Ten London MPs have announced that they will be standing down at the forthcoming general election. Four of them represent Labour. But it’s the other six whose departures tell a story of the state of a political party, namely the Conservatives and specifically their problems in the capital.
On Wednesday, Nickie Aiken (pictured), currently the member for Cities of London & Westminster, became the latest London Tory to make known that she won’t be defending her seat.
Aiken offered as her reason the appointment of her husband to a job overseas. It had just been confirmed that Alex Aiken, a fellow long-time dedicated Tory, is to leave his position as Cabinet Office communications chief and do the same sort of thing for the United Arab Emirates instead.
It looks like a case of husband-and-wife jumping ship together before both could be washed away by a likely incoming Labour tide. The “two cities” seat was already a marginal and has become an odds-on Labour gain.
The female Aiken will leave a London political scene far bleaker for her party than it was when she became leader of Westminster City Council in January 2017. That flagship local authority is now in Labour hands for the first time in its history, and other erstwhile Tory stronghold boroughs have been lost too.
Aiken, who won her parliamentary seat in 2019 by just under 4,000 votes, was involved in the shortlisting of Susan Hall as a potential challenger to Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, a decision which, at this stage in the race for City Hall, looks to have improved his re-election chances.
The debacle of their mayoral candidate selection seems symbolic of the general mood and condition of the Conservatives in the capital.
Two of the other Tory MPs saying farewell, Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) and Sir Bob Neill (Bromley & Chislehurst), 71, whose wife is recovering from a stroke, are long-serving, respected moderates who would have had fights on their hands to stay in Parliament, probably to then be faced with at least five years of backbench opposition.
In Barnet, Labour has long had its eyes on winning back Matthew Offord’s Hendon seat and on capturing Finchley & Golders Green, where ex-Barnet Council leader Mike Freer, a target of repeated, chilling threats due to his views about the Middle East, has had enough. Both seats could soon be Tory losses.
Finally, Bob Stewart ceased to be a Conservative MP for Beckenham after being found guilty last November of a racially-aggravated public order offence. He announced soon after that he would not be defending his seat. Labour have hopes of victory there too.
The gloomy exodus may not yet be complete – it’s been reported that Conservative headquarters has asked other MPs intending to take their leave to kindly not all say so at once.
By contrast, the four London Labour MPs set to depart the Commons are not in any sense symptomatic of party decay, disarray or despairing anticipation of defeat.
The seats of Margaret Hodge (Barking) and Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham) are rock-solid Labour, but their incumbents are in their seventies.
Karen Buck, currently representing Westminster North, would have been nailed-on to win the new seat of Queen’s Park and Maida Vale, but has foregone this for distressing family reasons.
The Dagenham & Rainham home of Jon Cruddas, who announced in August 2022 that he would be going, is super-marginal, but unlikely to turn blue.
For many years now, a handful of London Tories, including Hammond, have been fighting a losing battle to get their party better organised in the capital and more alive to the views and concerns of the majority of Londoners.
Perhaps a string of heavy defeats in 2024 will, at last, lead to the re-think required to arrest the Conservatives’ London atrophy.
Dave Hill is the editor and publisher of OnLondon.co.uk. Support the site and its writers for £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: OnLondon and Dave Hill. Photo from Conservative Party.