Pinner South, where there was a by-election yesterday, is a community created almost at once, nearly a century ago. The area became a classic “Metroland” suburb in the vast expansion of London’s built-up area between the wars. The 1930s are often thought of as being a depressed decade in British history, and that is certainly true of some regions. But to the west and north west of London it was a boom time.
The capital’s tendrils had started to reach out along the Metropolitan Line even before 1914, but after 1932 new neighbourhoods mushroomed almost overnight. The boom was fuelled by cheap mortgages and the successful formula of semi-detached suburban houses beside broad avenues and smaller no-through-road closes.
Although not a fashionable architectural form, the Thirties Semi is enduringly popular as family housing. Forty-six per cent of the housing in Pinner South is semi-detached, and another 24 per cent is detached. Eight-one per cent of households are owner-occupied, which is at the top end for London.
As these housing facts suggest, Pinner South – the part of Pinner lying to the south and west of the Metropolitan Line – is a very comfortable part of the world. It is among the five per cent least deprived wards in London. Its crime rate is low, its house prices are high and its children’s educational achievements are impressive. The female life expectancy in the ward is 91.7 years, which is among the highest anywhere.
Pinner’s political history is strongly Conservative, reflecting the party’s bond with middle-class homeowners over many decades. It had a Labour MP in 1997-2010 when it was part of Harrow West, but parliamentary boundary changes created the Tory fortress of Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner along with very similar neighbouring areas in Hillingdon.
At Pinner South’s inaugural elections to the London Borough of Harrow in 1964, the Conservative team, which included the intriguing duo of Mrs D.A. Nott-Cock and Mr O.W.N Cock, won over 3,500 votes each while the Liberal and Labour candidates trailed in with around 900-1,000 votes each.
The Liberal Democrats won a similar ward, Pinner West, at the Tories’ nadir of 1994, but otherwise only an Independent called James Bond has shaken the Tory ascendancy. Labour now comfortably wins elections in former Tory areas like West Harrow and Headstone, but not in Pinner. In the 2018 borough elections, not one of their better years, the Tories took 59 per cent in Pinner South compared to 27 per cent for Labour and 15 per cent for the Lib Dems.
Despite its stable political trends, Pinner has changed in at least one important way since 1964. Pinner South ward was 41 per cent BAME at the time of the 2011 census, and is probably more so now. This makes the ward the second-whitest amid the extremely diverse borough of Harrow. In religious terms, the principal minority is Hindu, with significant Muslim and Jewish communities.
While in some areas ethnic diversity has led to long-term decline in Conservative fortunes, this is not the case in Metroland. The Tories have maintained their appeal to these wealthy suburbs as they have become more diverse and more educated; for people of all origins, there is a lot to conserve in the way of life in areas like Pinner South.
The Harrow council vacancy arose from the death in July of long-serving Conservative councillor Chris Mote, who had represented the ward and its predecessor since 1998 and was first elected to Harrow Council in 1982. Mote led the Conservative group to victory in the 2006 elections and then led the council until 2008.
Four candidates stood in the election. Businessman Hitesh Karia (pictured campaigning, centre) defended the seat for the Conservatives. Brahma Mohanty, who had contested Surrey Heath against Michael Gove in the 2019 general election, stood for Labour, and the Lib Dems were represented by Sanjay Karia. The Green Party, which did not stand a candidate here in 2018, joined the contest this time, their flag carried by Alex Lee.
The contest seems to have been a routine business. The result was also par for the course. The Conservative Karia won a comfortable majority, with 1,392 votes. His nearest competitor was the Karia, just over a thousand votes behind on 390. Labour (331) and Green (188) brought up the rear. Turnout was also pretty much what you would expect in a by-election, at 28.2 per cent.
Compared to the 2018 results, the big change is the drop in the Labour share of the vote, to the benefit of the Greens and to some extent the Lib Dems. The Conservative vote share was little changed on the last full borough elections. Pinner South swung significantly – by about six per cent – to the Conservatives compared to Labour’s strong year of 2018. The fact that a Green candidate stood for the first time is likely to have inflated the swing a little, but that is no excuse.
Pinner South is part of a larger pattern of the Conservatives gaining on Labour, with swings of 4-7 per cent taking place in wards with very different social compositions and borough politics. If that is an indicator of what is likely to happen in the full borough elections of May 2022, Labour can say goodbye to control of Harrow and possibly several other councils, and see Town Hall majorities dented across the capital.
There is still time for the political climate to change, but at present the Conservatives are on course for significant gains next spring.
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