The name “Westminster” suggests grandeur and wealth, but tells just half the story of this Central London constituency, which is bisected north-to-south by Edgware Road. Here, hardship and vast affluence are in close proximity.
The Conservative vote is strongest in the wealthy Abbey Wood, Bayswater, Lancaster Gate, Little Venice and Regents Park wards, which all have three Tory councillors, and Maida Vale, where a single Labour member prevents a clean sweep. In these parts we find Lord’s cricket ground, London Zoo, the Central London Mosque and handsome mansion blocks that smell of international millionaires. A council ward profile says that 37% of Bayswater households have incomes of more than £55,000 a year, which is the borough average.
Labour predominates in Church Street, wedged between Marylebone Road, the start of the Westway and the fringes of the park and, to the west, Harrow Road, Queen’s Park and Westbourne, which have an array of housing problems and are more multi-ethnic and poor. Neighbourhoods include Paddington and West Kilburn. A council ward profile tells us that 37% of Church Street households have annual incomes of less than £20,000.
UK Polling Report calls Westminster North, a “classic marginal”, in part because its extremes are so marked. Karen Buck, a veteran of the Shirley Porter “Homes for Votes” scandal, has held the seat for Labour since it was recreated in 2010, and was previously the MP for Regent’s Park and Kensington North from 1997 until it disappeared after 2005, due to boundary changes.
Buck is widely respected for her hard work on behalf of constituents, notably on housing issues in which she has great expertise. She also knows a lot about 1970s soul music, a quality that often marks out the better sorts of human being. Buck’s was one of the seats David Cameron’s Tories were disappointed not to gain in 2010. Her majority dropped below 2,000 two years ago, though her 5% winning margin remained the same.
Her main challenger this time will again be Lindsey Hall, a former TV presenter turned West End arts and antiques trade fair organiser, who is one of those three Abbey Road ward Tory councillors. She has two fluffy dogs, one called Nellie, the other called Basil, and she doesn’t care who knows it.
Hall is, of course, is playing the national Tory “strong leadership” card for all she’s worth. Buck, like other London Labour MPs defending small majorities, will hope her strong local track record will enable her to keep the blue tide at bay once more.