As we approach the General Election on 7 May, the think tank Centre for London looks at the big issues shaping electoral politics in the capital. By Lewis Baston.
The previous piece dealt with the seats that are contested between Labour and Conservative. And while the electorate’s loyalty to the two main parties is in long-term decline — and may be severely tested on 7 May — London generally sticks to its Labour v Conservative traditions. The Liberal Democrats are defending seven seats and will probably emerge from the election with between two and five. The capital has been UKIP’s weakest region in England, and while the Greens do have significant support in inner London they are very far from having enough to win a parliamentary seat. But how will the ‘others’ fare in London?
Brent Central is as near to a certain Labour gain as could be; the incumbent MP Sarah Teather who beat the odds in the seat in 2010 is standing down and the Lib Dems have also lost their replacement candidate Ibrahim Taguri. There is more of a chance of holding Hornsey & Wood Green, although Lynne Featherstone is still very likely to lose the seat to Labour. The remaining Lib Dem defence from Labour is the most interesting: Simon Hughes has represented Bermondsey since 1983 and has a formidable reputation as a constituency MP and a strong machine behind him, although this left of centre constituency will look askance at his term as Minister of State under Chris Grayling. Labour broke the grip of the Lib Dem machine in the local elections in 2014, but taking out Hughes is an even more ambitious exercise.
In the south west London seats where the Liberal Democrats are threatened by the Conservatives, their chances are particularly strong in the two constituencies in the borough of Sutton, where the Lib Dems are particularly well-organised and electorally successful, and the Conservative vote has slipped a bit towards UKIP. The 2014 local elections were less encouraging in Kingston & Surbiton and Twickenham, seats of Cabinet Ministers Ed Davey and Vince Cable, but the odds are that both will be re-elected. As the table above shows, the Lib Dems stand next to no chance of gaining any seats in London and are miles behind — even in seats which were close-fought in 2010.
While the Greens and UKIP may win a few seats between them in the House of Commons, none of these will be in London. They have enough support spread throughout the capital to win a seat in proportional elections such as those for the London Assembly and the European Parliament, but nowhere near enough concentrated in one place to win a parliamentary constituency. UKIP’s strength is on the fringe of London (particularly in the east and south east), where the population is more likely to be white and working class or lower middle class, but they are a long way from overcoming the big Conservative and Labour majorities in seats such as Romford or Barking.
The map of Green Party support in the borough elections is almost the inverse of the map for UKIP. The Greens polled best in inner London. Their stronger areas came in two clumps of cosmopolitan, liberal areas, one each side of the Thames — around Islington and Hackney to the north and Lewisham and Southwark to the south. But the Greens are not competitive in any parliamentary seat in London. Their best showing in 2014 was a respectable 22% in Islington North, but this was still more than 30 points behind Labour. The Greens may have the consolation of displacing the Lib Dems as the main opposition to Labour in parts of inner London in the General Election, as they did in the borough elections, but winning MPs is a longer-term aspiration.
An additional complication for the Greens is that they tend to do much better in local elections than in Parliamentary elections even if they take place on the same day. For instance, the Greens won 17% of the vote in Lewisham Deptford in the 2010 local elections, but only 7% in the parliamentary contest, and there were similar big gaps in other areas where they do well in local elections. London Greens have often been sophisticated tactical voters — some of them evidently distinguishing between the London-wide list vote and the constituency vote in Assembly elections, a subtlety lost on the majority of electors.
Natalie Bennett, the Green party leader, is standing in Holborn and St Pancras, and would be doing very well indeed if she managed either to match the 19% her local colleagues won in 2014, or come second ahead of the young Tory challenger Will Blair. But the winner in the race to succeed Frank Dobson will be Labour’s Keir Starmer.
The next article will look at the new faces who will be representing London in the next Parliament, and the familiar faces who will be taking the trip across the river from City Hall to Westminster.
Lewis Baston is a Research Associate at Centre for London and writes on elections, politics and history. He is a frequent commentator for various broadcast, published and online media. @centreforlondon @lewis_baston