The Tories are currently a long way off returning to a 1992 amount of seats in London, but it’s not impossible.
Look at the map below, see the Tory Blue spread across the country far and wide. You could almost draw a straight line from Chichester to Redcar without touching an opposition seat (I say almost as a small bit of Doncaster North sticks out and gets in the way). As you may have guessed, what you are looking at is the 2019 General Election Results, which saw the Tories achieve a much-needed majority in Parliament and Labour fall to one of their lowest electoral lows. I, as a Conservative, think that this result is excellent, and the voters at the time certainly agreed. The Tories ripped through the “Red Wall”, taking seats they had never won before, such as Bishop Auckland, Blyth Valley and Great Grimsby – in total, 54 seats changed hands from Labour to Tory.
But one often overlooked detail of the 2019 Election was the one seat that changed hands from Tory to Labour, which was Putney, in London. In the frame of the 2019 election, this was only a small loss compared to massive gains elsewhere and was quickly overlooked. But, in the frame of the 2021 London Mayoral election and London Electoral history, this is a significant loss and certainly something to take note of.
The Tories held Putney from 2005 up until 2019. In 2015, Putney was won by the Tories with a 10,180 majority, and the Tories won again in 2017 with a reduced majority of 1,554. It took the 2019 election for Putney to flip back to Labour, with a majority of 4,774. The map below shows us the 2019 election results, but just for London.
As you can see, Labour's success in London stands in stark contrast to the rest of the country: mainly Socialist red colours spread across the capital, but with pockets of Liberal yellow and Tory blue. But let’s delve deeper into the individual constituencies; a lot of Labour MPs hold their seats by absolutely huge margins! Look at seats like Bethnal Green and Bow, Walthamstow, and others being carried by majorities of over 60% at the 2019 General Election. Conservative Seats in London are not held by such majorities, the highest being Hornchurch and Upminster with a 43% majority, but this is only one of three seats with a 40% or more majority.
Alas, London overwhelmingly supporting Labour candidates is no surprise for anyone who is politically engaged, but it was not always like this, as I pointed out earlier. Up until the 1997 landslide, London had more Tory voters than Labour! As you can see from the graph below, it wasn’t until 2015 to 2017 there a great “leap” in Labour votes, but these were primarily votes taken from the Liberal Democrats - the matter of the fact is, the Conservative vote share at the General election level has stayed relatively consistent since 1997 (floating between 30% and 35%).
We aren’t seeing a collapse in Conservative votes in London; we’re seeing the Labour party taking support from other parties and increasing voter turnout.
Interestingly, turnout reflects a straightforward pattern, the more people turn out to vote, the more votes Labour get over the Tories. This seems to create an uphill journey for the Tories; apathy as an election strategy is not an effective one, nor is it healthy for democracy.
So, now we know the facts - let’s try and answer the question: will London Labour last forever?
No, nothing lasts forever. But let’s examine the three most realistic scenarios in which the Tories could re-take London.
Rinse and Repeat
The 2008 mayoral election was the perfect storm for the Conservatives and Boris. With a national momentum and Cameron and Boris portraying themselves as newly branded, this Conservative Party was caring, moderate and progressive. This appealed a lot to middle-class Londoners, and it indeed appeared to them to be better than Labour’s tired, old and dated Government. Of course, in 2008 – Boris Johnson was a very different politician; he was progressive. He was fresh, but in many other ways, Boris was very much the same politician he is today: gregarious, energetic and dynamic! I genuinely believe that Boris’s energy and Cameron’s moderate agenda led to the Tories increasing their vote share in 2010 and 2015 but the Brexit messaging of the 2017 and 2019 elections did not resonate in London. Once this issue is less prevalent, the Tories present a dynamic candidate, and the Labour party is unpopular in Government, the keys to London could once again be within the Conservatives’ grasp.
Moving the Goal Posts
To some, it may appear that London in its current state will never elect more Tory MPs than it does Labour, but what if London was not in its current state? There is constant discussion about incorporating the built-up areas surrounding London, such as Dartford, Slough and Watford into the city. Overwhelmingly, the constituencies that border London are Conservative ones, with only one Labour seat across the group of 20.
So, let’s imagine that all the seats bordering London are absorbed into London. We’re going to exclude the following because of how deep they run into their counties:
South West Hertfordshire
Brentwood and Ongar
This leaves 14 constituencies that would be merged into London, 13 Conservative, and one Labour. This would take the Tories from 21 to 35, and Labour from 49 to 50. If this were to happen, it simply becomes a matter of taking back seats that the Tories have held up until recently, such as Battersea (Tory Majority of 2,416 in 2015), Richmond Park (Tory Majority of 23,015 in 2015) and many more!
Divide and Conquer
On a popular vote level, the Labour party almost found themselves pushed into third in 1983, with the Liberal-SDP alliance ripping across London and costing Labour 16 seats. I think even the most loyal Labour supporters would admit that Labour is often factional, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if there were another SDP level split in the next 50 years.
You may think that these options are longshots, and you would be correct. The Tories are currently a long way off returning to the 1992 amount of seats in London, but it’s not impossible, the red wall in the North fell to the Tories so it’s completely possible this success could be replicated in London through a similar realignment, but this type of realignment takes years and years and work, or just one generation of Labour neglect, as the now blue wall has proved.
George is a conservative councillor and deputy chairman of Dartford Conservatives. He co-founded the Young Conservative Network and has a career in financial technology. George has a passion for foreign affairs, particularly American politics and enjoys reading and walking his dogs.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.