The events of the past few days are ‘still sinking in’ for Neil Coyle and, considering the surprising ease of his victory over Westminster veteran Simon Hughes, who can blame him?
“It was an incredibly significant margin of victory,” the Labour MP said of the near 4,500 vote majority he received from Bermondsey and Old Southwark’s voters. “It’s a credit to the campaign and recognition of the appetite for change in the constituency.”
Buoyed by a powerful grassroots campaign, which saw around a thousand Labour activists descend on the constituency on Election Day, Mr Coyle received 22,146 votes to Simon Hughes’ 17,657. This was a huge victory – especially considering exit polls either called the result too close to call or even slightly in his opponent’s favour.
While he may still be pinching himself, he is certainly not wasting any time in kick-starting this latest chapter in his career and getting to work – especially given the pounding his party was given outside of the capital.
He said: “The situation nationally is bleak. It’s going to be a very difficult five years and I am ready for a hell of a fight. The election was absolutely devastating for the country.
“I want to get going as quickly as possible. We are sorting out the office and I’m starting to accrue a team. I can’t wait to start.”
He reiterated his pre-election emphasis on ‘jobs, housing, the NHS’ and promised to scrutinise the government intensely over the next five years. On the subject of scrutiny, he stressed that he would be a ‘critical friend’ to the Labour-dominated council, and dismissed claims that he and the borough’s two other MPs – both also Labour – would not hold the council to account.
“As a councillor I was responsible for forcing policy changes when necessary for my ward, and as an MP I’ll be doing the same.
“I think this idea that Simon Hughes successfully challenged the council is completely false. Take the Bermondsey bomb for example. He complained that the council should have done more regarding the evacuation but that was all up to the armed forces.
“He criticised rather than effectively scrutinised the council. I believe a better method is to work with the council, which is what I will do.”