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Victory in London was Jeremy Corbyn’s, not Sadiq Khan’s

The ward-by-ward breakdown of the London result defies much of the initial punditry. 

By Stephen Bush

I’ve been looking at the ward-by-ward breakdown of the London mayoral results, because I know how to have a good time.  

There are a lot of fascinating patterns in there. I’ve picked out some of the most striking.

Zac Goldsmith’s campaign appears to have worked

Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan, and Goldsmith’s failed assault on the London mayoralty is no exception, with a vicious briefing war between the candidate, the campaign team and representatives of Crosby Textor, Lynton Crosby’s campaign firm, all jostling to apportion blame for the affair.

No campaign sets out to go down to record-breaking defeat, but Goldsmith’s methods – a dog whistle focus on Sadiq Khan’s religion, and a rather crude message to Hindu voters suggesting that Khan would tax “family jewellery” and had declined to meet India’s new Prime Minister – may have been more successful than the defeat suggests.

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In wards with large Hindu populations, Zac Goldsmith actually improved the Conservative showing on Boris Johnson’s performance, while Labour did less well in areas where Muslims made up the majority or were the largest ethnic group.

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I know what you’re thinking: the Tories ran a campaign that was widely condemned as Islamophobic – and overperformed their city-wide performance in Muslim majority wards? What gives?

My hunch – and having called around local parties in the relevant areas, I’m told it fits what they saw on the day – is that the Goldsmith message did well among longstanding white English communities that are in minority-majority wards. This seems to have been particularly acute among older voters.  (Goldsmith also did surprisingly well – or, at least, less badly than you’d expect – in some majority black wards, my guess is for similar reasons.)

But what did for Goldsmith is that he also drove away small-l liberal voters, doing particularly badly in wards with younger than average populations, wards with higher numbers of non-religious voters, and wards with high numbers of educated professionals.

It’s hard to support the idea that this wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn’s victory

Speaking of educated professionals… basically, Corbyn’s Labour did very well indeed wherever there were large numbers of well-educated professionals and middle class public sector workers, most spectacularly in Bristol, where Marvin Rees won the mayoralty with a massive swing, but also in London, Crawley, Norwich and elsewhere.

A lot has been written about Khan’s victory being a rebuke to Corbyn’s approach to politics. But if you look at where he did best, with the exception of his home seat of Tooting, he largely did exactly as you’d expect a generic Labour candidate to do, with his margin of victory down to exactly the kinds of voters that Corbyn has added to the Labour tent.  

There was no Livingstone effect in London

That said, there is one group of voters where Sadiq Khan did better than Labour did nationally.

Nationwide, Labour did poorly in areas with large Jewish populations, losing Prestwich’s wards and suffering swings against them in most areas where British Jews made up a plurality or a majority of voters. But not in London.

Labour did well in Jewish majority areas, particularly once you take into account for affluence. Whether that’s because Khan fought a campaign designed to reassure London’s Jews or he simply benefited from the return of Jewish leftwingers in the capital, who either preferred non-voting or a third party candidate – (Siobhan Benita and Brian Paddick slightly overperformed their city-wide performance in wards like these) to voting for Ken Livingstone himself.

However, even in the most flattering interpretation of these results, it’s very difficult to sustain the claim that the victory was Khan’s, though he probably helped turn a victory into a landslide.

Gentrification hurts and helps Labour

Before the 2015 election, one Labour MP complained to me they had “bad gentrification”. Good gentrification, they explained, was what Diane Abbott, David Lammy, and Meg Hillier (three north-east London MPs) have: in which affluent Labour voters replace poor Labour voters, and in some cases, replacing poor Conservative voters with affluent Labour voters.

How so? Well, for some London Labour MPs, gentrification has created a perfect storm – voters who switched to the Conservatives after exercising their right-to-buy have sold up and moved to the suburbs, and have been replaced by creative professionals and other groups that are high-income but inclined to vote Labour, particularly following the election of Jeremy Corbyn.
For others – Sadiq Khan was the most high-profile but Karen Buck, Westminster North’s MP, is probably the most at-risk – gentrification has seen Labour voters replaced with Conservative ones.

There are some striking increases in the Conservative vote in parts of inner London – in most Tower Hamlets wards, for instance, the Tory vote tripled, while in Lewisham, the Tory fallback was below the city-wide swing – but also notable increases in the Labour vote in Wandsworth Common, in the Ilford area and throughout Redbridge.

For the most part, gentrification in London is helping Labour – so far.

But not as much as the bedroom tax – at least as far as first-past-the-post is concerned

The long term effect of Conservative welfare policy continues to be a gradual movement of Labour voters away from the city centre and towards the peripheries. Labour coming close to taking the Assembly seat of Redbridge and Havering, and its increasingly strong performances in those wards, is a sign of things to come.  

Look out for a north-south swap – as Chingford moves into Labour territory as Tooting moves out of it.

Oligarchs are a social democrat’s best friend

The slow reddening of Kensington and Chelsea continues. Two things seem to be driving this – increased turnout in the seat’s council estates, and the replacement of affluent Tory-voting Londoners with foreign oligarchs who are ineligible to vote.

Long-term worries aside, I wouldn’t expect anything other than a blow-out win for Labour in Tooting

In the first round of the mayoral election, Sadiq Khan got 57 per cent of the vote in Tooting – compared to 47 per cent at the general election. (To put that into perspective, Zac Goldsmith underperformed his general election performance in his Richmond Park constituency by around 0.5 per cent.)

There may have been a slight benefit to Khan in not running against Dan Watkins, the Conservative candidate in 2015 and in the coming by-election, who has been working the seat hard and has a personal following of his own. But not enough of one that Labour’s candidate, Rosena Allin-Khan, should feel overly worried about her chances, though that “bad gentrification” will continue to be a problem.

My hope is that ward-by-ward figures will be made available from the metro mayor elections next year, but seeing as Bristol City Council have declined to do the same for their election this year, I won’t be holding my breath. But hopefully see you back here same time next year.