Tower Hamlets has only one Liberal Democrat councillor despite seeing its national leader become Deputy Prime Minister. Councillor Stephanie Eaton found herself in this position after her party lost five of their previous six seats in the borough. But she says she will ensure her party’s views are heard on the Council and Nick Clegg’s elevation to number two in the Lib Dem/Tory coalition will be an enormous help.
Over the past eight years, the Lib Dems in Tower Hamlets have seen the number of seats they hold on the Council shrink from 16 in 2002 to six in the 2006 elections, and now down to just one. Cllr Eaton saved the party from total defeat in the borough by clinging on to her seat in Bethnal Green North, where she has been a councillor since 2006. Even here she is outnumbered by two Labour councillors, Carlo Gibbs and Zenith Rahman.
Cllr Eaton intends to:
“put forward a strong Liberal Democrat voice where I think that that’s important for the people of Tower Hamlets.”
However, she stressed that the interests of Tower Hamlets residents must come first and so she would not take a deliberately oppositional stance towards other parties if it was not in the interest of the borough:
“I have a good relationship with many of the councillors from other parties…I intend, in the next four years, to provide a robust, and an incisive, and a determined opposition to the majority parties’ policies where they put them forward. But where I agree with them I will support them.”
Cllr Eaton’s apparent isolation in Tower Hamlets contrasts with the march of her party’s MPs into government. In addition to Nick Clegg taking up the post of Deputy PM, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Chris Huhne, and David Laws will fill Cabinet positions as Business Secretary, Secretary of State for Scotland, Energy Secretary, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury respectively, with more spaces still to be filled.
Thrilled at the appointments, Cllr Eaton said:
“I’m delighted that we now have a Liberal Democrat Government. It’s going to be absolutely fantastic for the UK and for Tower Hamlets that Liberal Democrat policies are going to be implemented in Government.”
The Councillor anticipates that her party’s minority position locally will be bolstered by the Lib Dems’ gains nationally. This, she feels, will take the interests of local people directly to Westminster:
“I can explain to ministers and to policy makers in my party about the unique circumstances of people in Tower Hamlets, I can talk at our Liberal Democrat conferences about the way poverty, and social exclusion, and inequality has an impact on the people in my ward – the people that I’m talking to every day.”
Cllr Eaton will still have to work with the enormous Labour majority in the borough. Labour hold 41 seats in Tower Hamlets, gaining 15 since 2006, and had a double victory in the Parliamentary elections last week, winning both constituencies in the borough. Rushanara Ali became the first Bangladeshi MP in the UK in Bethnal Green and Bow and Jim Fitzpatrick took Poplar and Limehouse.
Stephanie Eaton is not the only person to become the last council representative for their party following Thursday’s poll. Darren Johnson, councillor for Brockley ward in Lewisham, is now the only Green Party member on Lewisham council.