Election 2024: Constituency profile – Harrow East

Election 2024: Constituency profile – Harrow East

If the latest poll is to be believed, the Tories face being “all but wiped out” in the capital. But the northern suburb of Harrow East, part of the original “metroland” could be a place where they survive.

Long-standing local politician Bob Blackman, now 68, was a councillor in neighbouring Brent for 24 years before taking Harrow East from Labour in 2010. During his time on the council he combined a career at BT with unsuccessful runs in Brent South, Bedford and Brent North and sat for four years on the London Assembly.

Blackman increased his majority from 3,403 in 2010 to 4,757 in 2015, but held on by just 1,757 in 2017 against veteran Harrow Labour councillor Navin Shah, who had already taken his London Assembly seat from him in 2008. In 2019 however a swing away from Labour’s Corbynite candidate Pamela Fitzpatrick gave him his largest ever majority of 8,170.

If overturning this nonetheless appears within easy reach of Blackman’s latest Labour opponent Primesh Patel, a local health and social care worker who was a Harrow councillor between 2014 and 2022, some indicators suggest a closer two-horse race.

Firstly, against the London trend, the Conservatives took control of Harrow Council from Labour in 2022, gaining eight seats and winning almost a clean sweep of councillors in the wards within the Harrow East seat. And in this year’s mayoral election, voters in the Brent & Harrow London Assembly constituency were alone on producing a swing away from Sadiq Khan towards his Tory challenger Susan Hall.

In explaining those results, much attention has been given to the demographics of the area. Harrow East is one of the most diverse constituencies in London, 36 per cent white and 46 per cent Asian, with people of Indian descent, predominantly Hindus, making up the largest minority community. There is a significant Jewish community too.

Traditionally Labour supporting, Harrow’s Hindus, middle-class and home-owning, have been moving towards the Conservatives. In 2022, the best Conservative results at ward level in Harrow East were in the most strongly Hindu areas. Blackman has assiduously courted this community, being a long-standing member of the Conservative Friends of India. He is a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel too.

Campaigning in the seat has, in the past, highlighted communal issues such as caste discrimination and the British political parties’ stance on Kashmir, sometimes in forceful ways. In previous years there have been suggestions of sectarian divisions being stoked, and even online interventions from pro-Indian nationalist activists overseas.

Certainly, Khan polled particularly badly in the 2016 and 2021 mayoral elections in Harrow’s strongly Hindu wards, which swung notably to the Tories while also backing Labour’s London Assembly candidates, first Shah and then Hirani, on the same days. Data of the same detail is currently not available for this year’s elections for Mayor and Assembly, but Hirani again polled higher than Khan across the constituency, holding his seat, while Khan fell significantly short of his Tory rival.

Patel, like Hirani, a Hindu, is looking to emulate his Assembly colleague’s performance. While pushing Labour’s “time for change” national line, while he is also building bridges across his community. Keir Starmer has made local temple visit. Blackman, meanwhile, is campaigning on his record and experience, with Rishi Sunak making several trips to to shore up the Tory vote.

Harrow East, which has gained a Labour-Tory split ward from Brent under the boundary review, has been a bellwether seat in recent years. Forecasts suggest it really will go Labour this time. But, as elections analyst Lewis Baston has put it for On London, Harrow politics is “always a roller coaster”. Could it produce another surprise result, as Harrow borough did in 2022?

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. Photo: Hindus in Harrow 2022 by Joshua Neicho.

Categories: Analysis

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