Many claims are being made about the meaning of all kinds of opinion polls of late, including, overnight, that the elevation of former London Mayor Boris Johnson to the status of Prime Minister would deliver a fat majority for the Conservative Party at a general election. But even were such a projection accepted – and On London contributor Philip Cowley is not alone in advising caution – there is other polling data suggesting that both the Tories and Labour would lose ground in a general election in the capital. And that same data also makes you wonder if Johnson would be the very worst leader of his party if it wants to pick up seats in the capital.
A national survey by Focaldata for anti-Brexit campaigners Best for Britain and anti-racism group Hope Not Hate published last week indicated that the Conservatives would lose ten of their current 21 London seats and that Labour would lose three of its current 46 but make up for that by winning the three seats held by MPs who defected to Change UK. The biggest winners would be the Liberal Democrats, who would push their number of London seats up from three to 11. The Brexit Party would win three seats.
The Focaldata figures are compiled using a method catchily entitled multilevel regression and post-stratifcation or, thankfully, MRP for short. It is a way of estimating opinion within quite small geographic areas that combines data from very large national samples with Office for National Statistics and census local data. You Gov used an MRP model for the 2017 general election. It raised the seemingly far-fetched possibility of Labour relieving the Tories of Kensington – which, of course, it famously did.
The detail of the Focaldata MRP figures indicates which London constituencies might change hands. It suggests the following:
The Lib Dems would make their eight gains at the expense of both Labour and the Conservatives. The Tories would lose five seats to them: Wimbledon; Sutton & Cheam; Richmond Park; Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner; Putney; and Cities of London & Westminster. If this happened, it would be goodbye to Stephen Hammond, Paul Scully (the Tories’ vice chairman for London), prominent Leaver Zac Goldsmith, prominent Remainer Justine Greening, Nick Hurd (minister for London), and Mark Field.
Labour would be disappointed – it’s had its eye on Putney and the Cities seats – but more disappointed still to lose Battersea, which it won unexpectedly in 2017; Bermondsey, currently held by firm Remainer Neil Coyle; and, yes, Kensington, which is in strong Remain country. The Focaldata figures also put shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry in considerable danger from the Lib Dems in Islington South. Three other Labour seats would be similarly imperilled, one of them Brexiter Kate Hoey’s Vauxhall.
Labour’s loss of support to the Lib Dems over its Brexit stance would not stop at losing seats to them. It could also prevent the party from profiting from Tory support swinging behind the Brexit Party. For example, the poll puts Labour neck-and-neck with the Tories in Chingford & Woodford Green, but falling just short of toppling Iain Duncan Smith because of losing support to the Lib Dems. The same trend would hit Labour hopes of gaining Hendon, Finchley & Golders Green and Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge & South Ruislip seat. They would become three-way marginals rather than Labour-Tory contests.
The Brexit Party would turf Tory incumbents out of Hornchurch & Upminster, Old Bexley & Sidcup (farewell housing, communities and local government secretary James Brokenshire) and Romford – an unhappy fate for MP Andrew Rosindell, a fervent Leaver who has advocated collaborating with Nigel Farage and his new outfit.
The scenario above would result in Labour still being by far the most successful party in London, with 46 out of the capital’s 73 parliamentary seats, the same as in 2017. The Conservatives and the Lib Dems would be joint second biggest with 11 seats each, with the Brexit Party’s three completing the picture.
And what might be the effect of a Prime Minister Boris Johnson leading the Tories into a general election campaign, perhaps as early as the autumn? He might be of help in those Outer London Leave areas. But, notably and unsurprisingly, the parliamentary seats where, according to the Focaldata analysis, the Lib Dems could make gains saw big pro-Remain votes at the 2016 referendum, such as Putney and Battersea in 75 per cent Remain Wandsworth, Kensington as already mentioned and elsewhere across in 60 per cent Remain Greater London.
Johnson’s pitch in the Tory leadership contest includes a (possibly impractical) vow to leave the European Union on a “no deal” basis by the end of October if that’s what it takes. It is a “hard Brexit” position from the frontman of the Leave campaign. When he was running for London Mayor, YouGov’s Peter Kellner coined the term “Boris bonus” to describe how Johnson’s popularity ran ahead of that of his party in the capital. Might that bonus turn into a deficit?
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