Nearly three weeks after the local elections, Wandsworth formally became a Labour council on Wednesday.
One of the ‘perks’ of being an ex-councillor is invites to various civic events, including the annual meeting and mayor-making. I’ll confess, I haven’t been to one since I left the council. While worthy, they are not the most thrilling of events. But Wednesday felt like one I should attend. And one I should write a blog post about; as much as I tried, this was always a council blog, and it feels like Wednesday was a council ‘moment’.
Most people are familiar with fairly brutal Parliamentary elections, where the results take immediate effect and the Prime Minister faces eviction the next day. But councils work at a slower pace. Councillors do not assume their position until the Monday following their election, and changes in administration have to wait until the next council meeting.
So, while it was accurate, it was also slightly odd to hear Ravi Govindia introduced as the council leader, when he wasn’t even his group leader any more, while Simon Hogg had one last duty to perform as the leader of the opposition.
The meeting progressed much like any of the ones I had attended. Govindia, as council leader, did his job well, with the usual gravitas (save one barbed comment, apparently about Peter Carpenter, that felt beneath him) reflecting on the Mayor’s year. Hogg, responded in kind, perhaps with a little more levity and few hints of politics.
Then the Mayor responded, with the usual reflections on the duties of Mayor and what they had seen. In my first year on the council, the outgoing Mayor did this in the form of a poem they wrote, which stylistically sat between William McGonagall and Pam Ayres. I am grateful prose has been used ever since.
But it was for Tony Belton, now in his 52nd year on the council (and author of an excellent local newsletter) to really bring politics to the meeting. Returning to my first-ever council meeting, Belton was leader of the opposition, and his speech of thanks to the Mayor was undoubtedly political. Many felt it inappropriate. But, I was told, he felt that for much of the audience it might be the only five minutes of local politics they get in the year: it was the price of entry for the free food and drink they would enjoy afterwards.
And he was as right then as he was on Wednesday. Nominating Hogg as the new council leader, he discussed not just his personal merits, but the huge challenges he faces. With multiple crises, from climate to cost-of-living, or housing to inequality, it is little use pretending the Labour administration is inheriting a perfect borough or situation.
What was interesting, though, was the atmosphere afterwards. I won’t pretend it was like the 1997 election or the 2009 presidential inauguration were for many, but it had a tinge of those days. There were feelings of hope and optimism in the air.
Chatting with some council officers afterwards, it was obvious the new administration had come in with a clear programme and hitting the ground running. After 44 years of running Wandsworth with methods developed in the early 80s (much as some of us tried and failed to change that), things will be different.
The test is how those changes impact on the borough over the next four years. Will it be a fairer place, with better homes, and a focus on the people, not developers? I hope so.
Whoever won the election earlier this month would have faced a huge challenge, and would have deserved an evening of celebration before the hard work started. I was just glad I could watch from the sidelines, and be happy there has been a change of management.

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