Election 2024: Constituency profile – Beckenham & Penge

Election 2024: Constituency profile – Beckenham & Penge

Outer London’s south east constituencies have long been Conservative strongholds. But demographic shifts coupled with some significant boundary alterations could see that changing this time round, particularly in the new seat of Beckenham & Penge, which is firmly in marginal territory.

Its predecessor constituency, Beckenham, had been Tory-held since its inception in 1950. Colonel Bob Stewart, after a distinguished military career, became its last MP in 2010. In 2019, he held the seat with a majority of 14,258 – 54 per cent of the vote. But the new seat includes three wards that were previously in neighbouring Lewisham West & Penge. These are more urban areas than are found the still-suburban south of the seat, and comfortable Labour territory.

Labour has also been improving its representation on Bromley Council, which covers the whole of the parliamentary seat. At the 2022 borough elections, the Tories retained control of what has traditionally been their safest outer London borough, but lost 14 seats in doing so. The final tally was 36 seats for the Conservatives, with Labour gaining four, taking their total to 12, and the Liberal Democrats and independent candidates eating into the Tory majority too, taking five seats each.

The Tory overall vote share in those elections went down to 38 per cent, compared to 30 per cent for Labour. That was Labour’s best ever result in Bromley, and a clear sign that the Conservative fortress was no longer impregnable.

But most significantly for next week’s constituency vote, Labour led by 13 points in the council wards that now make up Beckenham & Penge. The mainly white and generally well-educated professionals and commuters, home-owning and car-owning, who live there are no longer predominantly true blue, it seems.

Vigorous Tory campaigning against Sadiq Khan’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone expansion didn’t shift the dial in last month’s mayoral election. Bromley, along with neighbouring Bexley, was one of the five councils to mount an ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge to the scheme. But no swing towards the Tories was recorded in the London Assembly election for the two boroughs.

There’s been another change too: as in other seats in the region, voters won’t be seeing a familiar name on the ballot paper. Stewart was chosen in March of last year to again be the candidate, but surrendered the Tory whip in November after being found guilty of racially abusing a protester during a demonstration outside a Foreign Office building. His appeal against this was successful and the conviction was quashed, but ahead of that verdict the 74-year-old confirmed that he would not be fighting another election.

Stewart’s successor is local councillor Hannah Gray, once a professional opera singer and guest presenter on the QVC shopping channel, now a business consultant and two-term mayor of the borough. Her campaign had an early hiccup when she was forced to recall a leaflet featuring a picture of a senior local police officer. The Met had complained that it had been used without their knowledge and suggested the officer was supporting the candidate, in breach of electoral rules.

The Lib Dem candidate is another local councillor, Chloe-Jane Ross, whose website says she was inspired to enter politics by her opposition to Brexit. She contested the old Beckenham seat in the unusual circumstances of the 2019 election, doubling her party’s vote share to 16 per cent, mainly at Labour’s expense.

The Labour contender is Liam Conlon, also a resident in the constituency. He works for an education company, chairs the Labour Party Irish Society and is also the son of Keir Starmer’s chief of staff, Sue Gray. A campaigner on disability issues, he was himself disabled as a teenager following an accident that left him unable to walk for four years. At 17, he became one of the youngest people in the country to have a hip replacement.

With the winds of demographic and boundary changes behind him, as well as substantial party support for what is now a key Labour target seat, Conlon looks to be clearly in pole position this time round. The long years of blue domination of this part of south east London may soon be over.

X/Twitter: Charles Wright and OnLondon. Support OnLondon.co.uk  for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details here. Photograph: Foxtons.

Categories: Analysis

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