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Exclusive: Council Leader steps down after ten years

Peter John is stepping down as Southwark Council’s leader after a decade that saw the borough become one of Labour’s firmest strongholds in London.

A well-placed source told this paper that Cllr John, OBE, announced the news to the Southwark Labour group on Wednesday night. His last day is thought to be March 23.

It is not yet known who is likely to succeed him; though deputy leader Rebecca Lury and housing cabinet member Kieron Williams are likely contenders. Peter John became leader of Southwark Labour in 2004, after being first elected to South Camberwell ward in 2002.

Marathon runner Peter John

A onetime chief whip, he became council leader after the coalition was ousted in 2010 and is said to have always intended to step down after ten years if Labour stayed in power.

Since then Southwark has become almost a one-party borough with the Conservatives losing all local seats and the Lib Dems being pushed back to the north.

Bolstered by overwhelmingly pro-Labour election results in 2015, 2017 and 2019, John leaves  Southwark Labour on its strongest electoral footing since the Lib Dem-Tory coalition fell.

In that time John has garnered a reputation as an effective networker. He’s been a passionate advocate for the borough, often angrily calling up the News on press day to question stories. He is also chair of London Councils.

His supporters will highlight Labour’s housebuilding programme, huge improvement in schools, flagship free swim and gym programme, and hard-to-achieve financial balancing act that has largely protected key social services despite swingeing government cuts since 2010.

His critics have lambasted Labour’s ‘golden goodbye’ scheme and the council’s reputational damage from the lengthy and costly legal battles with Aylesbury leaseholders.

During his tenure he oversaw the controversial move to Tooley Street, and two council chief executives.

Much of his reputation is tied to the fates of large-scale regeneration projects including Elephant Town Centre and whether they deliver on housing promises.

John has been a strong critic of Momentum and the left of the party, and has hinted at disappointment in Labour’s lacklustre Remain campaign.

Though that didn’t stop him from removing the whip from two councillors who backed a people’s vote amendment before it was official Labour policy.

After one of them resigned from Labour, John described his actions as ‘regrettable’ and ‘Brexit self-obsession’.

John, a practising barrister, is yet to comment on whether he will return to full-time law.

Given his close working ties with major developers, there is likely to be speculation as to whether he will follow predecessors into the housing sector.

Peter John leads a minutes silence on the one year anniversary of the London Bridge terror attack

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