Despite maintaining its control of Merton Council, Labour celebrations were subdued early this morning after the party’s leader lost his seat to a Lib Dem candidate.
Mark Allison, who has been leader of the council since 2020, lost his seat to Lib Dem candidate Kirsten Galea in the newly created Wandle ward.
The result was one of many gains made by the Lib Dems in Merton, who have succeeded the Conservatives to become the new opposition party for the council.
Lib Dem leader and re-elected councillor for Wimbledon Town and Dundonald Anthony Fairclough said: “Obviously we’ve seen the leader of the council lose his seat tonight which I think sends a strong message to the local Labour party and the local council.
“We knew we were on the cusp of something special but there was no complacency from us, we worked really hard and got the results in the end.
“We’re very grateful to all the constituents who turned out to vote yesterday, and going forward we want a more open, more competent and more caring council, and that’s what we intend to do.”
In total, Labour managed to retain 29 of the 33 seats it gained in the 2018 elections, enough for a narrow majority, but this success was overshadowed by the extensive Lib Dem gains in almost all previous Conservative seats.
In the 2018 elections, the Conservatives held 17 seats as the opposition party, a number that has dwindled to six this year.
In contrast, the Lib Dems gained the 11 seat disparity made by Conservative losses, making them the new opposition party for Merton.
Although the Labour Party had cause for celebration in Merton, the loss of the party leader could not be ignored.
Stephen Alambritis MBE, who led Merton Council from 2010-2020 and retained his seat this morning, said: “This is a team effort. We are sorry to lose Mark but it’s his work and everyone’s work that has meant that we retain control of this borough, and that’s where our focus is.
“The result demonstrates the confidence held by Merton residents in a Labour run council.
“Tonight is an endorsement of the Labour council and the way in which we have looked after our constituents here in Merton.”
The former Merton council leader also noted the national context of this year’s local council elections and highlighted the night’s trend of Conservative losses in the wake of the party-gate scandal and more recent allegations of misconduct levelled at Tory MPs.
Alambritis said: “These are local elections, but as a former leader I am fully aware of the influence of national issues on the ways in which people vote.
“People have used this vote to send a message to the Prime Minister, who is the rule-maker but also now the rule-breaker, and that is seen in the big gains the Lib Dems and Labour have made in south London.”
The Merton Conservative Party was asked for their opinion on the election results but declined to comment.
Only one ward is yet to announce their results this morning after a series of recounts led to contention for the Lower Morden ward seats.
Two recounts early this morning showed differing results for one of the seats, with as little as four votes in it between a Labour and Conservative candidate vying for the role.
The results of the second recount were shared with the candidates and their agents, but there was a dispute about the results and the returning officer agreed to a further recount.
It was then announced at 6am this morning that the third recount would be postponed until later today to allow the candidates, their agents and the counting teams time to rest and recover.
The third recount to decide the results for Lower Morden ward will take place at the Civic Centre in Morden at 2pm.
Even without this final result however, this year’s election has shown that Merton residents are not afraid to use their vote to express discontent towards government leadership, at both local and national levels.
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