In 2010, the last general election year when the Conservatives were on the rise and Labour was on the defensive, Dagenham and Rainham in the east of Greater London was a Tory target. It was also one of a bunch they didn’t hit. Labour’s Jon Cruddas prevailed over his Conservative challenger by 2,630 votes, demonstrating the resilience of the Labour vote in the capital in the face of David Cameron’s advance compared with the rest of the country.
Cruddas upped his majority to nearly 5,000 in 2015. But his vote share increased only a little, from 40% to 41.4%. The relative comfort of that win owed much to most of the non-Labour vote being split between the Tories and Ukip, whose candidate Peter Harris came second with 29.8% of the vote, pushing Tory Julie Marson into third place with 24.4%.
The same three candidates are representing their respective parties in 2017. But the lie of the political land in Dagenham and Rainham might well have changed again, perhaps to something more like it was in 2010.
The one recent London-only opinion poll found support falling for both Ukip and Labour across the metropolis as a whole and rising for the Conservatives. Labour still led, but a once commanding margin had shrunk to only 3%. Apply these general trends to the particular case of Dagenham and Rainham, and the combination could produce a close-run thing between Cruddas and Marson.
On the other hand, the local Ukip vote might prove strong enough to minimise any drift to the Tories, leaving the non-Labour vote still sufficiently split for Cruddas to hold on. A significant rise in the historically very low support for the Lib Dems could have an influence too.
But what does the lie of the land look like locally? Like every London seat, Dagenham and Rainham has its own political personality. Marson is already working the Brexit angle hard: Cruddas voted Remain and she is a Leaver in one of only five London boroughs, Barking and Dagenham, that vote Leave overall. She has wisely updated her Twitter header image (perhaps at my suggestion). Early this afternoon it was still graced by David Cameron, who, as I recall, backed Remain.
Ukip’s Harris is enthusiastically behind his party’s “integration agenda“, which advocates banning the burka and sharia courts and implementing “school-based medical checks on girls from groups at high risk of suffering FGM [female genital mutilation]”. Critics have described this policy as showing Ukip to now be primarily an anti-Muslim party.
Cruddas, a big thinker on issues of patriotism, community and national identity in the context of his party losing working-class support, is a veteran of Labour’s struggles to see off the British National Party, which won 11 council seats in 2006 but whose leader, Nick Griffin, was trounced by Margaret Hodge in Barking, the borough’s other parliamentary seat, in 2010. The BNP lost all its council seats on the same day.
The leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Darren Rodwell, is similarly attuned to the subsequent attractions of Ukip for some residents of this fast-changing part of Outer London, though how strong that attraction presently is in Cruddas’s seat is yet to be seen. Marson claims she’s making the running. Cruddas seems to be stressing his community credentials. All three contender parties will seek to inhabit each others’ territory, including the territory of Britishness. This contest could be very interesting.