Divided borough: How Greenwich voted in the the EU referendum

imageResidents 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…

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.

Actually, Greenwich University benefits from EU funding for small businesses;  as have arts projects such as Greenwich Dance and Greenwich & Docklands International Festival.

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.

9 comments

  1. Darryl

    SE Nine magazine’s John Webb has been in touch.

    “Please can you stop trying to label SE9 as some kind of Xenphobia Central, with Denise Hyland having to watch out for her neighbours etc. You completely lack even local context, never mind regional or national.

    Bexley voted 63/37 for leave. There’s nothing in SE9’s votes comes anywhere near that and we’re in abutting boroughs, across the road from each other. By that reckoning, SE9 is middle of the road, par for the course. Unfortunately, you’re giving aid and comfort to all those people (mostly who have never been near the place) who consider it some kind of exceptional place stuffed full of racists, a legacy of the Lawrence killing, beware, don’t go there, when really, the attitudes towards minorities as indexed by the referendum result, if you can do that, also the small votes for UKIP (nowhere near a councillor c/f areas who actually have UKIP councillors) as local and national elections completely belies this and confirms my belief that there is no more racism in Eltham than in any other equivalent demographic part of London, indeed the country, and you fingering us like you do does not properly give that message, indeed the opposite. I’m not fully sure why you feel the need to try to give the opposite impression and why it’s a theme of yours. “

  2. Stephen Brain

    Hi as a ward Councillor in Peninsula I feel proud or our efforts and devastated by the national loss. We in Peninsula did communicate the message having been out canvassing since Remain started and canvassing for the EU and gathering intelligence during Sadiq’s campaign. There is no alternative for hard work… Last Thursday the team worked from 07.00 till 21.00 covering 25Km in the ward.
    I feel profoundly sorry for young people whose European opportunities have been removed. As someone who lived and worked in Brussels/Bruxelles for the European Commission I know how hard the staff work (only the same number of people that operate Birmingham City Council for 27 countries). They are intellectually rigorous, great fun to work with, multi-lingual and many my good friends. The real stupidity is that the areas most firmly LEAVE receive the largest amounts of EU funding…Cornwall S. Wales (excepting Cardiff and two others-anyone been there recently it’s a waste land without EU funding would have drifted off into the Atlantic) N.West N.East. At least N. Ireland had the good sense to vote for those that fund shed loads of stuff…The EU has also made a significant contribution to the peace process (The budget for the first EU Peace and Reconciliation initiative in the Republic and N.I was Euro 300,000,000 I know this to be true as I wrote it and set the bloody budget). I am cheesed off…Come on London let’s be a city state like Renaissance Florence/Firenze trading across the EU with the same rights we’ve enjoyed for the last 40 years!

    Like to thank Stewart Christie for his comradely engagement last Thursday night at the count and his hard work on the breakdowns.
    Councillor Stephen Brain Peninsula ward

  3. Andy

    I am young (25-34 bracket), work as a professional in the City and I voted for Brexit. The great issue with those that voted Remain is that they tarnish all Leave voters with the same brush – namely, one of being a racist and a xenophobe. Ironically, that is a remarkably ignorant attitude. Both campaigns were not lacking in their own village idiots, but it’s helpful to look beyond that to the real arguments on either side of the debate – both sides had meritworthy and valid arguments for Remaining or Leaving the EU, and a great deal of people paid attention to those.

    You may not agree with the result, but this is a democratic and fair result. The idea that it’s a tragedy is of course a point of view, but please bear in mind that it’s a minority point of view.

  4. David Gardner

    I worked tirelessly for a Remain vote for the whole campaign, and am devastated by the result. What we showed in Woolwich Common, one of the most deprived wards, is that by taking the positive case for Europe onto the doorsteps, stations and High Street you can persuade people and we ended up with a 61.05% remain vote in a war with very different demographics from Greenwich and Blackheath. It was all about engagement, listening to people’s fears, trying to dissuade them of some of the xenophobia and distortions pedalled by the Sun and Mail and putting the strong case for London in the EU and the opportunities for future generations. Some resolute Brexiteers were closed to any rational discussion but many had open minds. A shame there was not this level of engagement in many parts outside London.

  5. Trevor Allman

    Disappointed to see such a low “Leave” vote in Blackheath Westcombe Ward, but then being one of the more prosperous wards in the borough, the “blue-collar” working class, which has been hardest hit by EU membership and its economics of austerity, isn’t as numerical as other wards in the borough.
    A shame that comrades Tony Benn and Bob Crow, who both virulently campaigned to leave the pro-capitalist EU institution, didn’t live long enough to see this result.
    Now to join with workers across the European continent to rid ourselves of this edifice to reactionary politics and economics.
    Workers of all Countries – Unite !!

  6. Shivanee

    I’m not going to say which way I voted because I don’t think it matters, we have to move on together. We are in a democracy and people have spoken. Though I would like to echo others’ sentiments that accusations of racism against Brexiters doesn’t help anyone and encourages a rather worrying fascist-like groupthink mentality, particularly on social media. Frankly, that scares me the most.

    As Darryl and those of us who have worked in/closely with the media will know, the media will always find extremes and tropes to tell their story. So yes, some proud-and-out racists voted Leave but similarly we now have the unedifying extreme of young metropolitan ‘educated’ Londoners refusing to accept democracy because ‘the stupid people came out to vote.’ Both are ugly and embarrassing. The majority 17M people who voted Leave came from all walks of life, including the very-well-to-do Shires (inc.by 51% my home town) and high employment towns like Milton Keynes, Watford and Swindon (4/10 of higher earners voted Leave). A great proportion of London’s 40% Leavers were ethnic minority voters and the very narrow margins in Newham and Hounslow bears this out – as well as the result in Greenwich. So please, lets go back to not believing everything we read in the media. Beyond the headlines, it is much less about demographics than personal decisions. Let’s keep calm and carry on!

  7. KH904

    I voted leave for various reasons:
    Economic (the Eurozone is going to fail as it’s was designed to collapse, giving the excuse to call for political & fiscal union)
    Immigration – Controlled immigration yes, open borders no. The idea that we won’t be able to travel & work in Europe is silly. My cousin has come back living and working in Singapore for a few years – They are not in the EU as far as i’m aware. I know numerous people who travel and work around the world in countries that are not in the EU.
    I’m sick & tired of people labelling the brexiter’s as xenophobic, little Englanders, uneducated etc. My parents immigrated from India over 40 years ago. I’ve gone to university and have a degree in Accounting and Finance.
    Ultimately I voted to leave because I believe in the Government ultimately should answer and serve the peoples of the UK (it’s not perfect and some things need to be addressed) regardless if the decisions are right or wrong.
    There’s much more I can go into regarding the details but here is not the platform unfortunately.

    The idea that people are complaining and what a 2nd referendum, petitions calling for the MP’s to ignore the vote etc are incredibly scarey in a so-called democracy.
    Both camps lied and and didn’t conduct their campaigns well but the leave side won (despite the system throwing it’s weight for the remain side).

    Now I just hope the public stay engaged in all levels of politics and demand better from our public servants.

  8. Paul Breen

    After all the unlikely changes that have happened at a broader level nationally and internationally these past few months. I have been engaged in a very one-sided battle with the Council over problems with one of their tenants for pretty much the past half decade. I doubt that I am alone in this. But what strikes me is the local Labour Party’s perceived lack of affinity with what might have once been termed working class and lower middle class people (even though such labels are ridiculously out of date). I believe that if these people came out and voted we would see a very different Council. Having campaigned for Remain on the doorstep I also do fear that the wrong end of the political spectrum might eventually seize the initiative, as unlikely as it seems in this moment in time. It always happens eventually when elite groups live in a bubble detached from what’s happening in terms of people’s feelings on the ground.

    Despite the present make up of the Council, I feel that there is an undercurrent of resentment in this Borough that will one day manifest itself in change at the ballot box, unless the Council listen more to people on the ground. At the minute they appear to be living in the kind of detached self-referential bubble that Michael Moore talked about in the American elections. I lived in that kind of bubble as regards the Remain campaign until I went out on the streets of Charlton, where I encountered a very different mood to that of my own social circle, and choice of newspapers/social media contacts etc. I didn’t know any Leave supporters or campaigners in the local area, and didn’t anticipate that some of those people who normally don’t vote in Council elections might well have been politicised by that referendum. More than that, it was their chance to stick two fingers up at the establishment, which was part of the mood I was getting in the streets as I knocked on doors.
    The less on of this is that if many of those people ever came out to vote in future General or Local elections, or many others registered, we would have a massive sea change in Greenwich politics. Most of those people I am speaking of should naturally be Labour or Liberal Democrat voters because these parties protect their interests, though there seems also to be scope for the one nation type of Conservatism that some of our local Con councillors seem to advocate. However, as happened in the EU Referendum and in the US recently, if this simmering tide of anger is unleashed it could well find the wrong focus.
    All parties should act now to stop that from happening, as far off as it might seem at this moment in time. On the Council side, as an organisation – it needs to get in touch with people’s thoughts and feelings at a local level and not just those communities that it sees as potential voters. In terms of the opposition parties, they need to keep organised and energised because there will come a time when people will seek change unless they are listened to and it’s better for these parties to harness that than some possible alternatives they may well swing towards.

    (Two separate comments edited together as one was on a very old post)