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.
Labour’s easiest gains should be on the northern fringes of London, at Hendon and Enfield North. The Conservatives gained these seats by small margins in 2010, and in each case the previous Labour MP (Andrew Dismore and Joan Ryan respectively) is attempting to come back in 2015. The demographic composition of both these seats seems to be changing as lower-income families move out from inner London and the black and minority ethnic proportion of the population is rising. Andrew Dismore won Hendon by a huge 25 point margin in the London Assembly election in 2012.
Before Labour’s Scottish implosion, the party’s task in overtaking the Conservatives as the largest single party in the House of Commons was a very modest one. With the gap between the two parties at the 2010 election standing at 48 seats, a net gain of 25 seats would do the trick if the two parties gain equally from the Lib Dems. All London would have to do would be to contribute these two low-hanging fruit. But if Labour are shedding large numbers of seats to the SNP, the minimum number of gains London needs to provide is correspondingly greater.
There is a clutch of slightly harder Labour targets in the suburbs where the Labour candidates hoping to gain the seats do not have the advantage of name recognition from having previously represented the seat, while their Conservative MPs will benefit from five or ten years of incumbency. The Conservative majority in Brentford & Isleworth is actually slightly narrower than in Enfield North and there is a large third-placed Lib Dem vote that Labour will be hoping to squeeze, making it a reasonable bet for a Labour gain. The Conservative majorities in Harrow East, Ealing Central & Acton, Croydon Central and Ilford North are rather larger, but some of the same factors of demographic change and disillusioned left of centre Lib Dems will help Labour in these seats.
If London is going particularly well for Labour, there are a few seats even further out that the party could think about winning from the Conservatives. A six point swing is about what is required in Finchley & Golders Green and in Battersea. Although the demographic trends in these seats are not particularly helpful to Labour, they have energetic local party organisations and good candidates in Sarah Sackman and Will Martindale — but the Conservative MPs who won the seats in 2010, Mike Freer and Jane Ellison, are also well-regarded. There is also Enfield Southgate, which is not even on the official target list but which Labour ‘won’ in the 2014 local elections — and the seat has a famous history of producing a huge swing to Labour in 1997 when Stephen Twigg knocked out Michael Portillo.
Several London constituencies were severe disappointments to the Conservatives in 2010, particularly two within a stone’s throw of David Cameron’s Notting Hill residence. Both Hammersmith and Westminster North saw prominent ‘A List’ Conservative candidates defeated by surprisingly big margins by well-established local Labour MPs Andy Slaughter and Karen Buck. While Hammersmith is off the menu, the Conservatives have some hopes that Westminster North and neighbouring Hampstead & Kilburn might be susceptible to the party’s campaign against the Labour proposal of a mansion tax. Hampstead & Kilburn was an agonisingly close three-way marginal in 2010, and the Conservatives nearly managed their most ambitious gain of the entire election, but Glenda Jackson managed one last win. Her Labour successor Tulip Siddiq has been working the constituency hard but it is still fairly competitive. The Conservatives have little hope of making good their misses in 2010 in two other marginals, Eltham and Tooting.
The table below is a survey of the London battlefield between Labour and Conservative, ranked in order of difficult for each party to gain. If the Tories are winning Eltham, they are gaining an overall majority; Labour victories down to Ealing Central & Acton would probably be enough to put Ed Miliband in Downing Street even if Labour’s Scottish results are very bad, and an overall majority would need Labour gains below that point. Assembly and local elections in 2012 and 2014, the national state of the parties, and Lord Ashcroft’s constituency polls all suggest that Labour are well on course for the easiest three gains (Hendon, Brentford & Isleworth, Enfield North) and probable or possible winners in the next three (Croydon Central, Harrow East, Ealing Central & Acton) — and not without hopes of scoring a few gains further down the list either. If Labour are back in government nationally, London will have been an important bloc of the party’s electoral coalition.
But what about all the other parties in our increasingly complex electoral landscape? Next time, we will look at the Liberal Democrats, Greens and the UK Independence Party and their chances in London.
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.