Bromley: Conservative vote holds up in rural fringe by-election

Bromley: Conservative vote holds up in rural fringe by-election

Over the last couple of weeks, this column on London’s borough council by-elections has taken the reader from Newham’s densely built-up Plaistow North to the metropolitan village of Highgate in Camden. This week it goes far out into the rural fringe of Greater London in deepest Bromley for a contest in the Hayes & Coney Hall ward.

Bromley’s Hayes, not to be confused with the gritty town of the same name in Hillingdon, is at the edge of London’s built-up area. Prime Minister William Pitt was born in the stately home of Hayes Place, although the site of his own house at Holwood is not quite in this ward. Hayes Place did not stay in the illustrious family, being sold in 1785 to a Mr (later Sir) James Bond. It was demolished in 1933.

Hayes village was described in 1876 as “quiet and respectable, chiefly dependent on the wealthy residents” and, despite the arrival of the railway in 1882 and housebuilding between the wars, the description still fits. It is the end of the line for some suburban trains out of Charing Cross and Cannon Street, although there is a vague intention that it might become the southern terminus of the Bakerloo Line at some point in the future.

As well as Hayes itself and the 1920s privately-developed estate of Coney Hall, the ward contains a rural area around Keston and the smaller hamlet of Nash, and large houses such as Baston Manor (to which, unfortunately, the author has no claim of ownership). The ward is residential and settled. It is overwhelmingly owner-occupied, with over 40 per cent of households owning their homes outright and a similar number having mortgages.

The houses are mostly large inter-war semis and detached dwellings on pleasant avenues lined with willow and cherry trees. The population is 80 per cent white British – very high for London – and concentrated in upper and intermediate professional and managerial occupations, although only 38 per cent have degrees. The median age is 44 – fairly high for London. People drive to work (35 per cent) or commute by train (eight per cent).

The demographics of the ward sound solidly Conservative, in terms of both old-fashioned class politics and the newer politics of education and Brexitism. And, indeed, it has returned Tories consistently, aside from a 1960s Liberal episode. But the Tory share of the vote has slid downwards in Hayes – from 60 per cent even in a poor election year for the party such as 1998 or 1994, and 70 per cent in a good year like 2006, to below 50 per cent in 2022.

The by-election was caused by the sudden death in October at the age of only 66 of Conservative councillor Andrew Lee. Although he was first elected only last year, his was a familiar face in Bromley politics as the Tories’ campaign organiser in the borough for the previous 14 years. His fellow Tory councillor in the ward, Thomas Turrell, told the Bromley News Shopper: “Andrew was a stalwart of not just Bromley politics, but all of South London. We will all miss his advice, friendship, wit and humour. Our thoughts are with his family. May he rest in peace.”

Four candidates, representing the main London parties, stood in the by-election. Josh Coldspring-White, a media monitoring officer at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, defended for his party. He fought the safe Labour ward of Penge & Cator in May 2022. Susan Moore a Coney Hall resident who works as an educational psychologist and does a range of voluntary and community work, stood for Labour, who on the basis of the 2022 results, posed the main challenge to the Tories. Moore stood in 2022 and was the highest-polling member of the Labour team with 1,552 votes compared to Lee, the third-placed Conservative with 2,184.

The other two candidates also stood in the ward in 2022: Tudor Griffiths for the Liberal Democrats and Sarah Chant for the Greens. Both Labour and the Lib Dems made an effort in the by-election, reflecting the gains both parties made in Bromley in the 2022 contests and the sense that long-term demographic trends are working against the Conservatives in the borough. All of the opposition parties portrayed the Tory-run Bromley administration as out of touch and complacent.

In a ward near the edge of London, the politics of ULEZ expansion were bound to feature in the campaign. Bromley Council was part of the coalition that unsuccessfully took Sadiq Khan to court to resist the policy. Its leader, Colin Smith, commented that “our unswerving opposition to Mayor Khan’s proposed expansion of ULEZ remains absolute. It would be thoroughly inexcusable of us to stand back and do nothing, and allow such a blatant, socially regressive tax grab to proceed unchallenged”.

While Bromley’s official opposition was expressed politically and legally, the Biggin Hill area just south of Hayes has become a centre of illegal resistance, involving harassment of ULEZ enforcement vehicles and criminal damage to cameras. The Conservatives campaigned heavily on the theme of “stop Labour’s assault on motorists” including parking charges and general criticism of Khan’s record in outer London.

They held the ward with 1,541 votes (48 per cent) for Coldspring-White. Labour came second. Moore’s 962 votes made up 30 per cent of the total. The Lib Dems came third (526 votes, 16 per cent) and the Greens brought up the rear with 183 (six per cent). Measured the standard way in multi-member wards, there was a small swing to the Conservatives, though some calculation methods would show a small swing to Labour. The balance between the top three parties was very similar to what it was in May 2022. Turnout was 27 per cent.

All parties except the Greens – who did so well last week in Camden – can take some comfort from the result. The Tories held and maintained their share of support, perhaps insulated by a well-organised postal vote, and there was no further slide despite the turbulent state of national politics. The party can rely on the ward, at least for another round or two of local elections. Labour and the Lib Dems both inched forwards – 30 per cent of the vote in a ward bordering the rural fringe of London with demographics like Hayes & Coney Hall is not bad for Labour, although it is gradual, incremental progress rather than a sudden Mid Bedfordshire-style leap forward.

X/Twitter: Lewis Baston and OnLondon. Image of Josh Coldspring-White from his X/Twitter feed. If you value On London’s coverage of the UK capital, please become a supporter for just £5 a month or £50 a year. There are three ways you can pay: by using any “donate” button on the website itself; by becoming a paying subscriber to editor and publisher Dave Hill’s personal Substack; or by transferring the money straight into the company bank account (details available from In return you will get a big weekly London newsletter, offers of free tickets to London events and lots and lots of gratitude.

Categories: Analysis

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