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EU elections: Councillor is heading to Brussels

Lib Dem winner will stay on as both an MEP and a councillor

27 May, 2019 — By Richard Osley

A COUNCILLOR who has won a seat at the European parliament after a wave of support for the Liberal Democrats across Camden and London will not step down from the Town Hall.

Luisa Porritt, who joined the party in the aftermath of the EU referendum in 2016, was today celebrating her second election win in as many years. Last May, she won a council seat from Tory control in the Belsize ward and last night secured her place at Brussels through the London region list system.

Opponents in Camden had wondered whether the two roles would be incompatible for Cllr Porritt, but she said she has no intention of triggering a by-election. It remains unknown how long the MEPs elected last night will serve with a new Brexit deadline on the table for October.

She said: “I can’t think of a better way of representing the interests of Camden, a borough that voted 75 percent to Remain, than at the heart of the European Union.”

Cllr Porritt has been praised among colleagues for injecting new energy and organisation into the Lib Dem group in Camden, whose rollercoaster ride over the last 20 years had seen them rise to the largest party at the Town Hall and then back down to just one councillor. Gains last year saw them form a group of three on the opposition benches.

Her home in Belsize Park was the base for the Lib Dems’ Get Out The Vote polling day operation and the party had orchestrated the most election set pieces in the run-up to polling day, most notably when Cllr Porritt was met by Sir Vince Cable and the former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt in Camden Square a fortnight ago.

The results across Camden, which indicated that both Labour and Conservative voters had supported the party’s ‘stop Brexit’ message, was proof of a comeback, members said. The most high-profile switch saw Tony Blair’s former director of communications, Alastair Campbell, who lives in Gospel Oak, tell news channels that he had voted for the Lib Dems at this election for the first time.

One of the next tests for the Lib Dems will be to see whether the new support, which seemed impossible among a traditionally a left-leaning electorate in Camden during the coalition years with the Tories, will stick at next year’s London elections.

Cllr Porritt said 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 results, which saw a narrow percentage win for leaving the EU.

“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,” she said. “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.”

After a victory speech at the final London region declaration at City Hall, Cllr Porritt headed to the local party at the Swiss Cottage home of Roger Fox, another of the new crop of local organisers who signed up to the Lib Dems in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

Camden will not officially break down the results on a ward-by-ward basis but sources at the count said the party had won in every area apart from Kilburn, Somers Town and Regent’s Park, where Labour remained strong.

Cllr Porritt said: “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 that we haven’t been as active in recent years as well as the ones that we fought hard in the local elections last year.”

She added: “I think there is definitely potential to stretch beyond the European elections. Obviously we will have to see how the polls go after these elections have passed – but at the moment I think we can see that both of the main parties aren’t particularly popular. So I think we are potentially looking at third party politics again.”

The Greens also picked up new support and were easily in third place, polling particularly well in the Holborn and St Pancras constituency. Highgate councillor Sian Berry said the results in London and around the country had shown a fightback against supporters of a “hard Brexit”.

“We have seen people support Remain parties over hard Brexit parties, and we’ve been part of that,” she said. “We’ve had a great set of results. We don’t know what the Conservatives are going to do next and who their leader will be, but these elections have shown that there is support for remaining in Europe. We had people supporting us because we have been clear all along that we want to stay in Europe.”

More than 6,000 Camden residents voted for the Brexit Party.

The inquests in both the Labour and Conservative camps were beginning last night. Labour council leader Georgia Gould and Tulip Siddiq both appealed on the party’s leadership to support a new referendum on Europe – and campaign to remain in Europe. The New Journal, which witnessed some of the door to door canvassing, reported on how local activists were finding the election the most testing for a decade.

The sixth-placed Conservatives, locally, meanwhile said they would be looking to a new leader to restore trust, but warned that the results would not necessarily be an accurate reflection on how people would vote in other types of election.

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