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It was a tense atmosphere at the count at Lambeth Town Hall on Thursday night, as we waited for the result of Thornton ward’s second by-election this year. After a hard-fought campaign, the Liberal Democrat candidate Matthew Bryant fell just 19 votes short of beating Labour this time.
Although we didn’t quite make it over the line, the 32% increase in the Lib Dem vote share since May 2018 shows that voters are increasingly choosing outward-looking, tolerant, pro-EU politics over the extremism and intransigence of the Conservatives and Labour.
The tight result also sends a strong message that Labour cannot take residents in our area for granted. Their refusal to listen to residents’ concerns – whether they be over the proposed closure of the local Weir Link Children’s Centre or poor maintenance on our estates – is unacceptable and the Liberal Democrats will continue to challenge Labour’s approach.
You can also read Lewis Baston for OnLondon's coverage of the by-election. "The result was a real squeaker. Labour’s majority, in a ward that looked rock-solid a year ago, was slashed to 19 votes," Baston writes. "The swing from Labour to Lib Dem is 5.6 per cent since February and a massive 27 per cent since May 2018.
"While the scale of the movement owes a lot to campaigning effort that cannot be replicated everywhere, Labour would be unwise to ignore the result. The two Thornton ward elections, and indeed the defection of the local MP, suggest that the party cannot take the liberal middle classes and the multicultural municipal estates that make up its London core vote for granted."
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On 15th April Lambeth Council Cabinet will be asked to approve proposals to close five of the borough’s 23 children’s centres and reduce funding at a further seven.
These proposals are deeply unpopular. Over 1000 people responded to a consultation on the proposal with the majority of these expressing major concerns.
There is good reason for this concern: children’s centres have a significant impact on children’s achievement and readiness for school (which is greater for children whose first language is not English), are vital in supporting early intervention and promote social cohesion. These benefits are put at risk by the funding cuts and the Equalities Impact Assessment that has been prepared for cabinet also notes that the impact of the cuts “may be greater for families living in workless or low income households; and for families of children with special educational needs or disabilities”.
The council is undoubtedly forced to make difficult financial choices because of the enormous cuts in central government funding. However these cuts should not mean that the council’s proposals should be accepted without challenge – we must and we will hold the administration to account.
This week Lambeth resident and Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Floella Benjamin held a productive meeting with Councillor Jennifer Brathwaite, Lambeth Council’s cabinet member for Children & Young People, to discuss the proposed cuts to funding for children’s centres.
Baroness Benjamin has been a longstanding campaigner and advocate for children and was instrumental in the introduction of Sure Start centres. She joined the local Lib Dem team to ask the council for assurances over the provision of services that are vital to the whole community, but especially important to the most vulnerable.