Richard Watts has congratulated Islington Council’s only opposition member Caroline Russell on her re-election on 3 May, which saw the Green Party councillor top the polls in Highbury East.
It comes after the two disagreed on the campaign trail about the role of opposition parties in scrutinising the Town Hall.
Cllr Russell was re-elected in Highbury East with 2,307 votes – 666 votes more than her nearest rival, Labour’s Sue Lukes, who was elected with 1,641 votes, and incumbent Labour councillor Osh Gantly’s 1,628 votes.
This is a big gain on the 2014 local election, when Russell was elected by just 11 votes, and was 300 votes behind Gantly, with the lowest number of votes of Highbury East’s three elected councillors.
Asked last month whether a Labour-majority council can police itself, Watts told the Islington Citizen that “the vast amount of scrutiny has always been provided by backbench members of the Labour Group” – a position Russell called “extraordinary”.
This week, council leader Watts hailed Labour’s 47-seat majority win in the elections and vowed to put “the views and concerns of local people at the heart of all that we do”.
In statement to the Citizen, Watts said: “We are delighted to have once again received the overwhelming backing of local people for our plans to make Islington a fairer place for all.”
He said last week’s result “sends a clear message to the Tory government that local people reject their unfair policies – especially their massive cuts to local police”.
Watts continued: “This is one of the best results in Islington Labour’s history, with our share of the vote increasing to its highest level at a council election since 1974.
“I am also incredibly proud that, for the first time, the majority of Islington Labour’s councillors are female.
“We have put forward a positive vision for a future where Islington is a fairer place for all and I am delighted so many local people have supported that vision.
“We will, of course, remain an open, transparent and listening council – putting the views and concerns of local people at the heart of all that we do.”
Council Leader Watts added: “I want to congratulate Cllr Russell on her re-election and look forward to continuing to work with her constructively.”
Russell, speaking to the Citizen, said: “Despite focussing on just two wards, Highbury East and St George’s, the Green Party has cemented its place across the borough as Islington’s second party to Labour in local elections.
“We are proud to have increased the Green Party share of the vote by 92 per cent in Highbury East and 88 per cent in St George’s.”
Russell’s fellow Green Party candidates in Highbury East lost by small margins.
Benali Hamdache lost by just 73 votes, while Ernestas Jegorovas lost by 95 votes.
“It was a close call that my colleagues Benali Hamdache and Ernestas Jegorovas were not quite elected, but overall we got more votes in the ward than Labour,” said Russell.
“So the task of being a one person opposition still sits with me.”
She added: “I look forward to continuing to hold the council to account assisted by Green colleagues and members of the public.
“And we are, of course, very grateful to everyone who voted for us.”