After the shock defeat of Councillor Simon Letts in last week’s local elections, Southampton’s ruling Labour party have elected the current Councillor for Sustainable Living to the post of Leader. This will be confirmed at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday, when Councillor Chris Hammond will be sworn in to the role.
Cllr Letts lost his Bitterne seat by 295 votes to Conservative Terry Shields, a blow for the politician who had held the seat since 2006.
On the same night, the Leader of the (Conservative) Opposition, Councillor Jeremy Moulton, also lost his seat in Freemantle to Labour, which left the organisation with an interim Chief Executive, an interim Leader and an interim Opposition Leader. This has heightened doubts among council officers about the leadership of the organisation, which the election of a new Leader will go some way to alleviate.
Cllr Jacqui Rayment, the deputy Labour leader, ruled herself out for the post, as did popular Cabinet Member for Communities, Satvir Kaur. A reshuffle of Cabinet positions may be held over the next few days.
Cllr Hammond was elected for the Woolston ward in 2013, and joined the Cabinet in 2015 with the sustainable living portfolio. He has since made improving air quality in the city one of his primary aims, including setting up a Clean Air Network earlier this year.
In a statement, Hammond said:
I am absolutely delighted and humbled to be elected as the group’s new leader. Simon Letts will be a hard act to follow. I am determined to build on the great achievements we have made to date as a Labour administration to further transform the Council and make a positive difference for the people of Southampton.
Since losing his seat, Letts has not made a public statement, and his professional twitter handle, @SotonCityBoss, has been deactivated, although his personal one remains active.
Council officers report concern at his silence, and wish the esteemed former Leader well.