The General Election has left the UK looking more politically divided than ever. The SNP dominates in Scotland, Labour in the Northern towns, and the Tories in the South of England. Only Wales and London have retained a somewhat variegated appearance and, with the decimation of the Lib Dems, even they have become less colourful.
Of course, regional political differences are much exaggerated by our wildly unrepresentative political system – the SNP bagged 56 out of Scotland’s 59 constituencies on only 50 per cent of the vote. But those of us who value political pluralism might take some pride that, unlike most other regions, London is not dominated by a single party.
But London’s rather old-fashioned political map – one-third blue and two-thirds red – poses a challenge for the capital. Regional division will certainly result in a more regional politics. The SNP will focus on Scottish issues and interests, the Tories on English – and particularly southern English – ones. Labour will speak for the Northern cities. This is not necessarily a bad thing – especially if it succeeds, as it should, in advancing the cause of devolution. Britain remains, by international standards, a very centralised state.
But it does mean that London could lose out unless its political leaders speak up for the capital. After all, London does have distinct interests. It also faces unique challenges. If we want London to remain the successful, highly productive global city that it is – one that supports much of the UK’s economy – we need to keep investing in its infrastructure and public services. The capital is growing much faster than other regions, and it has high levels of poverty and social exclusion.
Yet London’s MPs don’t have a strong track record of working together. Professor Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the LSE, says: “Paradoxically, it’s much easier to get Yorkshire or Scottish MPs together in a room in Westminster than it is to get London ones.” They don’t tend to think like London MPs – perhaps because the city itself is so big, perhaps because they are politically divided, perhaps because they look to the mayor to speak up for the capital.
With UK politics taking on an ever more regional character, this now needs to change. London’s MPs need to collaborate across party boundaries, for the good of the city. And they need to make common cause with the UK’s other great cities, and argue the case for more devolution and more investment in urban services and infrastructure.
A first step would be for London MPs and interested peers to establish an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London. The mayor, London borough leaders and business groups can provide the support. There are APPGs for everything from the African Great Lakes Region to Zoroastrianism. Surely there is room for one for London? Perhaps one of the capital’s new MPs could take the lead.