead us into that."

Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, told the BBC: "The further away you get from London, our sense is that the picture is better for us."

But other Conservatives across Britain felt anger towards Downing Street on Friday morning as Mr Johnson was blamed for losses.

John Mallinson, the outgoing Tory leader of Carlisle Council, called for his resignation, telling reporters: "I just don’t feel people any longer have the confidence that the prime minister can be relied upon to tell the truth."

Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator, said: "This is a turning point for the Labour Party.

"After the disastrous results of 2019, these early results are showing the progress we have made thanks to Keir’s leadership.

"Labour is making headway in England, Scotland and Wales, taking over key Conservative councils and winning in vital Parliamentary battlegrounds across the country."

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