THE TORIES REGAIN METROLAND
Few parts of the Country were traditionally more solid for the Conservatives than John Betjemanâ€™s Metroland, the leafy suburbs that sprung up in the Twenties and Thirties in West, and North West London, as the Underground pushed out beyond London into the Countryside and connected towns and villages like Harrow, Hendon, Finchley and Wembley to the Metropolis.
Most seats in this region delivered five figure Tory majorities at general elections with monotonous regularity, and delivered scores of council seats.
This all changed in the mid 1990s, as the Conservativesâ€™ reputation for economic competence was destroyed. Barnet, Hillingdon, Ealing, and Harrow Councils were all lost in 1994. The proposed closure of Edgware General Hospital finished off Conservative chances in this part of London, and the Conservatives lost almost every seat they held here in 1997.
For me, election night in 1997 was summed up by the site of Sir Rhodes Boyson, on television, plainly shocked to have lost Brent North on a 17% swing.
Worse still for the Conservatives, most seats in this area of London shifted even further to Labour in 2001. Seats like Harrow East looked safe for Labour, which would have been inconceivable in 1992.
Fortunately for the Conservatives, this region has begun to shift back in their direction. The local elections of 2002 saw the Conservatives regain Barnet, and win the most votes in Harrow and in Brent North. This shift was confirmed in the London Assembly elections, and last yearâ€™s general election, and most dramatically, the local elections on May 4th, which saw the Tories regain Harrow, Hillingdon, and Ealing, and increase their lead in Barnet and Brent North. Constituencies which were looking pretty safe for Labour, must now once again be regarded as Conservative prospects if Labour remain unpopular. Even taking the new boundary changes into account, the Conservatives led Labour by 4% in both Harrow West and Brent North; by 5% in Hendon; by 7% in Ealing North, and by no less than 15% in Harrow East and Finchley.
Local election gains do not necessarily translate into general election gains. However, it is worth remembering that the Conservatives actually performed worse here, relative to Labour, in 1997, than they did in the London Borough Elections of 1994.
Last nightâ€™s by-elections were generally good for the Conservatives:-
Chichester DC – Tangmere: C 278, Lib Dem 275, BNP 41, Ukip 22, Lab 14. Con gain from Lib Dem. As other commentators have pointed out, this result gives the Conservatives control of every local authority in West Sussex, for the first time ever.
East Ayrshire SUA – Altonhill, Hillhead and Longpark: SNP 715, Lab 296, C 178, Scottish Socialist Party 23. SNP hold. This is a strong performance from the SNP.
Hambleton DC – Thirsk: C 700, Lib Dem 286, Lab 161. Con Hold, with a huge swing.
South Kesteven DC – Truesdale: C 416, Lib Dem 232, Ind 171, 166. Con gain from Independent, although none of the main parties contested this seat last time.
West Lindsey DC – Lea: Lib Dem 621, C 391. Lib Dem gain from Independent The Liberal Democrats have now taken control of this authority
Wyre BC – Park: C 560, Lab 456 Con gain from Lab. This was a truly terrible result for Labour in what was a very safe seat.
Sean Fear is a Tory activist in London and writes a weekly local election review.