Even if you believed the Labour vote in London would be resilient, it was hard to imagine the party would gain four seats rather than lose four, or that tiny majorities would turn into five figure ones. No doubt the effectiveness of the national campaign led by Jeremy Corbyn compared with the dreadful one of Theresa May, which meant Labour’s third national defeat in a row was less complete than it looked like being, played an important part. But here are some particular features of the outcome in the capital which shine a light on the state of its politics and kind of place it is.
This is an even more Labour town than before
The numbers speak for themselves. Labour MPs now represent 49 of the capital’s 73 parliamentary constituencies as well as controlling 21 of its 32 borough councils. Twelve out of 25 London Assembly members are Labour, making it the biggest party. And its mayor, of course, is Labour too.
London’s UKIP supporters were more Labour than expected
In London, as elsewhere, the collapse in support for UKIP benefited Labour as well as the Conservatives. UKIP made an impact in east Outer London in 2015, coming second in five seats: Labour Barking and Dagenham and Rainham, and Tory Romford, Hornchurch and Upminster and, further south, Orpington. But in the Romford constituency on 8 June, UKIP’s vote share fell by 18% compared with two years before. The Conservative incumbent Andrew Rossindell’s rose by 8.4%, but the Labour candidate’s rose by nearly 11%. In Dagenham and Rainham, UKIP’s share plunged by almost 23%. The Tories’ boomed by 15%. But Labour’s went up too, by 8.7% to help Jon Cruddas hold the seat. We can’t assume that all the UKIP votes in London moved directly into Labour or Conservative columns and that there was no switching between those two. But it certainly appears that Labour picked up plenty of people who backed UKIP in 2015, rising to around half of it in some seats where UKIP had made a significant mark, such as Bexleyheath and Crayford.
Corbyn ate the Greens
Some in the Green Party believed that Jeremy Corbyn’s becoming Labour leader would open up new spaces in public debate where their voices would be better heard. Maybe it did, but if so it hasn’t helped them electorally. In Hackney, where I live, it became apparent soon after Corbyn’s ascent that the Green vote was tumbling in local by-elections and Labour’s was strengthening at their expense as a particular brand of metropolitan Left wing person “came home”. Thursday was not encouraging for the Greens either. They came nowhere near winning a seat. Their biggest star in the capital, London Assembly member Sian Berry, could manage only fourth in Holborn and St Pancras, winning less than 2,000 votes. The Tories went into the election with plans to scrap the proportional representation element of London Assembly elections, which has long enabled Greens to have a welcome presence on that body. This is a bad idea and will hopefully be junked now that Theresa May is barely clinging on to power. But for now it is hard to see London’s Greens becoming more than a niche party.
London Conservatism is in a bad way
Diminished as an electoral force, short of activists and sullied by Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral election bid last year, the capital’s Tories need to work out exactly what it is they want to stand for in a city that lately seems to never tire of doing them down. Theresa May’s weakness provides its Remainer MPs with an opportunity to realign the party with the majority of Londoners, although the Brextremists will have other ideas. Whatever, London Tories need to quickly up their game before next year’s borough elections: serious people are predicting that they could lose control of flagship authorities Barnet, Wandsworth and even Westminster to Labour next year.
Remainer revenge plus
Cities and university towns up and down the land rebelled against the Prime Minister’s “hard Brexit” posturing. London is a city containing many university graduates. It voted 60-40 to Remain last year. You do the maths.
The youth vote
YouGov emerged as the champion pollster because it correctly deduced that turnout among younger voters would be higher than usual. London’s age profile is younger than that of the UK as a whole, with a median of 34 compared with a national one of nearly 40. The young like living here but find the cost of living punishing. Many flocked to Corbyn’s rallies. They appear to have flocked to the polling stations too.
Outer London demographic change helped Labour
Poverty rates in much of Outer London have increased in recent years for various reasons. Many London suburbs have also become more ethnically diverse. These changes have undoubtedly helped Labour in several outlying parts of the metropolis in recent elections. Maybe they help explain why, for example, Labour did so resoundingly well in Enfield on Thursday. Joan Ryan romped home in ostensibly marginal Enfield North, winning by 10,247 votes on a massive 14.3% swing. And Bambos Charalambous’s win in Enfield Southgate with a 12.7% swing was the sensation of the night until the dramas of Kensington began to unfold. Enfield as a whole has been becoming more cosmopolitan, but the most striking change in the population there has been its soaring numbers in poverty. The number went up by close to 10,000 between 2001 and 2011 alone, the biggest absolute increase in the capital.
Jewish Londoners still aren’t embracing Labour
Barnet is a strongly Remain borough with three constituencies. Two of these have been considered marginal in recent times and the other safely Conservative. Yet it is the latter which is the most marginal now. Lead Brexiter Theresa Villiers saw her majority in Chipping Barnet slashed from 7,656 to just 353 and Labour’s vote share rise by 11.5% while hers fell by 2.3%. Meanwhile, in Finchley and Golders Green Labour improved only by 4.1%, enabling Conservative Mike Freer to survive a 3.9% fall and win by 1,657. It was a similar story in neighbouring Hendon, where Labour improved by 4.5% and incumbent Matthew Offord lost 1% but still got home by 1,072 votes. These two constituencies were fought by Jewish Labour candidates with the express aim of trying to rebuild support for their party among the many Jewish voters there who’ve been put off by Jeremy Corbyn and the controversies surrounding Labour and antisemitism. The choices of Jewish voters won’t tell the whole story of how Barnet voted, but they appear to form a significant part of it.
The “safe” Labour vote and “life raft” Sadiq
Labour’s resounding triumphs over the Conservatives in London are hard to square with the obvious belief of practically every Labour candidate that Corbyn was a liability. It hardly needed saying that they strenuously disassociated themselves from their leader, even telling constituents that it was safe to vote for them because there was no chance that doing so would enable Corbyn to enter Number 10. At the same time, they embraced what one experienced activist called the “life raft” of the popular Sadiq Khan. Reports from doorsteps throughout the campaign routinely confirmed all this conventional wisdom. So was it false? It may never be possible to really answer that question. For the moment, it won’t much matter to London Labour. It will, though, matter a lot when the next election comes.