What Will London Tell Us About the Next General Election?
Mike Smithson has written several excellent articles about the London Mayoralty this week, and I do not propose to add to them directly. My intention is to explore what the outcome will tell us about the next general election. Electoral history over the past 40 years suggests that the outcome of the London Mayoralty will be a good pointer to the outcome of the next election.
London is politically volatile. It contains areas of great strength for all of the main political parties, but at the same time, has a rapidly changing population that cannot be taken for granted by any of them, and is prepared to switch between them.
In 1988, Labour organised a conference entitled â€œCan Labour Win London?â€ which prompted Terry Colman to comment that â€œLabour had left no stone unturned in its determination to lose Londonâ€ during the 1980s. Yet, Conservative dominance vanished within a few years, and in 1997, Labour won 57 seats to just 11 for the Conservatives in the Capital. This produced just as much hand-wringing on the Right, as many commentators concluded that Londonâ€™s multi-racial population and supposed social liberalism meant that it was now safe for Labour. London is safe for nobody, as Labour discovered in 2005, when the party lost 11 seats.
Londonâ€™s local elections have proved a useful lead indicator of future general election performance. Landslide victories in the GLC election of 1967, and the Borough elections of 1968, pointed the way to the Conservative victory in the 1970 general election. Massive gains for Labour in the Borough elections of 1971 and the GLC election of 1973 were followed by their election victory in 1974. Once again, the Conservatives pulled off a landslide victory in the 1977 GLC election, and a strong performance in the Boroughs in 1978. The party duly won the 1979 election. In 1982, the Conservatives easily retained their dominance in the Borough elections, and this was duly followed by their landslide victory in 1983. A surprisingly good Conservative performance in the Boroughs in 1990, presaged their surprising win in 1992. A Labour landslide in the Borough elections of 1994 led to an even stronger performance by the party in 1997. And the 1998 Borough elections, easily won by Labour, foreshadowed the outcome of the 2001 election.
There are occasional exceptions to this rule. Labour narrowly won the GLC in 1981, and had a small lead over the Conservatives, in terms of votes, in the 1986 Borough elections. In both cases, it may be that Labour would have done better to lose, as the behaviour of many of their councillors simply confirmed to floating voters in London that the party was unelectable. Remarkably, London actually swung further to the Conservatives at the 1987 general election, due in no small part to the behaviour of those Labour councils who celebrated their election victories with massive rate increases and invitations to Gerry Adams to come and speak to them.
Recent political history suggest that if the Conservatives win the Mayoralty, and perform well in the Assembly elections, then in all likelihood, theyâ€™re heading for victory at the general election. By contrast, if Labour outperform expectations, by winning easily, then the next election may turn out better for them then most people are expecting.
There were five by-elections on Thursday:-
Bromsgrove District – Slideslow: Conservative 372, Independent 317, Labour 304, UKIP 104. Conservative gain from Liberal Democrat. For some reason, the Liberal Democrats did not defend this seat, but backed the Independent. Labour did well, as they did not contest this last time.
Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough – Westminster: Labour 227, Conservative 123, Lib Dem 45. Labour hold.
London Borough of Sutton – Cheam: Conservative 1541, Lib Dem 1454, UKIP 260, Labour 106. Conservative hold. This was one of the Conservativesâ€™ safest seats in the borough, and the near loss is most likely down to the disqualification of the outgoing councilor.
Tynedale District – Hexham Gilesgate: Conservative 178, Lib Dem 96, Labour 60. Conservative hold, with a reduced majority.
Shetland Council: Lerwick South. This was one by Jonathan Wills, one of seven independents who contested this seat.
[Note This week’s appeared late due to a technical problem]