Labour sensationally won the long-time Conservative stronghold constituency of Kensington at the last general election in 2017 by the miniscule margin of 20 votes. Who will win it this time and which party should electors there whose chief concern is Brexit cast their votes for on 12 December?
Let’s take the second question first. For Leavers, the matter is pretty straightforward. The Conservative Party’s headline national pledge is to “get Brexit done” by 31 January Their new Kensington candidate, Felicity Buchan, says she has “always campaigned for a good negotiated Brexit deal (which we now have)”. Opponents have drawn attention to the disappearance of Buchan’s writing from the Brexit Central website, though whatever views she expressed there it seems clear she won’t be rebelling against Boris Johnson’s deal if she gets into the House of Commons.
There is a Brexit Party candidate in Kensington, but she isn’t going to win, even though she used to be in Bucks Fizz. And in a seat this tight, any Kensington Leaver tempted by Jay Aston Colquhounis in preference to Buchan will certainly improve the chances of the Tory’s two chief rivals.
Which brings us to the much more complicated calculation ardent Kensington Remainers need to make. There are plenty of such voters – an estimated 69 per cent voted Remain in 2016 – which probably helps explain Dent Coad’s win in 2017, when many Remainers across the country turned to Labour in the hope that Jeremy Corbyn’s party represented their best chance of stopping Brexit.
Their decision this time, though, is more difficult. Even if they find persuasive Corbyn’s promise to hold a further referendum on EU membership if he becomes Prime Minister, should they vote for Labour’s Dent Coad or the former Tory minister Sam Gyimah who is running for the Liberal Democrats? Which of them is the more likely to beat Buchan?
If the 2017 result is any guide, the Lib Dems are rank outsiders – their candidate that year took only 12 per cent of the vote, finishing a distant third. But in May’s European elections the party topped the poll in Kensington & Chelsea borough, which contains the Kensington seat. And a local opinion poll for yesterday’s Observer showed Gyimah surging into second place on 33 per cent, compared with Buchan’s 36 per cent and Dent Coad’s 27 per cent.
Distinguished polling expert Peter Kellner wrote that having become Labour’s first ever MP for Kensington she could end up also being its first ever to finish third. Bookmakers too are leaning towards Gyimah as the strongest challenger, with Betfair, for example, making the Tories 4/5 favourites, the Lib Dems second favourites on 7/4 and Labour third on 4/1.
The opinion poll gaps between the top three are, nonetheless, still narrow. Can the tactical voting website help Remainers in a quandary make up their minds?
As things stand, not really. There are a number of such sites to look at. Jon Worth has produced a painstaking guide to five of them. These are currently divided about Kensington. The pro-EU Best for Britain’s recommends the Lib Dem candidate, as does that of the Peoples’ Vote campaign. Yet two other tactical voting sites say the best way to beat the Tory is to vote Labour, while Gina Miller’s Remain United site offers no recommendation at the moment on the grounds that a “three way split” is taking place.
No doubt, these sites will update their calculations as more information comes in, but it just goes to show how how knife-edge this seat is. To underline that, I’ve recently spoken to two very experienced Labour politicians from west Central London areas: one expects the Tories to regain the seat, because their Kensington vote is the most solid; the other believes Dent Coad will hold on.
Meanwhile, the election battle on the ground in Kensington seems to be getting more and more fierce. More on that to come.
Photo: North end of Portobello Road, by Dave Hill.
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