Confessions of a Political Animal

June 10, 2009

Party like it’s 2008 – sort of.

London Boroughs Euro Labour

Note: I have published my data sheet for the London European election results with borough-by-borough breakdowns here. I am missing the exact breakdown of independent candidate votes in Hillingdon and the results for the City of London (unless the latter are included in a neighbouring borough). If anyone has access to these, please could they leave me a note? Thanks! UPDATE: data now complete thanks to Nick in comments.

If the patterns emerging on the map above (apologies for the atrocious reproduction quality) look slightly familiar, it’s probably because, like me, you spent some time last year poring over maps like this or thiswhich showed clearly the inner/outer London divide in voting in the Mayoral elections. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that last week’s European elections produced similar results – voting patterns aren’t likely to change that much in 13 months – but they are evidence of the re-emerging political disconnect between the ‘two Londons’. The dominance of New Labour did much to smooth over that disconnect. It may be the case that its death throes are widening the gap further than ever before.

There’s no getting around the fact that the European Election results were very, very bad for Labour, but as Dave Hill has pointed out, what was calamitous in the rest of the country was merely dismal in London. Whilst Labour’s vote dropped 7% nationally compared to 2004, it fell by only half of that in the London region; the Tory increase was smaller even than the limited national figure (+0.6% in London, compared to +1% nationally), whilst UKIP, surging into second place across Britain registered a 1.9% vote decrease in London, narrowly falling into fifth place behind the Greens.

So is London Labour’s silver lining? Is it from the capital that it can spring back following a general election defeat? And what are the portents for the 2010 borough elections, as the Animal discussed here? There is both positive and negative evidence (from the point of view of a Labour supporter) to consider.

Broadly speaking, Labour’s inner London vote, along with a select few outer boroughs, held up surprisingly well last week. As the map shows, out of 32 London boroughs, Labour topped the poll in 14. This includes all but four of the inner London boroughs – three of which are of no surprise and the fourth  (Hammersmith & Fulham) seems to be heading the same way as Wandsworth did in the 1980s – with second place being achieved in each of these. In outer London, Labour ‘won’ Greenwich, Barking & Dagenham, Waltham Forest and, very narrowly, Ealing. From the perspective of 2010, the good news for Labour is that it held first place in each borough it will be defending – the bad news is that given the core of councils that the party is now down to in London, that isn’t a great achievement.

What might be of greater interest to the party is that it also came first in five non-Labour run boroughs – namely Southwark, Camden, Brent, Ealing and Islington. In the first three cases, however, this isn’t as exciting as it might seem. In each of them, Labour has ceded control to Lib Dem-Tory coalitions, and in all of them the combined vote of these two parties far exceeded the Labour vote: by 10%, 20% and 13% respectively. Does this put them out of contention for Labour in 2010? Not necessarily, but the picture is less good than the headline figures suggest. In Ealing (run by the Conservatives alone) the result was so close – Labour pulled ahead of the Tories by just 107 votes – that there is probably not much to be read into it, but it may give the local Conservatives some concern. In the council chamber they outnumber Labour by 43 to 23, so a result much more in their favour might have been expected – especially as the parties that might be considered likely to abstract from the Tory vote, UKIP and the BNP, polled relatively lightly in the borough. The final case, Islington, is perhaps the most interesting, run as it is as a knife-edge minority administration by a rather hapless set of Liberal Democrats. The European election results, which saw Labour outpoll the Lib Dems by a little over 10% – with the ruling party pushed into third place by the Greens – suggests that there may be something in my hunch that Islington could provide Labour with a counter-cyclical pick-up in 2010.

There is, of course, a flip side to the coin. In five of the eight boroughs that Labour lost control of in 2006, there is no sign of the party regaining support, remaining firmly in second place in Croydon, Hammersmith & Fulham, Hounslow and Merton, and falling into a very poor third place behind UKIP in Bexley.

The numbers also confirm, if confirmation were needed, the existence of both a Livingstone effect – and an anti-Livingstone effect. An example of the former would be in the three boroughs that make up the South West London Assembly constituency (Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston) – in 2008, Livingstone took 30.6% of first preferences, achieving a strong second place. Thirteen months later, and Labour is taking just 13% of the votes across the three boroughs, and falling to an embarrassing fifth place in two of them. On the other hand, though, we should consider the case of Greenwich, the only borough that ‘switched’ to Labour between 2008 and 2009. In the Mayorals, Livingstone was beaten by Johnson in the borough (albeit by just 327 votes), whereas in the Euros, Labour outpolled the Tories by more than 6%. Whilst both parties saw their vote share and raw numbers fall from 2008, that suffered by the Tories was far worse. A similar story can be told in Barking & Dagenham. Livingstone very narrowly held off the Johnson challenge here last year, whilst in 2009 Labour was 17.5% clear of the Tories, who were beaten by both the BNP and UKIP. In choosing its 2012 Mayoral candidate, and focusing its campaign, Labour needs to weigh up both phenomena – it cannot afford any fifth places in a Mayoral election.

Do these figures tell us anything about the forthcoming general election? As we don’t have consitutency breakdowns of the results, not a huge amount, except perhaps that Labour in London could probably expect to hang on a little better than elsewhere in England. A crumb of comfort for the party might be that, with one and a half exceptions, it dropped no lower than second place in any borough where it is defending a constituency. The exceptions are John McDonnell‘s Hayes and Harlington constituency which sits in the borough of Hillingdon (3rd place) and the Bexley half of the Erith and Thamesmead seat (the other half is in Greenwich), currently held by retiring MP John Austin and the recent subject of a rather nasty selection battle. However, both these seats are relatively safe and benefit from the concentration of the limited Labour vote within the boroughs in question into small geographical areas.

I could have filled this entire post with maps, but thought I’d leave you with just two more. The first, below, shows the performance of the Green party across the boroughs.

Green Euro Election 2009

The Greens had a good night (deservedly so), increasing their vote share by 2.5% across London, and coming second behind Labour in three boroughs (Islington, Hackney and Lewisham). In the first two of these, they gained the support of more than one in five voters. What the map does demonstrate, however, is the degree to which the party’s support is limited to inner London. White, working class outer London is still proving rather elusive for the Greens, with only three (or four depending on definitions) outer boroughs seeing a vote share in excess of 10% – although in three outer boroughs they did beat Labour’s vote share.

It is worth contrasting the Green’s map with that below, for the BNP.

BNP Vote Share Euro 2009

The degree to which this is almost a mirror image of the Green map is striking, with a complete dearth of BNP support within inner London. Only if Greenwich is counted as inner London are there any such boroughs in which the party’s support exceeded 5%. Despite the horrible results for the BNP elsewhere (and I’d like to renounce all Yorkshire heritage, if possible), London must be one of the party’s big disappointments. It’s vote share rose by just 0.9% compared with 2004 and in fact fell when compared with the London Assembly elections last year. Unpleasant as it is to have the BNP taking over 10% of the vote in three London boroughs (their highest result was 19.44% in Barking & Dagenham – worryingly 5% up on their 2006 local government result), the failure of the party to achieve significant support outside of about five boroughs in total is a cause for some optimism – as we noted here before, the demographic appeal of the BNP in London is limited, and there are few signs of that appeal broadening. But this is not a time to be complacent – just because the BNP came nowhere near gaining a MEP in London does not take away from the fact that the party’s first break into non-local politics was achieved at last year’s Assembly elections. London therefore has the opportunity to be the first region to end the era of fascist involvement in its politics – and it is up to all parties to help achieve this.



    • Thank you! They were either hiding those well or were late putting them up…

      Comment by Political Animal — June 10, 2009 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

  1. […] This was first posted at The Political Animal · About the author: This is a guest post. · Other posts by Guest · About this […]

    Pingback by Liberal Conspiracy » The curious voting patterns across London — June 13, 2009 @ 8:01 am | Reply

  2. Excellent – that’s really interesting!

    Our of interest how are you doing your maps? Do you have an outline of London and fill them in by ‘hand’? Very telling

    Comment by jim jay — June 13, 2009 @ 9:54 am | Reply

    • Thanks, jim jay.
      Yes, the maps are done ‘by hand’ so to speak – it’s all very low-tech and MS Paint around here, I’m afraid…

      Comment by Political Animal — June 13, 2009 @ 10:11 am | Reply

  3. […] Hello, I’m Political Animal. You may remember me from such blogposts as the dull one about traffic lights, the ranty one about Boris Johnson, or the one with the pretty maps. […]

    Pingback by Welcome | Travels of a Political Animal — February 12, 2011 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

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