London Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged he will be “fighting hard for every Labour vote” at the general election “in the interests of all Londoners and the whole country,” and described it as giving British people a chance to pass judgment on a Conservative government he says has “prioritised a hard Brexit”.
Khan’s swift declaration that he intends to campaign actively in the run-up to the national vote on 8 June will be welcomed by London Labour MPs in a dozen or so marginal seats who fear revivals in the fortunes of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats at their expense. The mayor is said to have been personally contacting Labour MPs in the capital today.
An opinion poll published at the end of March found that the Conservatives had closed the gap on Labour in the capital from 16 points to just three over the past year, with the Lib Dems also gaining support to stand at 14%. The leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, despite his being a London MP, received a very low rating of -44% compared with +9% for Theresa May as prime minister and +35% for Khan as London mayor.
Khan’s emphasis on Brexit in his general election statement is a clear sign that he hopes to mobilise the 60% support for remaining in the European Union registered in Greater London at last year’s referendum. Campaigning for Brexit terms that are favourable to the capital’s economy and cultural character has been a major theme of his first year at City Hall. He also accused the government of “implementing damaging policies that are entrenching inequality”.
Labour gained seven seats in London at the 2015 general election, despite the party’s heavy defeat in the country as a whole, in a campaign co-ordinated by Khan, who was then MP for Tooting. The Conservatives lost one seat and the Lib Dems lost six, leaving Labour with 45 of the 73 Greater London constituencies, the Tories with 27 and the Lib Dems with just one. The Conservatives have subsequently lost the Richmond Park seat to the Lib Dems in a by-election, bringing their total down to 26 and doubling the Lib Dems’ to two.
The recent poll suggests that Labour is in danger of losing a dozen of more constituencies, mostly to Conservative challengers though also to Lib Dems, who will also be hoping to win back seats they lost to Tories in the suburban south-west two years ago.
Conservative targets will include Ealing Central & Acton, Ilford North, Westminster North, Brentford and Isleworth, Eltham, Enfield North, Harrow West, Hampstead and Kilburn and Tooting, where Labour incumbents must defend slim majorities.
Lib Dems will have hopes of re-gaining Bermondsey and Old Southwark, which Labour deprived them of in 2015. Richmond Park by-election victor Sarah Olney has spoken of taking back seats in the suburban south-west the Lib Dems lost to Tories in 2015, thanks to her party’s unequivocal anti-Brexit stance in a strongly pro-Remain part of the metropolis. Twickenham will be top of their hit list.
Recent history shows that some London electors vote in different ways in different elections, depending on the personalities and issues. The election outcomes are again likely to be a measure of the extent to which London is politically distinct from the rest of the country, with Labour and the Lib Dems tussling to mobilise pro-Remain sentiment in their favour to take the wind of Conservative sails.
Should Labour fare better than feared in London on 8 June, it would strengthen Khan’s arguments for the government to seek a bespoke Brexit settlement for London in the national interest.