Election 2024: Constituency profile – Chelsea & Fulham

Election 2024: Constituency profile – Chelsea & Fulham

Around 15 years ago, Greg Hands was seen as an architect of a Conservative recovery in London. He entered Parliament in 2005 as MP for Hammersmith & Fulham, gaining the seat from Labour. The following year, the Tories took control of Hammersmith & Fulham Council. Hands went on to win the newly-formed Chelsea & Fulham seat in 2010, the year David Cameron became Prime Minister and has retained it at the three general elections since.

During that time he has held a variety of ministerial positions, ranging from chief secretary to the Treasury to minister for London. But he’s also had to defend the indefensible as Tory party chairman (pictured) and is now in considerable danger of being sent back to square one.

A swing of just over eight per cent in favour of Labour’s Ben Coleman, the current Hammersmith & Fulham deputy leader, will evict the Conservative. That’s quite big and the same as Labour needs nationally to become the biggest party in the Commons, but it looks well on the cards.

The seat is composed of 13 wards. Nine are in Hammersmith & Fulham, including two additional ones resulting from 2023 boundary changes, both of them Labour-held. Four are in neighbouring Kensington & Chelsea, down from three last time.

The ward lost is a Tory one. That still leaves eight of the seat’s wards in Tory hands as of 2022, and in the 2019 general election the Liberal Democrats, represented by “supermum” businesswoman Nicola Horlick, came second, splitting the non-Tory vote in two. However, Labour’s performance in May’s London elections suggests a repeat escape by Hands will be difficult.

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The seat’s southern border is formed by a section of the Thames running west from Chelsea Bridge, past Battersea Bridge then along the bulge that starts at Imperial Wharf and Sands End and continues past Putney Bridge before curving up past Fulham Football Club.

It contains Chelsea FC too, as well as other noted London places, Brompton Cemetery, Parsons Green and, right at its eastern tip, Sloane Square. The West Kensington and Gibbs Green housing estates, famously saved from demolition under an abandoned, Tory-backed scheme for redeveloping Earl’s Court (itself just outside the seat) will be strong for Coleman.

Chelsea has long been among London’s most rich and fashionable areas. The King’s Road, once the private avenue of Charles II, is synonymous with Swinging London in the 1960s, though it has also been linked at various times with the fascist leader Oswald Mosley, who set up a barracks there, the composer of Rule, Britannia and a bohemian artist set (see page 131 of my pseudonymous novel).

Fulham has been historically poorer and post-war was firmly Labour, but its political complexion began to change with the arrival of young professionals from the 1980s.

The switch back to Labour in these parts, beginning in earnest with the party’s unexpected regaining of Hammersmith & Fulham Council in 2014, is instructive.

Almost three quarters of Chelsea & Fulham residents in work are in the top three occupational categories and over 70 per cent of people living there are white – figures which, taken in isolation, could suggest bedrock Tory sympathies.

But it’s also a youthful seat, with higher than London average proportions of people in their 20s, and the same going for people born outside the UK (46.7 per cent according to the 2021 census). Today’s nationalistic, Brexit-defined Conservatives, pitching strongly to older people, might be a less than natural fit for many such voters.

Hands, a former banker, was born in New York and backed Remain, so there is irony in his seat’s cosmopolitanism becoming a problem for him as a Conservative. He’s certainly trying everything he can to hold on, even – rather preposterously – claiming credit for Transport for London making improvements to District Line services through the seat.

His defeat on 4 July would be a heavy blow for him and, with Kensington & Bayswater and Cities of London & Westminster also at risk of turning red, could form part of the complete eviction of Tory MPs from inner London.

There are altogether seven candidates running.

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Categories: Analysis

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