Election 2024: Constituency profile – Kensington & Bayswater

Election 2024: Constituency profile – Kensington & Bayswater

In an election where the outcome for many seats in the capital seems increasingly clear-cut, the contest in Kensington & Bayswater remains one of the most intriguing.

The newly-formed west London seat is one of the most socially-divided constituencies in the city. Extremes of wealth in the south, including some of the most expensive streets in the country and the gentrified terraces of Notting Hill, nudge up against overcrowding and deprivation in its northern wards straddling the Westway.

Its council stock is now best-known – or perhaps most notorious – for including Grenfell Tower, where, seven years ago, 72 people died in the UK’s worst residential fire since World War II.

That division became starkly apparent during the 2017 election held just a few days before the fire, when long-standing local Labour councillor and Jeremy Corbyn supporter Emma Dent Coad secured a swing of almost 11 per cent to take the old Kensington seat from Tory incumbent Victoria Borwick by just 20 votes, an outcome confirmed only after three recounts. The constituency had previously been represented by Tory grandee Malcolm Rifkind.

Borwick’s defeat was widely attributed, in part at least, to her hardline support for Brexit, while Dent Coad was on the side of the 70 per cent of residents who voted Remain. Borwick failed to secure the candidacy in 2019, reportedly for the same reason. In that election it was former investment banker Felicity Buchan who turned the tables on Dent Coad, winning the seat back for the Tories by 150 votes.

Brexit again played its part. Standing for the Liberal Democrats was Tory rebel and former minister Sam Gyimah, one of 21 MPs effectively sacked by the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson for opposing a “no deal” Brexit plan. Gyimah drew support away from Buchan but also ate into Labour’s backing. He almost doubled the Lib Dem vote share to 21.3 per cent, while the Dent Coad’s fell by 4.2 per cent. It was enough for Buchan to squeeze through in what was the second most marginal Tory gain in the country.

Can Buchan hold on this time? At first sight, that looks unlikely. The Labour vote appears solid, while the Lib Dems seem to be putting on support in the mainly Tory-held southern part of the constituency, where they already hold the Earls Court council ward. The 2022 Kensington & Chelsea borough elections saw them secure a 3.5 per cent swing in their favour, compared to a more modest 0.6 per cent swing to Labour and a 2.7 per cent swing away from the Conservatives.

Boundary changes since 2019 don’t help the Tories either. The seat gains two wards from neighbouring Westminster – Bayswater and Lancaster Gate. Labour almost swept the board in these two years ago, when they took control of the council for the first time.

Tactical voting could well come into play, with the Lib Dems perhaps not going all-out in a seat which is not on their top 50 target list. Certainly, results in May’s election for Mayor of London suggested a willingness among voters to get behind the “two horse race” message. Lib Dem mayoral candidate Rob Blackie polled well behind his party’s London Assembly candidate.

Labour’s candidate this time round is Joe Powell, a local campaigner who is deputy chief executive of the Open Government Partnership, launched by Barack Obama in 2011 to promote and support democracy worldwide. Closer to home, he is the founder of the Kensington Against Dirty Money campaign, which pushes for action against sanction-busting ownership of property in the borough, arguing that it is a direct contributor to local inequalities.

Dent Coad, still a local councillor, will nevertheless be on the ballot paper, despite being blocked by Labour from its reselection process in 2022. She left the party last year and is running as an Independent.

Labour remains firm favourite according to election forecasts, but in a seat where the outcome has been decided of late by such small margins, could Dent Coad still have a part to play?

X/Twitter: Charles Wright and OnLondon. Support OnLondon.co.uk and its writers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Photo from Centre for London.

Categories: Analysis

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