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Jeremy Corbyn is heading for big victories in London

Five thoughts on the latest set of polling from the capital.

Queen Mary’s Mile End Institute has released their latest wave of polling of the capital, and as ever there is a lot of interest in there.

The Conservatives are headed for a world of hurt in the capital

The headline news is that the Conservatives are expected to lose Barnet, Westminster and Wandsworth. The latter two remained Conservative-controlled even in the Labour wave year of 1994, and Barnet has never been Labour-controlled, though the Conservatives have intermittently lost their majorities there.
In a way that is what we would expect from the election. In Wandsworth, Labour gained Battersea and Rosena Allin-Khan won every ward in Tooting, and the party came very close to unseating Justine Greening in Putney. In Westminster, Tory Mark Field nearly lost his Cities and Westminster seat while Labour’s Karen Buck likewise won every ward.

However, Buck has a significant personal vote and Labour have always tended to underperform their national results in Wandsworth council elections, in part because of the Conservative council’s longstanding (and locally very popular) commitment to keeping council tax the lowest in the country. These would be big, big gains for Labour if they come true.

While Labour make big gains as far as councils they control, their seat gains will likely be pretty rubbish

However I think the Tories will have a pretty good talking point (that is, it will get ministers and loyal backbenchers through interviews on election night on 4 May, not that it will be a sensible or correct take) in that just looking at these numbers and the councils up for grabs in London, the actual number of seat gains looks likely to be quite low.

Why? Well, because Ed Miliband already did very well when these councils were last fought in 2014 as the Liberal Democrats collapsed to his benefit. In most of the capital, you are looking at perhaps three to eight possible gains as the last remaining Liberal Democrats or Conservatives are wiped out. In Hackney, there are just three Tory councilors, four Liberal Democrats and 50 Labour party councilors, and that was actually one of Ed Miliband’s least impressive results in inner London. In Waltham Forest they hold 44 seats out of 60. In Haringey, 48 out of 57. And these are the Labour-held areas with the biggest potential for gains.

So even a blockbuster night for Labour in London I wouldn’t expect them to make many gains as far as seat numbers go.

It could get worse for the Tories depending on how the Liberal Democrat vote is distributed

The great unknown is that the Liberal Democrat vote is up but we aren’t entirely sure where it is up. Their big hope of course is Richmond, where they were entirely wiped out in 2014, but it is possible that Brexit – and the fact that EU citizens can vote in this elections – will turn the table for them. Or they could just give a couple of Labour councilors a fright but gain very little. Who knows?

There is a lot to worry for both major parties here

I don’t think it is worth worrying too much about voting intention as far as Westminster goes: there isn’t an election due until 2022 and it is hard to predict results this far out.

However, were I Labour, it would trouble me that in a city where they have finished first as far as elections to Parliament go in every contest since 1992 and where they have not lost a city-wide contest since 2012, and are likely to get more than half the vote, the most popular choice for “who is the best Prime Minister?” is “Don’t Know”. (A shrug of the shoulders leads Jeremy Corbyn 36 per cent to 31 per cent, wile Theresa May is a poor third with 24 per cent. Facing a tricky two-legged tie to qualify for the Champions League proper in fourth place is Vince Cable with nine per cent.)

But there is very little to cheer here for the Conservatives either. While “leaving the EU” is a top three issue for a quarter of  all Remain voters their path to a good parliamentary majority looks very tricky and it should alarm them that the traditional areas of Labour strength , particularly the NHS, are on the rise as far as issues of concern go.

The Conservatives have a big problem with Remainers, but Labour are doing okay with Leavers

The number one way to improve the Tory position in London and indeed across the country would be for them to do as well holding onto the “Cameron 2015, Remain 2016” voters as Labour are with “Miliband 2015, Leave 2016” ones. To give you an idea of the problem: Labour getting 30 per cent of the vote among Leavers, the Conservatives are getting just 17 per cent among Remainers. If the Tories can even do merely as poorly as Labour, their position would be greatly improved.

It’s hard to see at this distance who will even want to challenge Sadiq Khan

Voting intention for the 2020 mayoral election is only marginally more useful than voting intention for 2022, but on the more reliable metric of approval ratings, Khan continues to look like a formidable candidate in 2020, with more than half the city approving of his record so far. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.