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Does London Offer Hope for Labour?

After the election, London is a Labour island in a sea of Tory blue.
May 9, 2015, 5:00am

(Photo by Adam Barnett)

UK-wide, outside of the North where Labour has been the traditional party of the working class vote, the election map is well and truly blue. London stands as a red stronghold amidst miles on miles of Conservative constituencies. Labour lost dramatically, but in the capital they all but wiped out Lib Dem support and even made gains against the Tories, bucking national trends to take 38 of London's 73 seats.

It seems that the hopeful results in London partly came down to voter confidence in the possibility of centre-left governance. UKIP, who were close competitors nationwide, did not make much of a dent in London. In the North, Farage's party was coming second in Labour safe seats, but their right-wing anti-immigrant stance were never so appealing in the capital. In a city that knows the not-very-horrifying reality of immigration, voters didn't have to worry about keeping UKIP out, leaving the decision as one between Labour and Tory.

It turns out that Labour is more popular when those to the right of them aren't ganging up and the Tories are their only main competitors. It is often said that it is hard to tell the blue and red teams apart, but Londoners seemed to be swayed by the promise of less and "fairer" austerity that Labour made its main weapon against Conservative cuts.

Labour's Black and Minority Ethnic candidates lead in London as well. David Lammy, Diane Abbott and Chuka Ummuna all won their seats and extended their majorities by a significant amount. But Labour also introduced several new BME MPs to the House of Commons, including Rupa Huq who won the Ealing Central and Acton seat from the Conservative Angie Bray. These holds and new additions mean that Labour continue to be the party with the greatest number of BME MPs, which in London at least goes down well given that 40 percent of the population are not white.

The increased representation of BME people and the introduction of several more women candidates to the house do something to solidify Labour's claims to progressive politics. But of course, that means very little when you have suffered such a heavy loss and hold little sway parliament.

If Labour's performance in London had been replicated nationwide, it would have been the result that Ed Miliband had been hoping for. The disconnect between the capital and the rest of the southeast seems only to be increasing.

It is clear that Labour misunderstood something fundamental with regards to what the electorate was looking for in their next government. Their victory in London will signal to some that they're the Islingtonite Champagne socialists they're painted as – and that they understand even less about the rest of the country. It further entrench accusations that Labour offers no alternative to the Tory party.

They are seen as just as much of an Establishment party as the Conservatives, but whereas the Tories can point their voter base towards the last five years of carving up the economy as a track record, Labour were making vague promises to be less shit than David Cameron. That didn't wash against the SNP in Scotland, while Tories outflanked Labour from the right in England.

Labour has been haemorrhaging votes in the South East since the 1997 general election, but had the opportunity this time to turn that tide in the face of Conservative and Liberal Democrat failures around the economy. But the only politics they articulated was social democracy, light on the economics. Who really knew what Labour was actually going to do?

To be fair, not many South East voters are your traditional image of a Labour supporter, but given this was an election touted to be as far from typical as possible, we've seen a shocking lack of ingenuity on the part of Labour. UKIP posed a great threat to the Tories and the Lib Dems posed no threat to anyone. This opened up space for Labour victories based on radically reimagining British politics. Labour choked.

London is forgiving enough to trust Labour's centre-left vagaries against the Tory attacks people have suffered the last few years. But it's clear that doesn't wash much beyond the M25.

As Labour head into a leadership election, South London's Chuka Ummuna is said to be one of the possible successors to Ed Miliband. It will be interesting to see if a London Labour politician like Ummuna can speak to voters who are not far away geographically, but remain quite distant politically. Many saw their choice this time round as between the Tories and UKIP. That is between an even more intense austerity programme and blaming immigrants for the crisis. Ummunna or any other new Labour leader would have to build a bridge between London and the home counties that doesn't rely on moving even closer to the damaging policies of either Cameron of Farage.


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