Election 2024: Constituency profile – Cities of London & Westminster

Election 2024: Constituency profile – Cities of London & Westminster

A top contender to be the capital’s weirdest-shaped constituency, resembling a knobbly dragon in flight, Cities of London & Westminster is notable, too, for being less uniformly posh and loaded than its name might suggest – even though it contains Buckingham Palace, Mayfair, Belgravia, the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street. It’s also very cosmopolitan with a high proportion of renters, including those of the post-war Churchill Gardens Estate – two further reasons for Labour to be cautiously confident about its chances on 4 July.

The “Two Cities” seat, as it tends to be known, hugs the Thames on its southern border and contains every inch of the Square Mile, where, famously, very few people live – several City of London wards contain fewer than 10 voters. The rest of it is composed of the Westminster City Council wards West End, Vincent Square, St James’s, Pimlico North, Pimlico South, Hyde Park, Knightsbridge & Belgravia and – two new additions following boundary changes – Regent’s Park and Abbey Road.

The latter two wards are represented by Conservatives on the council, which should be helpful to Tory candidate Tim Barnes, though Labour sources say they are getting a decent reception even in those deep blue areas. The mood in Abbey Road, where a council by-election will take place on the same day as the general election, is described by one Labour campaigner as “interesting”.

Westminster as a whole has been swinging Labour’s way for some time, culminating in the party’s capture of the council for the first time in its history in 2022. The West Central London Assembly seat, which Westminster forms part of, went Labour in May – another first for the party. Now, pollster findings say that Labour candidate Rachel Blake will become the first non-Tory ever to represent Two Cities or its predecessors.

Blake’s selection as candidate was significant in that she prevailed over local competition despite being a councillor in Tower Hamlets. She is a far sounder choice than the Corbynite vicar Labour constituency members picked for 2019, only to see him vanish beneath a deluge of misconduct allegations. His short order successor had to further contend with former Labour shadow minister Chuka Umunna running for the Liberal Democrats and finishing second.

The winner by just under 4,000 votes was Tory incumbent Nickie Aiken, a former Westminster Council leader. But she announced in February that she would be standing down. Her husband Alex Aiken, a former Tory communications chief, had accepted a job in the United Arab Emirates. Unsurprisingly, some suspect that both had seen the writing on the wall.

Barnes, however, can claim – and has been – to have much stronger local connections than Blake, having represented Westminster’s West End council ward until the rising Labour tide claimed him two years ago. He has also been Westminster’s  cabinet member for young people and learning. A resident of Soho, he heads the charity Centre for Entrepreneurs.

Blake has ten years of experience as a Labour councillor in the East End and, like Barnes, has been a council cabinet member, in her case for adults, health and wellbeing. She has a background in housing and planning and can offer Two Cities voters Labour’s policies for private sector rent reform, including on improving standards and ending “no fault” evictions, the latter promised by the Tories in government but never delivered. Blake is also going big on the promised upgrade of St Mary’s Hospital.

The Lib Dems are represented this time by Edward Lucas, a seasoned former foreign correspondent and son of an Oxford philosopher. For all his experience, he seems unlikely to emulate Umunna’s runner-up performance five years ago. This can only help Blake in a part of the capital which, for all its grandeur and wealth, seems to have become increasingly turned off by the Tories’ embrace of nationalist Right populism in recent years and ready to embrace Keir Starmer’s reformed Labour.

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Categories: Analysis

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