Shock by-election loss for Hackney Labour after suspension and trans row

Tom Belger
Hackney Council’s town hall in London after it faced a shock by-election defeat. Photo: Shutterstock / DrimaFilm

Hackney Labour has suffered a shock by-election defeat to the Conservatives despite the party’s huge national poll lead, after Labour’s Laura Pascal was suspended and then reinstated in the lead-up to polling day and faced criticism over her views on sex and gender.

Labour slumped to second place on 935 votes, down 46% on the 1,724 votes Caroline Woodley had received in 2022. The by-election in the east London borough was triggered by Caroline Woodley standing aside to run as the directly elected mayor, a contest sparked by the previous mayor’s resignation over a scandal. Woodley won that mayoral race in November, but Labour’s share of the vote slumped from 59% to 49.5%.

The mayoral race saw the Greens perform strongly in second place, but the latest by-election saw the Tories come up trumps. Their candidate Ian Sharer won on 1,623 votes, a remarkable turnaround compared to the 251 votes the Tories secured in 2022 – when they only fielded one candidate for three seats in the ward. The Lib Dems secured only 73 votes, with the Greens on 387.

The defeat comes after a difficult week for the Labour campaign, with the party first administratively suspendeding Pascal so close to polling day it could not tweak the ballot papers – and then reinstating her less than a day before polls opened on Thursday.

The Hackney Labour group put out a statement in Pascal’s name saying she apologised for “social media activity which fell below the standard of someone seeking election to public office”, though it did not specify what social media posts related to.

She describes herself in her profile as “unapologetic for my gender critical views”, and faced criticism during the campaign from rival candidates and others on social media over some of her posts.

One Labour source close to the campaign said it would have been “totally impossible for Labour to snatch a win in a marginal ward” with a candidate embroiled in such a row, with some voters likely to have been “deeply offended” by some of her social media activity, particularly running against a “popular’ local ex-Lib Dem candidate.

Hackney Labour has faced other recent challenges. The by-election was triggered by the resignation of former mayor Philip Glanville, which followed a photo surfacing of him alongside former councillor Tom Dewey, on the same day he reportedly heard the latter was arrested. Dewey has since been convicted of possession of indecent images of children.

Meanwhile Cazenoze constituency also falls within the Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency, represented by Diane Abbott. She was suspended last year after suggesting Irish people, Jews and Travellers do not experience racism. Abbott condemned Labour’s investigation in September.

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