Local Elections: Favourable verdict on homes-for-votes

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The Independent Online
MARIANNE MACDONALD

VOTERS in Westminster gave their blessing to the council's controversial 'homes-for-votes' policy when they returned a comfortable Conservative majority.

The number of Conservative and Labour councillors remained the same as in 1990 - with the Tories holding 45 seats and Labour 15. No Liberal Democrat councillor has won a seat on the city council since it was created in 1965.

The result, announced yesterday, was greeted with jubilation by the national Conservatives, who regard Westminster as one of the jewels in their local government crown.

The Tory victory came despite the targeting by Labour of marginal Conservative wards, including Bayswater, Maida Vale, Little Venice and Cavendish, which all remained in Tory hands.

Cavendish was regarded as a key indicator of whether the Conservatives would retain control of the council.

The result was viewed as an exceptional success in the light of Tory losses nationally and the recent homes-for-votes scandal. In January, the District Auditor, John Magill, condemned the policy, which began in 1986 as an attempt to gerrymander votes by offering homes for sale to Tory supporters instead of reletting them to the homeless. It was, he said, 'disgraceful and improper' as well as 'unauthorised' and 'unlawful'. The Conservatives's victory, however, will allow them to push through their election promise to introduce a similar scheme.

While Labour and Liberal Democrat spokesmen accused the Tories of having rigged the election, Miles Young, the leader of the council, dismissed the claims.

'Our win was to do with the level of council tax ( pounds 245 in Band D) and the fact that under Labour it would have gone up by two-and-a-half times. It was to do with the quality of services,' he said.

But Andrew Dismore, Labour group leader on the council, insisted: 'This is a victory for corruption in local government under the Conservative Party. They set out to buy this election with the homes- for-votes scandal and with massive injections of central government funds.'

Philip Wardle, the Liberal Democrat agent for Westminster North, agreed. 'You can't compete where people are voting with their

wallets.'

In the light of national Tory losses, the result in Westminster yesterday may be regarded by Tories as an even greater feather in their cap than the 1990 win when the party gained 41 seats.

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