A recent YouGov poll for Queen Mary University London produced terrifying figures for London’s Conservatives ahead of May’s borough elections. They suggested that not only Barnet but also Wandsworth and even Westminster are at risk of being lost to Labour – three Tory flagships could be sunk on one day. The poll couldn’t shed much light on the Conservative-Lib Dem struggles in the south-west suburban boroughs, but if you were a Richmond Tory you might be nervous.
Now we have further, highly detailed, data from Lord Ashcroft. These echo the YouGov poll’s headline finding and add layers of explanatory insight, especially about why the Conservatives are all at sea in the capital. The most striking is all the more so for confirming what recent elections in London have already shown, which is that “extremist” and Red Scare stories cut little ice here.
The Tories’ 2016 London Mayor campaign, in which Lynton Crosby’s negative campaigning operation tried to defeat Sadiq Khan by stirring anxieties about Islamist terror and making spurious links between him and dastardly schemes attributed Jeremy Corbyn, was a complete catastrophe. Any voters it won over were heavily outnumbered by those it repelled, helping Khan to a crushing landslide.
Last year’s general election, a national disaster for the Tories even though they (sort of) won it, was particularly sobering for them in London. Ashcroft identifies two social groups of Remain-voting middle-class voters – the Liberally Affluent and Village London – as decisive in the loss of the Battersea, Twickenham, Kensington and Kingston and Surbiton seats and likely to want to punish the Tories again. They didn’t buy the depiction of Corbyn as a sinister plotter of class war chaos either (or if they did, it didn’t bother them enough to vote for the Toryism of “strong and stable” Theresa May in order to stop him).
Ashcroft’s focus groups underline that for many Londoners, the old, 1980s-rooted, associations at local government level between a “loony left” and high tax, low quality service Town Hall bedlam have faded away. While residents in Tory boroughs were more likely than those in Labour ones to think their council was well-run, most didn’t think there was much difference – a reflection, perhaps, of Labour getting its act together down the years but also, Ashcroft records, of some Tory voters feeling that a low Council Tax has come at the price of high parking charges, notably in Westminster.
Meanwhile, housing shortages, local health services and crime were top of the list of Londoners’s concerns, with Brexit fourth and Council Tax fifth. Labour isn’t likely to be blamed for what’s wrong with those. More than half of us think Mayor Khan is doing well – a better score than Corbyn got and a much better one than the PM. London Tories can no longer depend on negativity to win elections. When will they find something positive to say?
Read more of Lord Ashcroft’s London research here.
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