Danny Thorpe at the conference
Two more years: Thorpe comfortably beat David Gardner to stay council leader

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe will stay in his post for at least the next two years after winning a vote among its Labour councillors last night.

Thorpe beat his rival, deputy leader David Gardner, by 27 votes to 13, at the Labour group’s annual general meeting last night.

It was a doubly bad night for Gardner as he lost his deputy leader role too, losing that to the current finance cabinet member Christine Grice. She won by 24 votes to 16.

Thorpe and Grice, who is well-liked on the council and was recently given the all-clear after months of gruelling cancer treatment, are close allies, so the vote will end two years of tension at the top of the council. Gardner was given a job with few direct powers, cabinet member for public realm, last year.

Labour won the council election in 2018, but under the council’s leader and cabinet system, the leadership positions are effectively decided behind closed doors before being ratified in public at the council’s annual general meeting in May.

In 2018, Thorpe won the leadership by just one vote, beating the Thamesmead Moorings councillor Averil Lekau, sparking months of bitterness about the result; one councillor, who would have voted for Lekau, was late for the vote as they were stuck in traffic. The early leaks of Glyndon ward councillor Tonia Ashikodi’s housing fraud investigation to a left-wing website, Skwawkbox, seemed to focus more on Ashikodi’s decision to vote for Thorpe than the fact she had ripped off the borough’s council taxpayers.

Critics have called the former primary school teacher’s leadership style dictatorial and have called him out of his depth, but – as repeatedly happened with his predecessors Denise Hyland and Chris Roberts – they could not pick a candidate to beat him.

While Thorpe has largely carried on what his predecessors started, his biggest upheaval involved banning cabinet members from sitting on the council’s main planning committee. Greenwich was the only borough in London to have its leader voting on major planning decisions.

Instead, the planning board, under Shooters Hill councillor Sarah Merrill, has taken a more sceptical view on big developments in the borough, easing relationships with residents’ groups who had become frustrated with the council’s previous refusal to listen to them. Merrill is hotly tipped to switch to the council’s ruling cabinet after May.

The council has also begun its biggest home-building programme since the 1980s, while he has also begun a programme to offer free meals to children during school holidays – a scheme aimed at helping the borough’s poorest families.

Thorpe also reversed the borough’s support for a cruise liner terminal in east Greenwich, but fudged its position on the Silvertown Tunnel, sending a letter from the Labour group asking Sadiq Khan to cancel his road scheme but declining to vote on the matter in open council or campaign against it.

Angela Cornforth remains chief whip, but Ann-Marie Cousins becomes deputy whip after beating the Charlton councillor Linda Perks on a vote which went to a second round.

Hyland will be deputy mayor, lining her up to be mayor in 2021, ahead of the council election the following year.

Thorpe will face a new Tory leader in the council chamber from May after Matt Hartley decided to resign as head of the opposition group last Friday after five years.

Meanwhile, rank-and-file Labour members in Glyndon ward, Ashikodi’s old seat, will pick a candidate for next month’s by-election on Thursday night after the disgraced councillor resigned last Wednesday following her sentencing on two charges of housing fraud.

853 produces public interest journalism for Greenwich and SE London and is part-funded by its readers. If you would like to help keep it running, become a member:

  • Join us on Steady at steadyhq.com/853 – donate monthly amounts in pounds
  • Find us on PressPatron at presspatron.com/853 – donate monthly or annual amounts in pounds
  • We’re also on Patreon at patreon.com/853 – donate monthly amounts in dollars
  • Want to make a one-off donation? Buy the site editor a coffee (or other beverage) at ko-fi.com.

Thank you for your support – the site would not exist without it.