In 2008, the Conservative London Assembly Member Roger Evans held his Havering & Redbridge seat by a 25 percentage point margin and more than 40,000 votes. Four years later there were fewer than 4,000 votes, and three percentage points, in it. Evans may have taken that as some kind of a sign, because he stood down in 2016: that year, his successor as Tory Candidate, Keith Prince, barely held the seat, beating the Labour candidate by all of 1,438 votes and 0.8 percentage points.
Little surprise that, on LabourList, Luke Akehurst recently described Havering & Redbridge as “the most marginal target of the constituency seats”; while in its guide to the GLA elections, ThisIsLocalLondon described it as “perhaps the most interesting seat to watch out for in the election”. It stands to reason that, of the 14 constituency seats in the London Assembly, Havering & Redbridge is the most plausible Labour pick up, and the most likely to change hands, yes?
No. Sorry. I don’t care about that trend over the last few elections, I don’t care how marginal it looked in 2016: I don’t believe a word of it.
To account for my cynicism we need to look more closely at the constituency. On paper, these two boroughs look pretty similar: both lie at the outer edge of Greater London, both were carved out of Essex, both are carved up by interwar dual carriageways and suburban streets, and both are populated largely by people whose parents and grandparents once lived in the East End. If you didn’t know this part of Outer London well, you’d quite naturally bracket them together.
But these cosmetic similarities disguise some big differences. For one thing, Redbridge is a lot closer to Central London than Havering, zone 4 compared to zone 6, and the Central line a whole lot quicker than the District: it looks into the capital, where its eastern neighbour still has a tendency to look outwards into Essex. All this may go some way to explaining why, at the time of the 2011 census, Redbridge was also a whole lot more diverse: around 35 per cent white British, compared to 83 per cent for Havering. And although they seem on the map to border one another, the two boroughs are barely even connected. There’s just one road, the B174, which leads directly from one to the other: every alternative route requires a quick detour through Barking & Dagenham.
The two contrast politically, too. The last few electoral cycles have seen Redbridge move from being a knife-edge Labour-Tory marginal to being an increasingly solid Labour hold, as inner city types moved out along the Central line seeking cheaper housing and the borough has steadily grown more diverse.
Havering has moved the other way: it was always Tory (its brief, early Blair period of voting New Labour feels a long time ago now), but in 2019 the party took nearly 60 per cent of the votes there. At time of writing, Labour is the fourth biggest group on the council, behind the Tories and two different residents’ associations. This is actually an improvement: it used to be sixth.
Oh – and you will be stunned to learn that these two boroughs voted in different directions on Brexit, too. Redbridge went Remain, 54 to 46. Havering went Leave, 70 to 30, making it by a distance the most Brexit-y borough in London.
All that said, the Assembly constituency clearly has moved from solidly Tory to barely Tory over the last few cycles. For all their contrasts, there are simply more people living in Redbridge (over 300,000, compared to around 260,000 in Havering), and although its diversity means that a smaller share of them can vote, its electorate is bigger too. So could that be enough to swing it for Labour this time?
Here’s why I’m still not buying it. In 2016, just a few weeks before the referendum, nearly 16 per cent of the votes in the constituency went to UKIP. That party isn’t standing this time round, and its spiritual successors, Reform UK, and their candidate Richard Tice, don’t have a fraction of the name recognition. A significant chunk of those voters seem likely to drift back to the Tories.
And so, even though my record at predicting election results places me somewhere between William Rees-Mogg and Nostradamus as a seer, I feel confident in saying; no, Labour will not be winning the Havering & Redbridge constituency in the London Assembly elections. Sorry.
Or at least – it won’t this time. But at some point, presumably before the 2024 elections roll around, the Elizabeth line will finally open, providing six stations in southern Redbridge and northern Havering with new, fast trains to the City and the West End. That, plus the prospect of relatively cheap housing, might mean that Havering’s demographics start to change.
If the borough starts to become younger and more diverse, then maybe Labour will start to do better there, too. Perhaps the 2028 election is the one to watch.
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