A review of the key general election London seats
London sees extensive boundary changes at the next election, which are neutral for the Conservatives, Labour, and Respect, while costing the Liberal Democrats one seat, Brent East, which is abolished. London loses one seat, having 73 in total.
The Conservative seat of Hornchurch is abolished, while boundary changes convert Croydon Central and Hammersmith & Fulham (now Hammersmith) into Labour seats. Two new seats are created, Ealing Central & Acton, and Fulham & Chelsea, both of which would have been won by the Conservatives in 2005. Enfield North is also converted into a notional Conservative seat, by the loss of Ponders End ward, while Finchley & Golders Green, narrowly won by Labour last time, is now too close to call. Overall, the outcome in 2005, on the new boundaries, would have been Labour 43/44, Conservative 21/22, Liberal Democrat 7, Respect 1.
The following seats can be regarded as safe at the next election. For Labour, Hayes & Harlington, Ealing Southall, Tottenham, Islington North, Edmonton, Hackney North and South, Walthamstow, Leyton & Wanstead, Ilford South, East and West Ham, Greenwich & Woolwich, Vauxhall, Erith & Thamesmead, Mitcham & Morden, Croydon North, Camberwell & Peckham, and Lewisham Deptford. In all likelihood, Harrow West, Brent North, Feltham & Heston, Lewisham East, and West & Penge, and Dulwich & West Norwood should be safe, too, but they could be lost if Labour performs terribly, the first three to the Conservatives, the next two to the Liberal Democrats, and the last one to either.
For the Conservatives, Chipping Barnet, Ruislip Northwood & Pinner, Uxbridge, Romford, Upminster & Hornchurch, Fulham & Chelsea, Cities of Westminster & London, Kensington, Bexleyheath & Crayford, Old Bexley & Sidcup, Beckenham, Orpington, Bromley & Chislehurst, despite the by-election result, Wimbledon, Ilford North, Putney, and Croydon South will be safe. Enfield Southgate, won narrowly last time, should be held easily following the departure of Stephen Twigg. In the absence of any sitting Labour MP, Ealing Acton & Central should be won. Enfield North should probably be won, but demographic change is pushing this seat Labourâ€™s way in the future. Croydon Central ought to be won, but the unfortunate publicity received by its MP makes this one harder to call.
For the Liberal Democrats, holding Bermondsey & Old Southwark, Hornsey & Wood Green, Kingston & Surbiton, and Twickenham should pose few difficulties. This leaves nearly two dozen seats where tight contests can be expected.
Finchley & Golders Green and Battersea are likely Conservative wins. Both have among the highest average disposable incomes in the country, and it is a tribute to Labour that the Party has held them for so long. But even the smallest swing to the Conservatives will see them fall, although Labour could retain a working majority, even if they did. Slightly less marginal are Harrow East, Westminster North, and Hendon, all with majorities of under 3,000. Were Labour to lose these, then in all likelihood it would have lost its Commons majority, although possibly remaining the largest party. The Conservatives had big leads in the 2006 local elections in the first two, and a smaller lead in the last. Further up the scale are Eltham, Brentford & Isleworth, and Hammersmith. The first two are classic marginal seats, and must be won by the Conservatives if they are to form a government. The last would once have been safe Labour, but demographic change is pushing it the Conservativesâ€™ way, with a notional majority of just 8%. If the Conservatives win these, they will form the largest party, but may be short of a majority. The Conservatives had small leads in each seat, in last yearâ€™s local elections.
At the top end of Conservative hopes are Tooting, Dagenham & Rainham, Ealing North and intriguingly, Poplar & Limehouse, once represented by Attlee and Lansbury. Gentrification gives the Conservatives a chance to win the first, and concern over immigration the second. Ealing North has a long history of being won by whichever party wins the general election, while Poplar & Limehouse is just about a marginal seat now, due to gentrification, an active local Conservative association, favourable boundary changes, and the impact of Respect in splitting the left wing vote. If two or more of these fall, then the Conservatives will probably have won a working majority.
Among the remaining Labour seats, the Liberal Democrats will challenge hard in Brent Central, Hampstead & Highgate, Holborn & St. Pancras, and Islington South. Labour should retain the first of these, despite Sara Teatherâ€™s campaigning skills, with the backing of black voters in Stonebridge, Harlesden, and Kensal Green. In the remaining three, much will depend on how successfully the Liberal Democrats can persuade Conservative voters to vote for them tactically, to remove Labour incumbents. In 2006, the Liberal Democrats comfortably topped the poll in Hampstead and Kilburn with Labour a poor third, and were neck and neck with Labour in Islington South. They must surely start as favourites in Hampstead and Kilburn, but should find the other two harder going.
This leaves Barking, where, uniquely in London, Labour are being challenged by the BNP. I donâ€™t believe that any constituency is prepared to elected a BNP MP, but I would not be surprised if the Party achieved a clear second place, perhaps with 30% of the vote.
In South West London, three Liberal Democrat seats will be vulnerable to the Conservatives. They are most likely to hold Richmond Park, given their long-standing strength in the area, the nature of its voters, and Susan Kramerâ€™s opportunity to build up a personal vote. Yet Zac Goldsmith may well be the sort of candidate who would appeal there, and the Conservatives led in this seat in 2006. Both Carshalton & Wallington and Sutton and Cheam should be extremely tight at the next election. But if the Liberal Democrats are squeezed in the manner suggested by recent polls, it is very hard to see them retaining them.
Finally, George Galloway, of Respect, has promised to stand down at the next election. Until recently, I would have thought that a Respect candidate would have a good chance of retaining this seat, but the party is now badly divided, and this gives Labour its best chance of making a gain in London, next time.
There was just one by-election last night, a Conservative hold, with a big swing from Labour, compared to 2005. Lincolnshire County Council- Heighington and Washingborough: Conservative 877, Labour 206, Lib Dem 137, BNP 126, UKIP 52, Independent 21.
Sean Fear is the PBC poster of the year