Voices: I’m the first Black deputy leader for Wandsworth – this win is historic

·3-min read
Wandsworth Labour councillors and campaigners  (Kemi Akinola)
Wandsworth Labour councillors and campaigners (Kemi Akinola)

After 44 years of Conservative rule, at 6am Friday morning, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite council – Wandsworth – turned Labour. As a child of the milk-snatcher era, I still can’t quite believe it.

Wandsworth Labour won 35 out of 58 seats, with the largest ever group of Black, LGBT+ and female candidates standing across the borough. Our diversity and focus on representing all our residents was key to helping us win.

I became the first Black deputy leader of Wandsworth council in 119 years and the first female Black deputy leader ever!

Our victory would not have been possible without the trailblazers that came before me. Marsha de Cordova, who became MP for Battersea in 2017, paved the way for the modern Black women of Wandsworth. David Lammy, who came to Wandsworth to help and support us numerous times; Flo Eshalomi, MP for Vauxhall, who continually helped us navigate the media; and Leonie Cooper, London Assembly member for Wandsworth and Merton, and who set up our campaign from 2021. I would not have been deputy leader without her either.

Wandsworth Labour birthed the mayor of London, the Assembly member, three MPs and now leadership of Wandsworth council.

I was elected deputy leader during the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and the subsequent cost of living crisis. Leading the Labour group and navigating these issues, over Zoom and outside, to support the 350,000 residents of Wandsworth as best a group in opposition can, was hard. I worked with people who volunteered at food banks, Citizens Advice and hundreds of others delivering food to those struggling during Covid.

We knew it would be difficult to counteract the Conservative offer of the “lowest council tax in London”, but we had no idea that four years later this would be their only message.

Since 2018, we saw a resurgence in issues that were earlier seen as “marginal”. Climate change became an important issue to our residents, the lack of open green spaces became more important during the pandemic, paying people a living wage became a key issue as food has become more expensive.

But it is undeniable that Boris Johnson has been a huge help for the Labour party over the last six months.

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We kept our focus on important issues: addressing the low recycling rates, introducing food waste trials, ensuring there are cycle hangers on every street, or creating an anti-poverty commission. But frequently, it was the public anger against Boris Johnson that ensured we got a hearing with voters who had previously shunned us.

As I left the council today, I heard ex-leader Ravi Govindia besmirch the new leadership on council tax again. But council tax is just one issue among many for Wandsworth and for London. Moreover, it is regressive and disproportionally affects the most vulnerable and those affected by economic inequality.

Clearly Londoners care for far more issues than simply keeping council taxes low. They care about their community, their locality, their city and their country. And the Conservative have little to say on those issues. England deserves better.

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