Tuesday 5 November 2019 10:30 pm

Why London could hold the key to December's Brexit election

Cat Neilan explores the state of play in the capital ahead of the 12 December – and identifies eight battleground seats

While some have identified “Workington Man” as the decisive demographic in this election, the capital is home to a number of significant marginal seats which could play a central role in deciding who claims the keys to Number 10 next month.

Strategically, Remain-leaning London presents a problem for the Conservatives, whose highly visible party leader is standing on his pledge to Get Brexit Done. “The Tories are on the defensive in the ring around London, and will probably not do terribly well in London itself,” says political analyst Lewis Baston.

Read more: Remain voters in London turn back on Corbyn

But Labour are also hurting – concerns around the party’s failure to tackle anti-semitism, as well as the impact of a truly leftwing government, means Jeremy Corbyn is less popular now than he was here two years ago.

A YouGov/Mile End Institute at Queen Mary poll published yesterday underscores exactly this. Labour still leads in London – taking 39 per cent of the vote – but that is down 10 percentage points on the 2017 election. The Conservatives are on 29 per cent, also down from two years ago, when a third of Londoners said they would vote blue.

The Liberal Democrats have almost doubled their share, with 19 per cent of respondents saying they would vote for Jo Swinson, and her newly expanded team which includes high profile defectors from other parties including ex-Labour MP Chuka Umunna and former Tory minister Sam Gyimah.

However, there is no guarantee that they will be able to convince enough voters to jump ship with them.

“London is going to be a Battle Royale for tactical voters,” says Damian Lyons Lowe, founder and chief executive of polling company Survation. “The London Labour team are as good campaigners as their Liberal Democrat counterparts. The collateral damage if Remain minded voters are split could be that the Tories retain seats in places they would otherwise lose to a strong ‘tactical Remain’ campaign.”

Ultimately the outcome of many marginal contests here will be “determined by the number of people whose Brexit identity trumps their party identity,” says Joe Twyman, co-founder of Deltapoll. “This is the whole story of the election…. What do you fear more: Boris Johnson’s deal on Brexit or a Jeremy Corbyn government? For many people it might be do you want to be shot in the foot or the hand – they are both painful choices to make but you choose the least worst.”
One thing is for sure: it won’t just be carol singers on your doorstep this Christmas season.

Clash in the City – where are the key battlegrounds this winter?

Damian Lyons Lowe: “Kensington has both areas of lower income voters with dense social housing where Labour has found strong support, but also some of the most affluent parts of London that have traditionally made this seat Conservative until 2017. Adding to that a higher than average education profile that is also pro-Remain makes the seat a fertile ground for Lib Dem support which creates a three-way marginal. Who wins this seat may depend on the extent that tactical voting occurs: Liberal Democrat and Labour voters seem really quite happy to vote tactically to stop a Tory win when we ask them – I don’t think they would be put off by Sam being a former Conservative.”

Richmond Park
Lewis Baston: “If your national campaign is based on how awful elites are you are probably not going to go down too well in Richmond. People might just about vote for Zac under Theresa May but two years on – you’ve got Heathrow, and a more hardline form of Brexit… I would be surprised if the Lib Dems didn’t win. Sarah Olney is not a big hitter but she’s known well locally, and voters are au fait with tactical voting, so they won’t have that much work to do to explain how tactical voting will get rid of Zac.”

Chipping Barnet
Lewis Baston: “It’s not been Labour since 1945 but the demographic trend is helpful to Labour there. It is Labour’s number one target – they could do it. But the Conservatives were quite resilient in the 2018 locals, and the politics of Barnet are quite sensitive to anti-Semitism, so it’s by no means a done deal. Theresa Villiers has been an MP for a while and it’s well organised. It’s certainly a battle to watch and one I wouldn’t care to predict.”

Finchley and Golders Green
Joe Twyman: “Labour don’t need much to steal this seat from Mike Freer who claims he is a Remainer but has supported leave positions. The problem is this is Golders Green – where there is a large Jewish community. Luciana, a former Labour MP, has been very critical of anti-Semitism in the Labour party – so the Remain vote could be split… allowing Freer to win fewer votes but still retain his seat because Labour has lost more. That kind of individual arithmetic is playing up and down the capital.”

Lyons Lowe: “Putney could be one of the most interesting seats in London. If the Liberal Democrats could break through somewhere like this, it’s an indicator they could break through elsewhere. Recently published estimates have the Conservatives winning the seat with 35 per cent with the Liberal Democrats not far behind on 27 per cent – but it’s about which is the least worst party, and the Lib Dems could be acceptable both Tory Remainers and a tactical choice for Labour minded voters.”

Chingford & Woodford Green
Joe Twyman: “If I were Iain Duncan Smith… I would be looking over my shoulder.” Momentum, the campaign group that propelled Corbyn to the leadership has backed Labour challenge Faiza Shaheen who remains a darling of the left-wing movement. Action days are planned in an effort to unseat the architect of Tory welfare reform.

Cities of London and Westminster
Although a recently published MRP model currently has this as a moderate Conservative win, Lyons Lowe says: “Chuka genuinely has a good chance, which would be very interesting. The majority of the constituency is very affluent highly educated and also hyper-Remain (70%). Voters may feel this is their last chance – either this election will give Boris Johnson the chance to do whatever he wants with Brexit or alternatively be is the last time to stop him in his tracks.” Labour came second last time, though the candidate has changed.

Uxbridge & South Ruislip
Joe Twyman: “Boris Johnson would be the ultimate scalp. I don’t think it is likely – you get a boost from being leader and the Remain vote is too divided here. But if I were a strategist I would look for a ‘man or woman in a white suit’ type candidate, get everyone to step aside and make it a one-man race. It would divert a lot of attention… but short of that kind of scenario I can’t see him being troubled.”