The new YouGov opinion poll has shown Labour’s lead over the Conservatives in the capital shrink since the last such poll in May and more than halved compared with the 2017 general election outcome here. The Evening Standard says that if the findings were “echoed in a uniform swing” on 12 December, Labour could struggle to keep hold of up to half a dozen seats.
Is a uniform swing likely and, if not, how will any shifts in voter loyalty on election day itself vary across the city? Philip Cowley of the Queen Mary London University Mile End Institute, which commissioned the poll, told the Standard that a striking feature of it was a fall in Labour support in Inner London and he warned against making seat-by-seat predictions based on the overall swing the poll detected.
Then there is the influence of the Liberal Democrats to consider. Their support in the new poll has fallen slightly compared with May when they did so well in the European elections – down from 21 per cent to 19 – but it is still more than double what it was in the capital in 2017. Any impact they ultimately make will depend on which of the two larger parties they hurt most.
Lib Dems have been piling resources into their target seats in London. In most of those, is likely to be the Tories who suffer most, in which case the new poll might not be as encouraging for Boris Johnson is it looks at first sight. It gives Tories grounds for hope in, say, Enfield Southgate and Dagenham & Rainham. But the Libs Dems will be disappointed if they don’t turf Zac Goldsmith out of Richmond Park (again) and, significantly, in Chelsea & Fulham, the latter’s fellow Tory Brexiter Greg Hands is pitching into Nicola Horlick and issuing warnings in his Remain-leaning seat that a vote for the Lib Dems could let in Labour and a Jeremy Corbyn government.
Meanwhile, sober judges from other parties are predicting that Chuka Umunna really will come from nowhere to capture Cities of London & Westminster. Bookmakers have the Tories as slight favourites with the Lib Dems close behind and Labour trailing. The task might be tougher for Sam Gyimah in Kensington, though. The solidity of the Tory core there could limit his progress to eroding the Labour vote, allowing the Conservatives to regain a seat they lost by just 20 votes last time.
Another feature of the YouGov poll is that although Labour’s lead over the Tories has fallen, its support has nonetheless risen since May (up from 35 per cent to 39), albeit not by as much as the Tories’ has (up from 23 per cent to 29). There have been falls in the ratings of both the Brexit Party and for Green Party, which probably helps explain the improvements in the two largest parties’ standings.
For all his caveats, Philip Cowley says that if nothing changes by election day Labour would, on the basis of his new poll, “almost certainly lose seats”. Such an outcome would be disastrous for the party, which commentators expect to face stiffer Tory opposition in the Midlands and the North of England.
There are, though, grounds for expecting Labour to recover to some degree during the campaign, as they start to receive equal coverage from the broadcast media. And Cowley adds that the Lib Dems’ improved position since 2017 suggests they will pick up “a few seats” in London. Perhaps they will end up the biggest winners in London, but, if so, how big?
On London intends to provide the fullest possible coverage of the 2019 general election campaign in the capital, along with other big issues for the city. The website depends on financial support from readers to pay its freelance writers. Just £5 a month makes an important difference. To donate to On London, click here. Thank you.