The Tulse Hill by-election delivered Labour a crushing victory over the Liberal Democrats. Ruth Ling returns to the council in triumph after what must be one of the shortest absences on record. She will be a vocal champion for Tulse Hill together with fellow ward councillors Marcia Cameron and Ade Aminu.
The full result was
Labour 1235 (53%)
Lib Dem 745 (32%)
Greens 256 (11%)
Tories 94 (4%)
The election itself was a somewhat muted affair coming so hard on the heels of the General and full council elections held barely two months previously after the previous councillor resigned suddenly for personal reasons.
The key issues in the by-election were the proposals for a much needed new secondary school, backed by Labour but opposed by the Lib Dems, and the more general issue of the service cuts and tax rises being forced through by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government.
Tulse Hill needs more secondary school places. When the Lib Dems were running the council they left 500 children without a school place when allocation letters arrived. Labour’s improved things by opening two new schools – one of them in Brixton. The only council-owned site in the area that’s big enough for a new secondary school is the site of Fenstanton Primary School on the South Circular. The primary school needs rebuilding in any case. The Lib Dems know there is no alternative site because, despite a four-year search while they ran the council, they couldn’t identify one. And yet, when Labour put forward plans for Fenstanton the Lib Dems opposed them on the opportunistic grounds that they might grab a few votes by whipping up unreasonable fears about unruly schoolchildren on the nearby St Martin’s Estate, shamefully demonising young people for party political reasons.
The cuts issue was less specific. There are many former Lib Dem voters who are horrified that their votes have been used to prop up a Tory Government. Those fears become more real by the day as we see the way cuts are being unfairly targeted on poorer areas like Brixton and Tulse Hill with the full connivance of the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems VAT u-turn was another jaw-dropping example of the rank hypocrisy of a party that will say or do anything to get power without any intention of following through. During the General Election the Lib Dems campaigned vigorously against any VAT rise on the grounds it would hit the poor hardest, then voted through an increase in VAT to 20% as soon as they were in power. The voters of Tulse Hill were clearly and rightly unimpressed.
I must commend the role of Labour’s candidate Ruth Ling. Ruth campaigned tirelessly and placed her many years of experience at the disposal of people in Tulse Hill. Her warm, friendly and open manner endeared her to many, and her determination to fight a principled and positive campaign stood in marked contrast to a Lib Dem campaign disgraced by smears and vicious personal attacks that left many voters disgusted.
On the day, Labour’s vote increased from the strong 51% we won in May to a very impressive 53%. The Greens did creditably, and I’m not surprised after they fought a decent and well mannered campaign. The Tories, however, were humiliated. For the country’s governing party to get just 4% of the vote just a couple of miles down the road from Parliament leaves them reeling. The Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s combined vote was also down compared to last May, a sure sign of the unpopularity of their government.
So it’s congratulations to Ruth Ling, and a big thank you to the voters of Tulse Hill. They have given Labour a further mandate to defend frontline services against unfair Tory-Lib Dem cuts, and to move forward with plans to build the new secondary school places local children deserve. Now, with the elections over, it’s time to get on with the job.
(Written July 2010)