Sean Fear’s local election commentary

Sean Fear’s local election commentary

    Previewing the London Assembly Elections

london assembly.JPGThe London Assembly was established at the same time as the London Mayoralty. It is sometimes compared to the Greater London Council, although its powers are actually very limited by comparison.

It has 25 members in total, of whom 14 are elected by first past the post, and 11 by a London-wide top up list, which allocates the remainder of the seats by a form of proportional representation. Each constituency covers two or three boroughs.

In 2004, the Conservatives won 9 seats at constituency level, and Labour won 5. The Conservatives failed to win any additional seats, but Labour won 2. The Liberal Democrats won no seats at constituency level, but won 5 of the additional seats. Neither the Greens nor UKIP won any seats at constituency level, but each party won 2 additional seats.

The next election will be held in 2008. Ten of the fourteen constituencies can be regarded as safe. Ealing/Hillingdon, Barnet/Camden, West Central, Havering/Redbridge, Bromley/Bexley, Croydon/Sutton and Merton/Wandsworth will be retained by the Conservatives. North East, City and East, and Greenwich/Lewisham will be retained by Labour. This leaves four constituencies which will be keenly contested.

Bob Blackman beat Lord Harris to win Brent/Harrow with a lead of just 4,686, in 2004. The results from this year’s local elections suggest that the outcome will be similar in 18 months time. Tony Arbour has a lead of only 4,067 in South West, over the Liberal Democrats. This seat includes the Liberal Democrat strongholds of Richmond and Kingston. Crucially though, it also includes Hounslow, where the Liberal Democrats are weak. If the Liberal Democrats were unable to win this seat in either 2000 or 2004, I cannot see them doing so next time. The Liberal Democrats’ best chance of a win, at constituency level, is likely to be in Lambeth/Southwark, where Valerie Shawcross has a majority of 5,475, and where there is still a fair-sized Conservative vote to squeeze. Labour did very well in Lambeth in May, but I expect they will still struggle to keep the Liberal Democrats at bay in 2008.

    This leaves the most marginal seat of all, Enfield/Haringey, where Joanne McCartney beat the Conservative, Peter Forrest, by a mere 1,574. Crucially, UKIP polled over 10,000 votes here.

It is unlikely that they will do that well next time, as the election is not being held on the same day as the European Parliamentary elections. That should certainly assist the Conservatives. As against this, Labour clearly outpolled the Conservatives in this May’s local elections, across the constituency, and has strong representation in both Haringey and Enfield. By contrast, the Conservatives now hardly feature in Haringey.

At the London-wide level, the Liberal Democrats will probably lose one seat if they win Lambeth/Southwark. If Labour were to lose Enfield/Haringey and Lambeth/Southwark, they would almost certainly gain a London-wide seat. The Conservatives are most unlikely to gain any London-wide seats, unless they lose a couple of seats at constituency level. Given that a Conservative vote at London-wide level will probably be a wasted vote, then a canny Conservative voter might choose to give his second vote to another centre right party, such as UKIP.

Without such tactical voting, UKIP are very likely to fall below the 5% threshold and not get any representatives elected. The British National Party, on the other hand, and Respect, both only just fell short of 5% in 2004, and are both likely to clear that barrier next time. In fact, if the BNP can win 8 or 9% of the London wide vote, which seems likely, they will take two seats on the Assembly. The Greens should be able to retain their two seats.

Thursday saw four contests:
Alnwick DC, Amble West Lib Dem. 237 Ind 94 Con 90 Lib Dem gain from Independent.
Blyth Valley BC, Hartley Lab 413 Lib Dem. 361 Con 285 Labour hold, but a strong swing to the Liberal Democrats.
Chester City DC, Newton St Michaels Con 518, Lib Dem 497, Lab 197, Green 24 Con gain from Lib Dem. Although the Liberal Democrat vote share rose by comparison with May, this is still a very good result for the Conservatives, in a seat which has no recent tradition of electing Conservatives.
Rotherham MBC, Rotherham West Lab 1024 BNP 606 Ind 538 Con 146 Lab hold. This continues the recent run of good results for far-right candidates. The Independent candidate was a councillor in this ward until May, and only narrowly lost to Labour.

Sean Fear is a London Tory activist

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