General Election preview: Hampstead and Kilburn

by Jackie_South on February 4, 2015

Hampstead & Kilburn iconFor the third in our series focusing on constituencies to watch in the General Election, we turn to north London’s Hampstead and Kilburn

In 2010’s general election, Hampstead and Kilburn was the closest result in Great Britain (although only the second closest in the United Kingdom).  Labour’s Glenda Jackson held on to the seat by a slender 42 vote majority from the Conservatives, and also only beat the Liberal Democrats by 841 votes in a knife-edge three-way race.

Hampstead & Kilburn 2010 chart

Of course, if Labour makes up ground this year, they would hope to hold all they have, at least outside Scotland.  You might also expect that there should be nowhere in the United Kingdom where Ed Miliband’s brand of Labourism should appeal: his leadership has often been criticised as being a bit too “north London” and he grew up only a few hundred metres outside the seat.

Given that, it was surprising to see that in Iain Dale’s recent seat-by-seat predictions, the only constituency he identified as a Conservative gain from Labour was this one.  So, is Labour really at risk of losing the support of the Hampstead chattering classes?

Below we’ll look at the cases for and against Dale’s prediction. But first, a bit of background.

The constituency

Hampstead and Kilburn stretches from Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill in the east to the edges of Kensal Green and Willesden Green in the west. Only half of the Heath is now in the constituency, with the rest (including Kenwood House and Parliament Hill) moving across to Holborn and St Pancras at the last boundary review.

The seat was created in 2010, taking in most of the former Hampstead and Highgate constituency that Jackson first won from the Conservatives in 1992 together with three wards (Brondesbury Park, the Brent Kilburn ward and Queen’s Park) from the former Brent East constituency once represented by Ken Livingstone but gained by the Liberal Democrats’ Sarah Teather in a 2003 by-election. That mixture always meant that the seat was likely to be close between the three parties in the seat’s first election.

Hampstead & Kilburn map

Whilst Hampstead and Highgate was all in Camden and the new parts added were in Brent, there was logic to the new entity: the boundary between the two boroughs runs along Kilburn High Road and Kilburn had previously been split between the two constituencies and putting it all in one seat makes some sense. However, it was not great news for Labour: the two Camden wards removed from Jackson’s seat (Gospel Oak and Highgate) were better territory for them than the new wards brought in.

The graph below shows the Hampstead and Highgate results from that seat’s creation in 1983 through to the 2010 Hampstead and Kilburn result. Tory Geoffrey Finsberg (previously MP of Hampstead when Camden had three MPs) held on until he retired in 1992 and Glenda Jackson replaced him. Labour received a boost in 1997 from boundary changes that brought in Gospel Oak ward.

Hampstead GE 83-10

Brent East’s results between 1983 and 2005 (during which time its boundaries remained unchanged) show a roller-coaster for Labour. Although nationally 1983 was Labour’s low point, the party did even worse in London in 1987, when Ken Livingstone first won the seat after a bitter deselection battle over his predecessor, Reg Freeson. Livingstone stood down in 2001, after becoming Mayor of London, and his successor Paul Daisley died in 2003. Sarah Teather won the resulting by-election as a consequence of opposition to the Iraq War in that ethnically diverse seat.

Brent E 83-05

As its name suggests, the constituency is one of two parts politically: Conservative-inclined Hampstead and Labour-leaning Kilburn (including West Hampstead and Queens Park).

The case for a Conservative victory

So why might Iain Dale predict a Conservative victory in a constituency where the Tories have not been successful at a national level since the Eighties?  There are two elements to this: first, Glenda Jackson is retiring. Second, the Conservatives gained council seats here in last year’s local elections.

Taking them in turn, how large was the Glenda Jackson personal factor? Well, it is pretty certain that it was strong enough to enable Labour to hold on: it would be unfair to suggest that her strong local reputation brought in less than those 42 votes that separated Labour and the Conservatives.

The 2010 general election was held on the same day as local elections. Here is the general election result again, in pie chart form:

Hampstead & Kilburn 2010 pie

And below are the local election results from the same election, aggregating the votes across the ten wards in the constituency.  Labour actually came third in these with 27.5% of the vote compared to Jackson’s 32.8%. The Liberal Democrats actually came first in the locals: 33.3% of the vote compared to 31.2% and third place in the general election.

Hampstead & Kilburn LE 2010 pie

That could suggest that Jackson’s personal vote was over 5%. However, it is also worth noting the differential in Green votes too: 8.2% in the locals and only 1.4% in the General Election – so, it appears that part of the story might also be voters who vote Green locally but tactically for Labour in general elections.

For the second element, fast-forward to 2014. The Conservatives won half the council seats across the constituency: 15 to Labour’s 14 and a single Liberal Democrat. That is a 50% improvement for the Conservatives (they won 10 in 2010) whilst the Liberal Democrats collapsed: they won a dozen seats last time around. The Conservatives look to have made gains at the Liberal Democrats’ expense.

Hampstead & Kilburn cllrs 2014

Most spectacularly, the Tories gained almost a 15% vote share in Brondesbury Park ward, winning all three seats there from the Lib Dems.

We’ll look at this in a bit more detail below.

The case for Labour retaining the seat

So, things look tough for Labour’s new candidate, Tulip Siddiq?  Possibly, but the 2014 local elections actually show a positive picture for Labour.

First, let us look at the pie chart for that election, and compare it to the one above for the 2010 elections. Labour’s vote has climbed from 27.5% to 35.2% – a jump of 7.7%, more than enough to outweigh the Glenda factor even if this was as high as the 5% differential in 2010.

Despite the Liberal Democrat plummet from 33.3% to 19.4%, the Conservative share of the vote actually stayed static. The Lib Dem vote seems to have gone instead to Labour and the Greens.

Hampstead & Kilburn LE 2014 pie

Looking at the votes over past local elections, Labour had, by far, its best results since the current ward boundaries were established in 2002. In contrast, the Conservative vote has stayed pretty static across this period.

Hampstead & Kilburn LE 2002-14

Labour actually gained more seats than the Conservatives too, albeit from a lower base. Labour gained six seats to the Conservatives’ five. There current 14 councillors in the constituency shows significant recovery from the sole councillor in 2006.

Hampstead LE map 02-14

Labour also gained ground in nine of the ten wards. The map below shows the swing between Conservatives and Labour in 2014: Labour gained ground on the Conservatives in all but one ward as the Lib Dem vote receeded, particularly in the wards where it now has councillors but even slightly in solidly Conservative wards such as Frognal & Fitzjohns and Hampstead Town. Only Brondesbury Park ward bucks the trend.

Hampstead 2014 swings map

Finally, the polls. Lord Ashcroft has conducted two polls in the seat since the last election, both showing Labour victory. The one last month suggested that Labour’s lead is growing.

Hampstead & Kilburn Ashcroft polls

The curious case of Brondesbury Park

So, what happened in Brent’s Brondesbury Park ward? Could this be an early indication of a Conservative surge to victory?

Possibly, but probably not.

Brondesbury Park has had an interesting history since 2002: the Conservatives won all three seats there that year, but the Liberal Democrats took those from them four years later and held on to them in 2010. Labour and Tories were neck-and-neck in that year, but the Conservatives  had an 11% edge on Labour last year as the Lib Dems crashed into third place.

But there is one common factor to all the victors across these years: Councillor Carol Shaw, floor-crosser extraordinaire. As Churchill said of a similar political journey: anyone can rat, it takes a certain genius to re-rat; and Shaw’s brand of genius appears popular in her ward.

The Brondesbury Park ward Conservatives as a whole appear to be fairly independently-minded. The three of them make up half the total Conservative Group (or did, there is currently a by-election pending for one of their seats in Kenton ward) but have fallen out with the other, more established, half (who used a casting vote to hold on to the group leadership).

Given this fiercely independent streak and evidence of a strong personal vote for Cllr Shaw, I am not sure you can really extrapolate much from the Brondesbury Park result across the rest of the constituency.

Conclusion

The local election results and polling suggest Iain Dale is wrong on this one.

Labour hold

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