London’s difference from the rest of the UK has been clearly demonstrated at the last two general elections. In 2010, the Conservatives made gains but not as many as they had hoped, which contributed to their failure to win a majority. In 2015, when the Tories did win a majority, Labour actually gained seven seats in London, while in the country overall the party lost 24. Two years on, Labour looks set for an even worse national defeat. How resilient will that party’s London vote be this time? Will the Tories advance? And what will happen to the Liberal Democrats?
At the start of this campaign I discounted any Labour gains, even in Croydon Central, where Tory Gavin Barwell is defending a majority of just 165, the city’s smallest. A combination of his party’s hapless national campaign and polls indicating that Labour has regained support across London have now got me wondering if Croydon Central might, after all, be in play. I still think Barwell will win, but I’m no longer brave enough to rule out his defeat.
One of the harder factors to quantify is the effect of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership on Labour hopes here. Predictably, candidates defending marginals have been delighted by visits from Sadiq Khan and kept all mention of Corbyn out of their literature. That speaks for itself, and I’ve heard many tales from the doorstop confirming that the leader is a problem. One candidate described the negative response to him as “an endless pain in the ass”. Another, though, said that some constituents who don’t normally vote at all have said they will turn out for Corbyn. The thing is, will they? And how many?
There are around ten Labour marginals the Tories have been eyeing. Yet I’ve been struck by suggestions that some of the most fragile might hold up. Rupa Huq has a thin cushion of 274 in Ealing Central and Acton, but her anti-Brexit stance, backed by Gina Miller, and the supportive abstinence of the Greens have prompted one bookie to make her favourite. Sarah Hayward, who until recently was Labour leader of Camden Council, has been campaigning in Hampstead and Kilburn, part of the Camden patch, and also in Ilford North. On the strength of what she’s seen, she predicts that, respectively, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq and Wes Streeting will hold on.
Hayward also thinks Labour will gain Croydon Central. That is partly because, as she puts it, “demographics in London shift much more quickly than elsewhere and are structurally on Labour’s side”. It is certainly the case that much of Outer London has been becoming more ethnically diverse and its poverty rates have been rising. Hayward thinks such shifts will assist Streeting too, and also Jon Cruddas in Dagenham and Rainham.
In Harrow West, word from Labour is that much hinges on how many “shy Tories” lurk in Metro-land. In Westminster North, Karen Buck makes no prediction, but told me on Saturday that the mood has felt warmer for Labour than for some time. Other Labour seats in the balance are Eltham, Enfield North, Brentford and Isleworth, the interesting case of Tooting, and possibly Andy Slaughter’s Hammersmith, though he did win by 6,500 last time.
There are two Labour seats the Lib Dems have targetted. Simon Hughes’s bid to wrench Bermondsey and Old Southwark back from Neil Coyle appears to have raised the temperature, though that’s a different thing from raising the votes he needs. Tim Farron’s muscle-flexing press conference in the Vauxhall backyard of Brexiter Kate Hoey now seems a long time ago.
There are more encouraging reports for Lib Dems from the south-west suburban seat cluster they wrestle Tories for, but not all the news is good. It has been written that the Tories have “given up” on holding Twickenham against a resurgent Vince Cable and that Ed Davey is “optimistic” about re-taking Kingston and Surbiton. On the other hand, one London poll suggested that Tom Brake may finally be parted from Carshalton and Wallington, and there’s talk that Sarah Olney’s December by-election triumph over Zac Goldsmith will be short-lived.
That’s the chatter. Hard to know how justified much of it is, but it does seem possible that the Lib Dems will still have two London seats tomorrow, just not the same two as they have today. My hunch is that Labour will lose four seats at most. Tories will be the beneficiaries, but slightly disappointed just the same. At present, Labour holds 45 of London’s 73 seats, the Tories have 26 and the Lib Dems, two. The capital may be a shade bluer by sunrise tomorrow, but it will still be a Labour town.