Jack Brown: Caveats aside, Labour won a London ‘supermajority’

Jack Brown: Caveats aside, Labour won a London ‘supermajority’

It shouldn’t be surprising, but somehow it still feels that way. After well over a year of shockingly stable, consistent poll leads, Labour have swept into power nationwide. They have done so with a stonking majority, more than twice the size of Boris Johnson’s 2019 “landslide”. Big wins across the country, especially in Scotland and the north of England, have driven the victory, but there has been significant change in London too.

Labour has won 59 of Greater London’s 75 seats, the Conservatives nine and the Liberal Democrats six. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has held his seat as an Independent MP, completing the line-up. Boundary changes have added two extra constituencies to the capital’s total since the last election, making comparisons inexact, but the Conservatives are 12 down on their 2019 total of London MPs, with Labour adding 10 and the Liberal Democrats doubling their tally.

If there were such a thing as a ‘supermajority’, the Labour Party surely now has one in London. The party will be delighted with its results. It has gained the Cities of London & Westminster, a seat that has been Conservative since its creation in 1950. It has also gained very narrow victories over the Tories in Chelsea & Fulham and in Hendon, and less narrow ones in suburban Chipping Barnet and Bexleyheath & Crayford.

Significantly, they have also won Finchley & Golders Green from the Tories, the seat with the highest proportion of Jewish voters in the country and where they came third in 2019, due to former Labour MP, Luciana Berger, running as a Liberal Democrat. This reflects the rebuilding of the party’s relationship with the Jewish community, an important goal.

Another wider lesson can be found in Uxbridge & South Ruislip, Boris Johnson’s former seat and the scene of the Labour Party’s great Ultra-Low Emission Zone by-election panic of 2023. The seat has turned red this time, if only by just over 500 votes, demonstrating that the ULEZ has not proved an insurmountable hurdle to electability.

Behind the headline figures, the story is a little more complex. Despite winning more seats, Labour’s vote share is down across the capital. In several safe constituencies, such as Hackney South & Shoreditch, Lewisham North and Vauxhall & Camberwell Green, the increase in the Green Party vote was either equal to or exceeded the decline in Labour’s.

The horrific recent and ongoing events in the Middle East have clearly impacted the Labour vote. Pro-Palestine independent candidates ran the then shadow health secretary Wes Streeting and shadow business minister Rushanara Ali close in Ilford North and Bethnal Green & Stepney respectively. Streeting’s margin of victory was only just over 500 votes.

But it is also possible that some of Labour’s fall in share is simply the product of the party’s consistently large polling lead. This may have encouraged left-leaning voters to pick their preferred candidate rather than feel the need to come in behind Labour in case they lose, as many did for the London mayoral election earlier this year.

Some will argue that the fall in vote share shows a lack of enthusiasm for Labour in this election, which has also seen a notably reduced turnout across the country – just 60 percent. In Barking and West Ham & Beckton, it was just 46 per cent.

This election has seen parties outside of the “big two” do particularly well, and we have also seen six Independent MPs elected across the country. The sense that “we all know who’s going to win anyway” has been strong since before the election was even called. It is possible that a tighter race may have seen an even more decisive result. It will also have convinced some not to bother to vote.

Polling companies vying for attention and reputation have been a constant and prominent feature of this election campaign. Perversely, it is not impossible that they may have played a role in making their own polls inaccurate – the eventual gap in vote share between the Labour and Conservative parties was much closer to 10 percent than the 20 percent repeatedly predicted for most of the race, or even the 15 percent predicted at its end.

There have been other local factors at play. Labour’s national operation will not care one jot, but former Labour candidates have cost the party two seats in the capital. Corbyn’s sizeable win in Islington North can surely be explained by his clear name recognition, alongside his record as a constituency MP. In Chingford & Woodford Green, aggrieved Corbynite former Labour candidate Faiza Shaheen, dropped at a very late stage, split the anti-Conservative vote down the middle with Labour’s Shama Tatler, allowing Tory incumbent Iain Duncan Smith to emerge victorious with just over a third of the vote.

It is worth mentioning that Labour has been dominant in the capital in recent years and it can be argued that it has reached the peak of its popularity here. At the same time as winning yet more seats, its overall share of the vote fell, as it did in 2019 compared with 2017. By that measure, this year’s London results for Labour can be seen as representing a continuing decline.

The picture is similar for the Liberal Democrats. They will be delighted to have doubled their number of London seats from three to six, building a “yellow wall” along London’s south-west border. Wimbledon was won from the Conservatives by a wide margin, as was Carshalton & Wallington. Sutton & Cheam, a tougher target, was closer, but still captured by several thousand votes. And yet, like Labour’s, the  Lib Dems’ share of the London vote was smaller than in 2019.

The parties that picked up vote share were the Greens and Reform UK. Neither won a seat and Reform, as expected, did less well in London then elsewhere. Yet they won over 20 percent of the vote in Romford and Old Bexley & Sidcup, and close to 30 per cent in Hornchurch & Upminster, where they finished a close second. They were runners-up in Dagenham & Rainham too.

That leaves the Conservatives, who were the biggest losers in London in terms of seats and vote share alike. Prior to the election there was a sense that the party had given up on the capital, and long-standing Tory MPs, including a number who had been pushing to address that issue, announced that they were standing down.

Conservatives will now debate their future direction in the context of Reform’s national performance. Should they decide to head rightwards, they will also turn further away from most of London. Some MRP polls predicted that the Conservatives would win just three, two or even zero MPs in the capital in 2024. Depending on the path the Tories choose, this would not be impossible next time round.

In the end, for all the nuances and caveats, the big story of this election in London is that Labour has won, and won big. The Prime Minister and several cabinet ministers are London MPs. The party has a huge majority and a huge mandate. The new government must now deliver for both capital and country.

Jack Brown lectures in London Studies at King’s College and is the author of The London Problem. X/Twitter: Jack Brown and On LondonSupport OnLondon and its writers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Image: Evening Standard map via Ross Lydall’s Twitter feed.

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1 Comment

  1. So much for the Polls!

    “Polling companies vying for attention and reputation have been a constant and prominent feature of this election campaign……….the eventual gap in vote share between the Labour and Conservative parties was much closer to 10 percent than the 20 percent predicted for most of the race, or even the 15 percent predicted at its end”

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