‘People are just desperate’: how London turned on the Tories

“It’s a disaster,” says Tony Field, after Labour won control of Westminster city council for the first time since its creation in 1964. “Council tax will soar under Labour. I’m sure of it.”

Picking up his copy of the Daily Mail, Field, a retired railway worker, says Boris Johnson has had a “bad patch” but adds: “He’s started to regain his touch. I don’t think Boris has done anything wrong. What’s the matter with having a drink when you’re the prime minister. Starmer did it as well.”

Tony Field on bench with Daily Mail
Tony Field, a minority supporter in Westminster borough. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

But Field seemed to be in the minority in Westminster’s Maida Vale area on Thursday.

“I was very happy when I woke up and found out Labour had won,” says Nahid Poladi, a former bookseller. Poladi, who has lived in the area since fleeing Tehran in the early 1980s, was appalled by Westminster council’s decision to spend £6m on a mound at Marble Arch, which was widely mocked and forced to close after failing to attract visitors. “It was horrendous and really bad taste. I love art. I think live art is lifesaving, but that was monstrous. And anyone could see that it was tasteless.”

Paul Dimoldenberg, a Labour councillor and the group’s previous leader in Westminster, says the Marble Arch mound played a key part in his party’s victory. “It was very resonant on the doorstep. When people mentioned the low council tax in Westminster, we were immediately able to counter by saying, ‘The council spent £6m wasting your money on that useless mound in Marble Arch.’ And they would instantly agree.”

Dimoldenberg won a symbolic victory in the Hyde Park ward – an area previously represented by Shirley Porter, the council’s former Tory leader who designed the gerrymandering homes-for-votes campaign in the 1980s.

“It’s a very sweet victory. We have turned Westminster red, something Shirley Porter tried to ensure would never happen with the illegal homes-for-votes policy. We had dreams and hopes of winning Westminster, but we thought it was something that would never happen,” he says.

Kamel Abdelaoui in hardware store
Kamel Abdelaoui: ‘They have let a lot of people down.’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Kamel Abdelaoui, the owner of a hardware store, voted Labour because of the cost of living crisis. “I’ve been disappointed with the Conservatives [over] the cost of living,” he says. “They have let a lot of people down. People are really struggling with money and they spent all that on a mound, it was ridiculous.”

He adds: “We are tired of the Conservative party and how they have been lying in parliament. I hope Labour will do good things here now.”

Bill Hennessy
Bill Hennessy: ‘They are all millionaires.’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Bill Hennessy, who runs a taxi shelter in Little Venice, sees no reason for hope. “I used to vote Labour, but they don’t do anything for the working class.” But he is even more cynical about the Conservatives. “They’re all millionaires,” he says.

Jacqui Gough, a former air steward, out walking Rosie, her son’s cockapoo, says: “I just hope it sends a message that the Conservatives shouldn’t be in government.” She adds: “Locally, the Conservatives have been quite good, they’ve cleaned up the canal and the rates have been very reasonable. I was thinking this morning that I bet they will go up, but we can afford to pay. And we should spend more on services.”

Annikka Kauppinen agrees. “I had never voted Labour before,” she says. “But I have really changed my mind in the last few years. We should be paying teachers and doctors and nurses. I don’t mind paying more council tax if they spend it on services. I just think we need investment. If people lose patience, you see the rise of the far right, and that really scares me.”

Kauppinen, who works in finance, adds: “And Boris is a buffoon.”

Annikka Kauppinen
Annikka Kauppinen: ‘I had never voted Labour before.’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

In Wandsworth, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite council, it was also the end of a Tory era on Thursday.

Colin Maitland, a former librarian, says: “I’ve lived here for 45 years and for 44 years it’s been Tory. I just saw two men carrying away a large sign saying: The Brighter Borough, Wandsworth.”

Maitland voted for two Labour candidates and one Green. He says: “The council hasn’t behaved as outrageously as the prime minister, but it is time for a change. I work in a food bank, and poverty here is just disgraceful. People are just desperate.”

Hacer Hagar
Hacer Hagar: ‘People voted against the council because of Boris.’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Hacer Hagar, who has lived in Wandsworth since moving to the UK from Turkey, voted Conservative on Thursday. She says: “I’m very happy with the council. I think they’ve been working quite well. But I think people voted against the council because of Boris.”

She will not be voting Conservative in the general election, however. “I think Boris is a big liar and he doesn’t seem embarrassed by it, he just carries on as if nothing has happened.” She adds: “He lied about Turkey joining the EU, he used it to campaign to scare people.”

Lucy Tetley, an events planner, also backed the Tories locally. “The Conservatives in Wandsworth have always done a great job keeping our council tax low.”

Lucy Tetley
Lucy Tetley: ‘I think it’s a great shame.’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

She, too, blames the prime minister for the party losing Wandsworth. “I think it’s great shame. I think people have let anger about Boris Johnson and Covid cloud their judgment.”

Tetley, 23, adds: “Everyone of my generation says, ‘I hate Boris.’ It’s a classic pub conversation. I wouldn’t vote for him in a general election. Loyalty has just snapped. He’s just messed up too many times.”

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