The question of Cllr Peter John’s departure as Leader of Southwark Council has lingered for some time. It was not a question of if, but when, he would call time on his reign. Despite Southwark Labour tightening its grip on the Council in 2018, John made it known that he would not lead the party into 2022.
Since his resignation at yesterday’s Full Council, tributes have been pouring in across the London Labour dynasty from Shadow Cabinet Member, Andrew Gwynne to Mayor of Hackney, Phillip Glanville. Even Southwark’s Liberal Democrat councillors, who have been critical of the Labour hegemony, gave John a standing ovation.
John took up the role of Chair of London Councils in 2018, an influential body that oversees policy and resources for all Boroughs. His Deputy, Camden’s Leader Georgia Gould, will replace him as Chair until the AGM in May.
John has overseen a transformation of Southwark and its communities during his tenure and played an active role in planning and regeneration. John sacrificed significant political capital and caused unease amongst the Party’s rank and file by putting his weight behind controversial schemes, such as the Heygate and Aylesbury Estate regenerations, Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre and Canada Water. During his decade as Leader, development on the Bankside has flourished with iconic London developments such as the Shard. John has also not shied away from criticising Labour’s position on Brexit and the infiltration of hard-left elements in the local constituency parties.
Although, John has unquestionably made great strides over the decade, his successor has significant work to do at a time when local government budgets are challenged and key projects require significant leadership such as the extension of the Bakerloo Line and the associated regeneration of the Old Kent Road.
But who will succeed John? The obvious frontrunners are Cllr Johnson Situ, Cabinet Member for Planning, widely respected across the local party and Deputy Leader, Cllr Rebecca Lury, who went head to head with John and Situ by voting against the flagship redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre. It will be interesting to see if the conflict between Labour’s left and centrists plays any role in the candidate selection.
What’s next for Peter John?
Following James Murray’s election to the House of Commons, many tipped John for the Deputy Mayor for Housing role taken up instead by Tom Copley. By contrast to John, Copley is regarded as someone who keeps both developers and their lobbyists at arms-length. Given the timing a parliamentary seat seems unlikely unless there is a by-election, with Neil Coyle and Harriet Harman both firmly embedded locally.
John is a popular figure within the London Labour Party. His next move will be one to watch. Cascade’s dealings with Peter John have consistently been constructive, transparent and plain speaking – qualities that have helped shape better outcomes for the projects we have helped deliver for our clients in the borough.