Labour, swing and London: The Conservatives 2018 prospects

Like most people, the morning of June 9th was a surprising day, only 24 hours earlier, me, every pundit and I think even Corbyn’s office were expecting heavy Labour losses to Conservatives. The results as we all know were rather different, with the Conservatives suffering a 4.1% towards Labour and a net loss of 13 seats while Labour made a net gain of 30 seats.

While The Conservative failure to take target seats in places like West Yorkshire and lancashire and its lost ground in places like Plymouth and Crewe and may have come as a surprise, Conservative failures in London certainly came as no shock to me, since the Richmond Park By-Election, it was evident that the Conservatives had a serious issue in the capital. In that By-Election the tories suffered a 21.7% swing against them, now of course that swing had many factors, including heathrow expansion, a incumbet MP running without his parties label on the ballot and indeed the result was reversed just 6 months later at the General Election where Zac Goldsmith re-took the seat, however if we compare the 2017 result in Richmond park with the 2015 result, then we get a swing of 19.4%. Zac Goldsmiths defeat wasn’t the only sign of worry for the the Conservatives in London, in the 2016 London Mayoral Election, which coincidentally also featured Zac goldsmith as a candidate, the Conservatives suffered a 8.3 % against them in the second round, just 1% off the 7.3% swing away from the Conservatives during the Tooting By-election caused by the resignation of the Mayoral Election victor, one a Sadiq kahn.

Given these results it is a surprise that the Conservatives even entertained ideas of capturing many Labour seats with a sudden implosion of the Labour vote across the city which had failed to materialise in the capital following Corbyn’s election as Labour leader. Theresa May made four campaign stops in West and North West london seats like Ealing Central & Acton, The 3 Brent seats and even Harrow West which Gareth Thomas has held since 1997. London has for a while been home to some of Labour’s safest seats outside of Merseyside and as John Curtice has already noted Labour has for a while and is even more so now, a party of the metropolitan. Like most big cities, London voted overwhelmingly remain (which makes it interesting that this fact didn’t help the Liberal Democrats much), therefore it is a mystery to me as to why the Conservatives believed that running as the party of ‘hard Brexit’ would allow them to make serious inroads into Labour’s territory in London.

John Curtice noted in a lecture to the Stevenson Trust at The University of Glasgow on the 13th June, there was a stark contrast in regional variation, as we are used to observing “Labour gaining ground in the North of England and losing ground in the south” yet this time Labour put on support in the south and indeed London produced a 5.1 % toward Labour, the largest regional Swing to Labour anywhere in the country.

So with a YouGov poll in October now showing Labour on a 25 point lead, the question now is, how will this affect Conservative prospects in the 2018 London Local Elections. 2014 was Labour’s best performace in London for 40 years. In order to anylse Conservative chances in May, I identified every Conservative controlled Council on London in which Labour are the principled opponents to the Tories, then began an assessment of each individual Ward, I calculated the swing in each Westminister constituency and assumed a uniform swing across the wards that fell inside that constituency. Calculating the swing needed for Labour to capture certain wards did pose a problem, as in London, entire Councils are up for election in one go, this means voters have more than one vote to ask leading to different candidate from different parties having different vote tallies, in order to calculate swing you need to know the total number of votes cast, so I decided to add up the total number of votes cast for each candidate and then divide by the total number of Councillors from each ward i order to roughly calculate the total number of electors who cast a ballot, information that most local authorities didn’t provide. I found this method more effective than just use the total number of votes cast as the figure was so large, a relativey modest swing was enough to wipe out Conservative Councillors with majorties in excess of 2000 votes and deliver Labour with landslide majorties on Westminister City Council an outcome that is highly unlikely. As the performance of Liberal Democrats is hard to assess, I have only conducted assessments based on Labour vs Conservative and assumed Liberal shares of the vote remain the same, of course this is unlikely and the conservatives could lose additional seats. UKIP is also hard to assess, i have taken UKIP out of the equation, assuming a 40–60 split in its vote to the Conservatives and then conducted a my normal swing calculation.

according to my calculations, the Tories are looking at losing somewhere in the region of at least 45 Councillors to Labour alone in May, that would be Tories worst result in terms of seats since 1998. On my estimates, the Tories face the very real risk losing of 4 seats on Barnet Council and 13 on Wandsworth, putting Labour on course to win both. Labour falls just 5 seats short of capturing Hillingdon and making a stunning 7 seat gain in City of Westminster if Labour perform as well as they did in June.

Of course many caveats apply to this analysis, turnout is going to be massively important in Mays elections, if not enough Young people turnout then Labour could massively under perform, also a perfect uniform swing in every Ward is unlikely, a small variation in the Tories favour could reduce the seat loss tallies but equally, if there is a variation in swing that is in Labour’s favour, then Councils like Hillingdon come into play.

In conclusion, London is looking more like a Labour fifedom following June with the potential for Tories to lose key Councils like Wandsworth and should Labour outperform its 2017 performance in the capital then the scale of Tory loses could be far worse than my anylisis suggests.

I want to thank Andrew Teale’s Local Election Archive Project, which allowed me to map wards and their results in 2014, also The Ordinance Survey’s election maps and of course John Curtice’s fantastic lectures on the results availbale here Any feed back on this article is welcome, find me on twitter @tomlaing14