Residents in Greenwich borough voted by 55% to 45% to remain in the European Union yesterday – but the rest of England didn’t follow its lead. The referendum result has set in play a tumultuous series of events that will eventually touch all our lives.
Too often, Londoners like to think that they’re above the provincial masses in terms of their political awareness. But one strong cue that the game was up for the Remain camp came between 1.30 and 2am with the turnout figures across Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley. 63% in Lewisham, 69% in Greenwich… and 75% in Bexley, which was always going to vote Leave.
By breakfast time, Lewisham was 70% Remain, Greenwich 55%, Bexley just 37%.
The closeness of the vote should have come as no surprise – remember, Greenwich voters narrowly backed Boris Johnson for mayor in 2008.
Officially, that’s as detailed as it gets. But thanks to Lib Dem campaigner Stewart Christie, who was at the count in Woolwich, for posting this ward-by-ward Greenwich breakdown on Twitter…
— Stewart Christie (@5tewartChristie) June 24, 2016
These are the 17 Greenwich wards in alphabetical order. A health warning – postal ballots were thrown into the mix, so they may not provide the full picture. But nonethless, the results provide an interesting insight into the communities that make up the borough.
- Abbey Wood (3 Lab): Remain 45.70%, LEAVE 54.23%
- Blackheath Westcombe (2 Lab, 1 Con): REMAIN 70.47%, Leave 29.45%
- Charlton (3 Lab): REMAIN 58.53%, Leave 41.41%
- Coldharbour/ New Eltham (3 Con): Remain 42.04%, LEAVE 57.91%
- Eltham North (2 Lab, 1 Con): Remain 48.21%, LEAVE 51.74%
- Eltham South (3 Con): Remain 44.29%, LEAVE 55.69%
- Eltham West (3 Lab): Remain 43.96%, LEAVE 56.00%
- Glyndon (3 Lab): REMAIN 54.02%, Leave 45.94%
- Greenwich West (3 Lab): REMAIN 76.31%, Leave 23.65%
- Kidbrooke with Hornfair (3 Lab): REMAIN 51.85%, Leave 48.11%
- Middle Park & Sutcliffe (3 Lab): REMAIN 50.73%, Leave 49.23%
- Peninsula (3 Lab): REMAIN 69.06%, Leave 30.90%
- Plumstead (3 Lab): Remain 49.30%, LEAVE 50.63%
- Shooters Hill (3 Lab): REMAIN 55.86%, Leave 44.11%
- Thamesmead Moorings (3 Lab): REMAIN 55.36%, Leave 44.59%
- Woolwich Common (3 Lab): REMAIN 61.05%, Leave 38.92%
- Woolwich Riverside (3 Lab): REMAIN 59.40%, Leave 40.51%
No surprise to see the (mostly) more prosperous Greenwich West and Blackheath Westcombe wards leading the remain vote, along with Peninsula ward, which has changed utterly in the past two decades. Strong votes around Woolwich and Thamesmead will be testament to strong Labour “get the vote out” operations – opponents mess with the Labour machine at their peril.
But it’s also telling to see the four Eltham wards voting out. Eltham’s always voted more like the rest of England than London.
Coldharbour & New Eltham, Eltham North and Eltham South bucked the trend and backed Zac Goldsmith rather than Sadiq Khan in May – it’s arguable that these areas have more in common, politically, with Bexley and Bromley than the rest of Greenwich borough – while Eltham North and Eltham West (which also includes a chunk of Kidbrooke) polled strongly for Ukip.
None of this should have been a surprise. But it will cause unease for those in charge of – or with great influence over – Greenwich Council, who mostly live in this area, even if they don’t represent it.
Leader Denise Hyland, deputy Danny Thorpe, recently-deposed deputy John Fahy – all SE9 residents – will be shifting a little more uncomfortably today in the knowledge that a campaign based – despite Greenwich Tory leader Matt Hartley’s good intentions – mainly around immigration fears and false claims on NHS funding can sway a majority of their immediate neighbours.
Should the UK’s instability lead to an early general election, MP Clive Efford – who only last week helped mastermind Labour’s victory in the Tooting by-election – will be looking anxiously over his shoulder. The council project to rejuvenate Eltham High Street may suddenly have rather a lot riding on it.
It won’t come as much comfort for them that the areas that backed “remain” most strongly are in the north-west of the borough, the area that pushes back most strongly against council-backed development schemes such as the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal. Still, on that and the Silvertown Tunnel, who needed European laws on air pollution anyway?
But the strongest “leave” votes came in Labour strongholds – Eltham West, which has seen the Ferrier Estate demolished and replaced with a largely private development; and Abbey Wood, Denise Hyland’s ward, utterly neglected until the arrival of Crossrail, and now also seeing the arrival of the developers building as fast as they can until the bubble bursts.
Just as in the deindustrialised towns of northern England and south Wales, you can’t help feeling chickens have come home to roost for complacent local establishments – however much this may feel like turkeys voting for Christmas.
Was there a positive EU story to tell the people of Eltham West and Abbey Wood, or anywhere else in Greenwich borough? If there was, it wasn’t forthcoming. It wasn’t coming from their councillors, and it wasn’t coming from the local Stronger In campaign.
The Woolwich Arsenal DLR extension had £100m in European Investment Bank loans, while EU projects part-funded the Emirates Air Line (will they want their money back?) and the driverless cars project in Greenwich Peninsula. There must be more (here’s a list of small projects in Lewisham), but information on them isn’t easy to find.
The failure of the Remain campaign wasn’t just at a national level, but at a local one too, with local councillors and campaigners unable or simply unwilling to communicate local benefits of EU membership that will now be lost forever.
Whether they, in time, will be replaced with new opportunities remains to be seen. This wasn’t a regional vote, and pointing fingers at council wards, boroughs, regions or countries is futile.
But this disastrously divisive referendum has reminded us that politics is much more complicated than simple questions of left and right. It’s shown there are areas of Greenwich borough that don’t understand each other, never mind London’s relationship with England or how England can look Scotland in the eye again.
Whatever the future brings, the fiercely tribal establishment in charge of Greenwich borough will do well to remember this. Whether they will or not is another story altogether.