By-Election Special: Tooting

by Jackie_South on June 15, 2016

Tooting iconToday sees the by-election in Tooting following the resignation of Sadiq Khan as he takes on the Mayoralty of London

Much of the talk about today’s Tooting by-election has been about the tightness of the result last year. Without the advantage of Sadiq Khan’s 11 years’ incumbency, is Labour in trouble in this part of south west London?

Tooting GE15 chart
As the graph above shows, Khan won by a 2,842 vote majority last year, only 5.3% of the vote.

1. History

The Tooting constituency was created in 1974 and it has been in Labour’s hands ever since. But it has faced some tight races in the past. The result was slightly tighter in 2010 (a majority of 2,524 votes or 5.0%). It dropped to only 1,441 votes (3%) in 1987 and remained in single digits percentage-wise throughout the Foot and Kinnock leaderships.

In stark contrast, Labour’s 1997 landslide saw the majority jump from 4,107 in 1992 to over 15,000 (33%).

The constituency has only had two MPs. Tom Cox served for its first 31 years (and for four years for one of its predecessors, Wandsworth Central) before handing on to Khan in 2005.

The graph below shows the votes cast for all parties in the constituency since its creation…

Tooting GE history chart

… whilst the following graph shows those results as percentages of the total number of votes cast. In both charts, the Liberal Democrat party figures show the SDP or pre-1987 Liberal Party votes prior to that party merger.

Tooting GE percent history chart

2. The Constituency

Tooting is one of three constituencies in the London Borough of Wandsworth, covering the south-eastern third of the borough. The titular area of Tooting is the southern half of the seat, with the remainder comprising of the neighbourhoods of Earlsfield and Wandsworth Common, and the southern half of Balham. At its northern edge, it takes in the fringes of Wandsworth town.

Tooting is probably most famous to people of my generation as the home of Citizen Smith and the Tooting Popular Front. It has given the world a host of entertainers: George Cole, the UK Subs, Paul Merton, comedian Stephen K Amos and snooker’s Jimmy White and Tony Meo. Other comedians such as Milton Jones and Henning Wehn have also made their home there. Captain Sensible, Ainsley Harriet, Only Fools and Horses writer John Sullivan and Dame Margaret Rutherford were born in Balham whilst Adele went to school there and Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood settled down there together. David Lloyd George had a house on Wandsworth Common.

Not to mention, of course, our current mayor of London. You may possibly have heard that he grew up on a council estate there, and that his dad was a bus driver.

Tooting master map

The constituency is comprised of seven of Wandsworth’s twenty wards. Bedford ward and Nightingale ward cover the southern parts of Balham. Furzedown, Graveney and Tooting wards cover Tooting. Finally, Earlsfield ward covers that locality in the northwest of the constituency and Wandsworth Common ward covers the area around that park and Trinity Road as it stretches into Wandsworth town, as well as taking in Wandsworth Prison.

Tooting ward map

3. Electoral Strength

Wandsworth is a borough where elections are pretty much a two-party affair. Tooting is considerably better for Labour than the two other Wandsworth constituencies, Battersea and Putney: Labour has 19 of the 60 council seats in the borough and 12 of those are in this constituency. Reflecting the balance in Parliamentary elections, that is a fairly close plurality over the 9 Conservative councillors elected in 2014.

Labour’s strength is in the south of the constituency: Graveney, Furzedown and Tooting wards are all safe for them. The Conservatives do better in the north – Wandsworth Common ward is one of the Tories’ safest in the borough, and Nightingale ward is reliable for them in local elections. That leaves two more marginal wards in between, Bedford and Earlsfield, which currently have council representation split between the two parties (2 Labour and 1 Conservative in the former, 2 Conservatives and 1 Labour in the latter).

The map below shows the lead for either Conservatives or Labour in each of the seven wards in the most recent round of local elections.

Tooting 2014 LE map

The other parties do not get much of a look in, sharing out 26% of the vote between them. None come second in any ward in the borough. Best placed are the Green Party, who received 13% of the votes across the borough, and 12% in the constituency. The Lib Dems got 8% across Wandsworth (7% in Tooting) and UKIP achieved about 6% at both a borough and constituency level.

The graph shows the aggregated votes for the first-placed candidate for each party for the seven wards.

Tooting 2014 LE chart

Those figures are probably skewed a little in the Conservatives’ favour – they tend to do better in local elections in Wandsworth than in Parliamentary ones. All three constituencies elected Labour MPs in 1997 and 2001, whilst the borough has had a Conservative council ever since 1978 (in fact, Labour’s 19 councillors in the 2014 local election results represent its best in the borough since 1986).

2014 is not the most recent election where we have ward-level data, however. Last month’s London Mayoral and Assembly elections saw a strong performance for Labour in the borough/ Local boy Sadiq Khan won 2,786 more votes across the borough than Zac Goldsmith – 2.5% more in a usually Conservative borough. In the Tooting constituency it was much better: a majority of over 9,000 more votes, double Goldsmith’s vote (57% to 29%).

This was not isolated to Khan’s election but was reflected in the elections for London Assembly Members, although his coattails may have helped, of course. Labour’s Leonie Cooper won the Merton and Wandsworth seat from the Conservatives (who had held it since the assembly’s creation). Whilst the Conservatives won more votes in Wandsworth as a whole (42% to Labour’s 40%), Cooper took over half the total votes in Tooting (51% to the Tories’ 32%).

A similar story emerges from the party list election for the GLA - probably the purest test of party strength in those elections as it removes any personality factors. Labour secured 45.6% in Tooting whilst the Conservatives took 29.0%.

Tooting 2016 GLA chart

The ward map below shows that Labour won five of the seven wards in those elections, and came very close in a sixth (the Conservative lead in Nightingale ward was less than 2%). Labour’s lead in Furzedown ward was 41%, in Tooting ward was 37% and 36% in Graveney ward.

Tooting 2016 GLA map

4. The Election

It is a long old ballot paper that electors are faced with today: no less than 14 candidates, including 3 independents.

However, this is likely to still be a repeat of recent two-horse races between Labour and the Conservatives. Labour’s candidate appears a clever pick: Dr Rosena Allin-Khan works at St. George’s Hospital in Tooting and helps continue the seat’s contribution to ethnic diversity in Parliament in an area where that is unlikely to cost votes. Being a woman with a good common touch as well is likely to appeal strongly.

The Conservative candidate is Dan Watkins, who stood in the seat last May. He is trying to make a virtue of the fact that this is his second time around here.

For the other main parties, Esther Obiri-Darko stands for the Green Party, Alex Glassbrook for the Liberal Democrats and Elizabeth Jones for UKIP. I won’t run through the rest, but suffice to say they don’t quite match up to the most famous minor party candidate to stand in Tooting – actor Corin Redgrave put himself forward for the Workers Revolutionary Party here in 1983 (securing 72 votes).

With close results in the last two general elections, it would be foolish to rule out a Conservative victory and the Tories are certainly fighting the seat. But you get the slight feeling that they don’t think they will succeed.

It is easy to see why. Last month’s GLA results do not appear to foreshadow a Labour loss and Allin-Khan’s candidacy draws attention to the government funding difficulties of the local hospital. Labour’s quick calling of the election makes it harder for them to mobilise a strong campaign.

There are also few votes for other parties for the Conservatives to squeeze: the 4.1%, 3.9% and 2.9% of the vote that the Greens, Lib Dems and UKIP secured last year are probably pretty close to the floor that they will get today, and there are another 9 candidates (none of which are traditionally left wing ones) that will also get a smattering. Whilst outside of London Labour faces some squeeze from UKIP, particularly with the impending referendum, it seems unlikely to be a factor in this diverse inner city constituency.

Whilst the margin in 2015 may be tight, it is difficult to see where the Conservatives will pick up the remainder that they need.

Verdict: we predict a Labour hold

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