The local elections are going to be an interesting result for Labour in London. If polling is correct, Labour will potentially gain the entirety of London from the Tories, defeating them in areas such as Wandsworth and Westminster. This would have long-term effects for the political process of the UK. With Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson both holding seats in London, losing London could be devastating for the Conservative party. Why is Labour doing so well in a city where Tories dominated before 1997, having a lead of 15% over The Labour Party in the 1980s?
Firstly, there has been a global phenomenon of urban, cosmopolitan areas drifting towards Left-wing parties. The book Emerging Democratic Majority argued that growth in cosmopolitan areas in the US such as Chicago were creating areas which were favourable towards the Democrats. These areas which contain large numbers of middle class people, have become more liberal over time. This in a British context has been seen in London, where a constituency like Kensington electing a Labour Party MP despite being the wealthiest constituency in the country. Wimbledon, a seat where Labour has never won before is now considered a marginal seat, with a 10% majority for the Conservatives. In Wimbledon, Labour would have to only take the Liberal Democrat vote for them to take the seat, who represent around 15% of the vote for them to win in Wimbledon. A far more interesting situation could occur where Iain Duncan Smith could lose in his constituency of Chingford and Woodford Green as he sits on a precarious 2,400 majority.
Secondly, a broader electoral realignment has been taking place within Britain. It’s rare to talk about political realignments in UK politics because of the assumptions that a majoritarian voting system of First-Past-the-Post leads to a stable government where only a minority of constituencies are seen as marginal seats. This means it is unlikely for change to happen in constituencies. However, this has historically happened. One of the most dramatic political realignments was the collapse of the Liberal Party from the 1900s to 1920s when the Liberal Party was effectively divided between the Tories and the Labour Party.
David Sanders has argued in his paper The UK’s changing party system: The prospects for a party realignment at Westminster has broadly argued that the United Kingdom is going through changes within the parliamentary party system which makes electoral realignment in the UK highly probable. Firstly, party identification has declined so that people no longer identify solely with one party over another party. In 1966 45% of voters strongly identified with a political party; by 2015 15% of the population strongly identified with a political party. Those who had no identification with a political party or weak political identification rose from 15% in 1966 to 42% in 2015. Secondly, he argues that class no longer factors into voting in UK elections. Whereas in the 1960s, 64% of working class supported Labour and 62% of the middle class voted for the Conservative Party, whereas in 2015, working-class voters split 3 ways with 33% supporting the Conservatives, 33% supporting Labour and 34% supporting other parties. Finally, analysing the authoritarian value index is the best indication of political support, with Sanders identifying four political groups emerging in British politics, each with their own placement on the authoritarian value index, with Labour receiving strong support from Left-wing internationalist supporters and the Tories receiving their vote from Liberal right-wing internationalists, Authoritarian Populist Centrists and Authoritarian Populist Right-wing supporters.
This means that personal values are now more important in dictating voting patterns than class. In London, this is broadly reflected in London’s support for an internationalist, social liberal outlook with it backing Remain in the European Union Referendum over most other parts of the England voting to Leave. London may be unique in the country for its wholehearted embrace of internationalism, for its social liberalism emphasising multiculturalism and tolerance for others. The support for Remain in the European Union Referendum plus social liberal values means that even in more prosperous parts, Labour does well. This is in contrast to other areas of the country, which lack the social Liberal values of London and hence making Labour less popular elsewhere.
Thirdly, London has a disproportionate number of key Labour voting demographics that make it an area which Labour would find it easier to win. At the last general election in 2017, age, ethnicity and education were the largest predictors of how people voted, with Labour receiving most of its vote from the under-49s. London has a disproportionate number of 25-39-year-olds compared to the overall population, being around double the national average for 25-39-year-olds and 50% higher 35-39-year-olds. Labour won 59% of the 25-39-year-old demographic in the 2017 election. London has a high concentration of ethnic minorities, with 40% of the population coming from an ethnic minority. In the 2017 election, 73% of ethnic minorities voted for Labour. Furthermore, 60% of Londoners hold a degree, one of the highest in the country. In the 2017 election, Labour received 49% of voters who hold a degree or post-graduate degree qualifications.
It is therefore clear why London is becoming a Labour stronghold. Its liberal-values voters plus large numbers of Labour-leaning demographics means that London is gradually becoming a Labour city. The local elections in 2018 and the election of Sadiq Khan as mayor of London confirm a trend of the capital’s political shift from right-wing to left-wing over the last 20 years.
Article by Daniel Clemence
Photograph: The Daily Mirror