Lib Dems beat Labour in nearly every Camden ward at EU elections, polling data suggests
Labour MPs and council leader want new vote on Europe
03 June, 2019 — By Richard Osley
Piles of yellow votes mount up
LIBERAL Democrats won in nearly every ward in Camden at Thursday’s European election, polling data reveals.
In a storming performance, the party topped the vote in areas of the borough which are normally fortresses for Labour and the Conservatives. Winners and losers agreed that the party’s clear “stop Brexit” message had played them into pole position in a borough where 75 per cent of residents voted to remain in Europe at the 2016 referendum.
The surge here and elsewhere meant Luisa Porritt, who won a seat on Camden Council last May in Belsize ward, was elected as one of London’s new MEPs.
The Lib Dems rose from having none to three of the eight representatives the capital will be sending to Brussels. Labour council leader Georgia Gould and MPs Keir Starmer and Tulip Siddiq responded by calling for a new referendum on Europe.
Definitive ward-by-ward breakdowns of polling will not be officially made available because postal votes were not broken down by geography when they were totted up. But the New Journal was at the count in King’s Cross on Sunday and witnessed first-hand how the on-the-day votes stacked up for the Lib Dems in increasing bundles of yellow folders.
Corroborated by count sources, it is understood the party beat Labour in strongholds such as King’s Cross, Kentish Town and Camden Town, while also winning in the southern tip wards of Camden.
Similarly, Lib Dems came first in Hampstead and Frognal, the two mainstay Conservative wards. Only in Somers Town, Regent’s Park and Kilburn did Labour hold onto top spot.
The results have led to inevitable questions as to whether this could be a base from which the Lib Dems could challenge for council seats – at present they have only three councillors in a lop-sided council chamber dominated by Labour – and parliamentary seats. Insiders are fully aware of the unique set of circumstances behind these polls, leading to the election of MEPs who may not even be in the roles beyond the UK’s Halloween Brexit deadline.
But organisers believe their active campaign may have finally flushed away the resentment Camden’s left-leaning electorate appeared to feel when the party joined a coalition with the Conservatives in government. That pact coincided with a downturn in fortune for the Lib Dems at local level; at one stage they were reduced to just one member at the Town Hall.
Lib Dems gathered at 5PS
Cllr Porritt said that three years ago the party had been “written off by our opponents and the media alike”, but added that the Lib Dems had made a “big, bold call” to oppose Brexit after the referendum result.
She added in a victory speech at the City Hall declaration later on Sunday: “There are still deep divisions in our country, but the Liberal Democrats firmly believe that we cannot address the vast inequality in the UK if we go ahead with Brexit. Too many people already have limited life chances, while our schools, the NHS and other public services remain chronically underfunded. Stopping Brexit will enable us to focus on these real and pressing issues.”
Counting at 5PS and, below, unclear ballot papers are reviewed
Opponents noted how she drew back to domestic policies in her speech, possibly as a call to voters to stick with the party beyond the resolution of the UK’s Brexit crisis. One of the next tests for the Lib Dems’ new-found support will come at next year’s London elections, although the party has yet to select a candidate to stand in Camden and Barnet. Cllr Porritt has been praised among colleagues for injecting new energy and organisation into the Lib Dem group in Camden.
Her home in Belsize Park was the base for the Lib Dems’ Get Out The Vote polling day operation, which saw likely leadership candidate Jo Swinson join in. “It feels like the Lib Dems are back on the map in Camden again, and it’s great to see us doing well in wards where we haven’t been as active in recent years as well as the ones we fought hard in the local elections last year,” said Cllr Porritt.
Both the Liberal Democrats and the Greens could only wish that these polls had coincided with local elections.
Sian Berry, the Green councillor who is the party’s national co-leader, said: “We were not just a single-issue campaign. We did not just say we want to remain and that’s it. We want to remain and make sure Europe is working together on climate change. If you look across Europe, in countries like Germany and France, the under-25s came out to support us and we did incredibly well. So, if you take away that Brexit debate element, which hung over the election in our country, people across Europe supported the Greens – lots of young people.”
Lib Dem Andrew Haslam-Jones keeps an eye on proceedings
She said the results would also provide a base for possible expansion by the party in Camden.
More than 6,000 Camden residents voted for the Brexit Party, with the Tories driven down to sixth place – even polling behind Change UK. Local organisers would not comment on speculation that Conservative members had actively been told not to campaign at these elections. A complaint from Labour and Conservative camps, however, was that they were not sure what the best message was for the doorstep.
Conservative group leader Councillor Oliver Cooper said: “Camden residents understand the huge difference between voting for the European Parliament and the local council. Hundreds of residents tell us each week that they appreciate Camden Conservative councillors’ work on the local things we can affect.”
But he added: “Of course, these are dire results for both major parties in London and nationally. Labour and Conservatives need to sort themselves out immediately and work hard to win back the public’s trust and confidence. “The Conservatives are doing that by electing a new leader to take the whole country forward, and I urge Labour to follow suit by replacing Jeremy Corbyn.”
Labour MPs call for new referendum on Europe
CAMDEN’S Labour MPs and council leader have reacted to the party’s EU election disaster by calling for a new referendum on Brexit.
As an inquest into what went wrong continued, the Holborn and St Pancras Constituency Labour Party met on Tuesday evening and passed a motion which called for Jeremy Corbyn and the front bench to show clear support for staying in Europe.
Sagal Abdi-Wali, Chair, Holborn and St Pancras CLP said: “We are Remain in this constituency and proud of it, the message from the millions voting for unequivocal Remain parties is that they feel the same way. We call upon the leadership to state that we are a Remain party and that we will support a public vote where no-deal is not an option. Our CLP along with our party’s membership and our supporters will fight to Remain, will fight to end this Tory government, and will fight for the future of Britain.”
It was not a fun afternoon for Labour members
While local campaigners did go out on the doorstep ahead of the election, the efforts were muted compared to the party’s all-out assault on parliamentary and council elections in recent years.
Some canvassers said they struggled to explain the party’s position to people who answered the door, and were aware that past Labour voters would side with the Lib Dems or Greens this time.
Others said that any attempt to reunite both remainers and leavers and find a way through Brexit was admirable but a tough task when passions in both camps ran so high.
Tulip Siddiq wants Labour to campaign to remain in Europe
Holborn and St Pancras MP Sir Keir Starmer, who has fronted Labour’s response to Brexit a national level, said: “It’s no use trying to hide from these very disappointing results. We need to reflect hard and listen to our members, supporters and voters. “The only way to break the Brexit impasse is to go back to the public with a choice between a credible leave option and remain.”
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq said: “It’s time for us to listen to our membership and our voters to continue calling out the Tories’ reckless pursuit of a catastrophic ‘no deal’ but crucially to become the party of a second referendum. This is the only progressive position on offer.”
Council leader Georgia Gould said: “These results show how strongly many in our community feel about fighting Brexit.”