London Election Round-Up

by Jackie_South on May 6, 2012

There are a lot of elections to digest this weekend: not only the London elections and the local government elections in Scotland, Wales and a number of English authorities, but also the French, Greek and Serbian elections being held today.

But first, London.  The one ray of sunshine for Cameron on a dismal night for the Tories was that Boris Johnson held on to the mayoralty of London, albeit with a halved majority.  As I expected earlier this week, the race was a lot closer than the pollsters predicted.

The assembly elections were a lot better for Labour: gaining 4 seats to take them up to 12 representatives and giving them more members than the Conservatives for the first time since the Assembly’s creation.

Ken’s Night-Mayor

So, why the difference in fortunes for Ken and the Labour Party?  Was Lord Oakeshott right this morning to comment on the Andrew Marr Show that any other Labour politician wold have beaten Boris?

Well, the evidence is inconclusive.  Ken Livingstone clearly got things badly wrong in his campaign, most notably his personal tax credibility and the offence he caused the city’s Jewish communities.  But Ken probably had other positives: his record and his stance on fares would not have benefited another Labour candidate in the same way.

What was clear in the Lynton Crosby strategy to get Boris re-elected was a Conservative campaign that focused mainly on Ken’s character flaws and pretty much ignored anything on policies or much that was positive about their own candidate.  As an example, the day before the election the Conservatives delivered a suppression leaflet, in Labour colours, in strong Labour areas that only mentioned the Tories in 4-point font as an imprint at the bottom of the second page.  Most of that second page was devoted to Lord Sugar comments on Ken, describing him as a “lifelong Labour voter” (despite Sugar being a dyed in the wool Thatcherite in the eighties).  It is unknown what sort of mud such a campaign would have flung at any other Labour candidate.

In fact, Labour’s vote and Ken’s varied very little: there was only a 21,286 vote difference in the tallies for Livingstone and the assembly party list vote: that’s only 1% of the vote and a third of Boris’s majority.  The graph below, comparing the first preference votes for the mayor with the assembly party list votes, shows that the big difference was between Boris’ vote and that for the Conservatives over all.  Johnson picked up 263,000 votes over the Tories’ list position.

Of course, given the small proportion of first round votes that did not go to the two lead contenders, it may be that some Green and TUSC votes on the list went to Ken as first preferences and some Labour votes went elsewhere, but over all it looks as if it is a case of Boris being better at getting first preference votes from non-Tory voters than Ken losing swathes of Labour ones.

More interesting perhaps is where Ken lost those votes, and this is where his angering the Jewish community is most evident.  We do not yet have ward-by-ward or borough-by-borough level results, but the difference between the party list and Ken’s vote at a GLA constituency level is known.  The chart below shows this: a postive (red) figure is where Ken out-polled his party, a negative (blue) one where he under-performed.

In four GLA constituencies, most notably in the North East London seat covering Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest by a 1.5% margin, Ken actually outpolled the Labour Party.  But he under-performed in more areas, most notably by 3.1% in the heavily Jewish Barnet and Camden seat.  Interestingly, he did poorly in Brent and Harrow where he used to be Member of Parliament.

Ultimately, Ken’s problem was that whilst there are plenty of examples of second acts in politics, there are few where the returning candidate does not show how they have changed in some way to regain the voters’ trust.

When Bill Clinton went from being Arkansas youngest ever governor to its youngest ever ex-governor in 1980, he learned the lessons and showed a less aloof, more in touch, face to win back the governorship in 1982.

Ken failed to learn that lesson, and believed that he only lost in 2008 because of government unpopularity and nothing that he had done himself.  This arrogance was ultimately his undoing.

The Assembly

In contrast, Labour’s performance in the London Assembly elections were at the upper end of its expectations.  It took 12 seats, including eight of the fourteen constituencies.  For the first time it not only has the most seats but has also broken out of the pattern of not winning more than six constituencies.  The Greens did better than the polls predicted and both the Liberal Democrats and UKIP did worse.

London-wide, Labour improved its share of the vote by 13.6% from its 2008 position, to 41.1%, whilst the Conservatives fell back by a less notable 2.6% to 32%.  Labour’s gain came mainly from the other parties, not from a straight Conservative to Labour shift.

Perhaps most damningly for the Liberal Democrats, now London’s fourth party behind the Greens, was the fact that they only held on to their second seat by the technicalities of the London voting system, which only gives seats to parties polling over 5 percent.  Without this threshold, UKIP would have gained a seat at the Lib Dems’ expense under the d’Hondt formula used to allocate seats.  Another half a percent support for UKIP would have done the same to them.

On the constituency side, Labour won two seats from the Conservatives: Barnet and Camden, as expected, and Ealing and Hillingdon.

In Barnet and Camden, there was one of the largest swings of the evening, thanks to the personalities contesting it.  Whilst Labour had an 8.1% swing from the Conservatives across London and a more modest 6.4% swing on the party list votes in Barnet and Camden, it took the constituency with a 12% swing.

Part of this will be down to the reputation of the winning candidate, former Hendon MP Andrew Dismore, but more is probably down to the unpopularity of the outgoing assembly-member, Brian Coleman: loathed by the fire brigade (which he was responsible for) and most of his assembly colleagues.  Coleman famously told a single mother who visited his surgery who was struggling to cope with her rent rise “to live in the real world”.   He blew £1,000 of tax-payers’ money on a meal for Tory friends and a few days before the election stormed into some shops in Barnet to rantingly order shopkeepers to take down posters criticising him.  Far more so than Livingstone, Coleman’s personality played a big role in this election and few will miss him.  Dismore now has a reasonably large 19,000 (13%) majority.

Ealing and Hillingdon was much closer.  Labour’s Onkar Sahota took the seat with a slender 3,110 majority (1.9%) from Boris Johnson’s official deputy, Richard Barnes.  This was a good result for Labour, a 9.2% swing, and at the edge of its expectations.

Labour failed to take Merton and Wandsworth, where sitting Tory Richard Tracey kept the swing down to 4.6% but which would have changed hands on a 7.9% swing.  This limited swing was reflected in the party list result here.

Perhaps the surprise of the night was Havering and Redbridge, where Labour’s Mandy Richards came within 3% of unseating Tory Roger Evans on an 11.7% swing.  This seat was not on anybody’s list as one that was vulnerable, and it is all the more remarkable that this architypically white van man territory almost fell to a young black woman standing in her first ever election.

The map below summarises the winning margins in each seat.  Labour now have three seats in the ultra-safe 30%-plus majority category (City and East, North East and Lambeth and Southwark), the Tories none.  The Labour and Conservative parties are now first and second in every seat.  The Lib Dems finished third in eight seats, fourth in five behind the Greens (Barnet & Camden, Brent & Harrow, Greenwich & Lewisham and West Central) and fifth (behind UKIP and Residents’ Association candidates) in Havering and Redbridge.

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