On the morning of Friday 6 May, we wrote that there may be a sting in the tail and that the boroughs counting on Friday and into the weekend were likely to be somewhat more sobering for Labour and provide some encouragement for the Tories. That is exactly how it played out.
The reason for that prediction was simple. Even since the London Mayoral election last year, there has been a trend where Labour continued to improve in inner London while losing ground in the outskirts. This is the partial return of the “doughnut” that served Boris Johnson so well in 2008 and 2012.
This prediction is exactly how it played out, with the Conservatives taking both Harrow and the Croydon Mayoralty from Labour. Labour’s Friday got even more painful with the return of Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets but as you will read, even that wasn’t enough to completely dent Labour’s delight at these results overall.
Croydon – a Tory Mayor but a split Council Chamber
Croydon was always going to be a tough ask for Labour. The previous administration, under Tony Newman, had bankrupted the council and the new Mayoral popular vote system was going to make it easier for the Conservatives to run a single-issue referendum on the running of the Council. In the end, it was closer than some might have expected, with Labour’s Val Shawcross coming within 500 votes of the eventual winner, Conservative Jason Perry.
The full council result will make life tricky for the newly elected Mayor, with Labour holding 34 seats to the Conservatives 32, with the Greens with two and Lib Dems one. Most of the key decisions will be undertaken through the Conservative Executive, but they won’t hold a majority on committees, including on development, and it will make the budget negotiation interesting.
Harrow – the doughnut delivers for the Conservatives
Probably the starkest result of the doughnut phenomena is the result in Harrow. The disarray of the Labour Group, a united and focussed Conservative campaign and an animosity for Sadiq Khan’s proposed expansion of ULEZ were enough to turn this long-term marginal borough blue once again.
What will be interesting is how the new administration will seek to deliver on their pledge to stop over-development outside of opportunity areas, banning any new building over 6 storeys. Whether they can do that in practice, or if many more developments will simply go through at the GLA/on appeal will be a test of their credibility in 2026.
Tower Hamlets – the return of Lutfur
The final sting in the tail for Labour was Tower Hamlets. Mayor John Biggs has been rightfully acknowledged for turning that council around, producing admirable results following the imposition of direct Government rule under the previous Rahman administration.
However, the enduring support for Rahman amongst the Bengali community, and the unpopularity of some Labour policies such as LTNs was enough to see him return with a large majority, accompanied his Aspire Group winning the highest number of council seats in the chamber.
Labour will now start the long process of rebuilding trust in the Bengali community to ty to win the borough back in 2026 but for the next four years, it’s a return to Rahman.
Overall, a good election for Labour and the Lib Dems
Despite these results that came in late, it won’t be enough to dent Labour’s overall delight in winning Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster. They finish the night up 29 Councillors to 1152, from an already strong result in 2018 with the Tories losing nearly a quarter of their representatives to just 398. The Lib Dems will also be celebrating, particularly in South West London where they are the dominant force once again; they may even look to challenge Labour Merton next time around.
The battle now will be for Labour to prove their worth in these newly won authorities to cement these victories in 2026 and plot their way back in the three authorities they lost.
For the Tories, it will take a complete turnaround in the culture of the party in Westminster if they are to win back ground in liberal, remain-voting London against a Labour Party increasingly seen as the party of the inner city.