A Tory mayoral victory would be tough to achieve—unlikely, even. But tough and unlikely aren't the same as impossibleby Mark Wallace / October 1, 2018 / Leave a comment
Shaun Bailey, the newly selected Conservative candidate for London mayor, faces an uphill battle. When Ladbrokes tweeted that they were pricing his chances at 3/1, the political scientist Philip Cowley commented that it was “stingy,” and proposed 500/1. He was only half-joking.
The reasons for pessimism about Bailey’s chances are clear. London traditionally votes Labour, falling on the left of a range of economic, social and cultural divides which have come to define our politics. Young, ethnically diverse, priced out of housing into barely more affordable rentals—a host of the capital’s demographic indicators flash red warning lights for Conservatives.
The ballot box brings no better news. Labour has won at every election since 1997. In 2016, London was the only region of England to vote Remain and handed Sadiq Khan its mayoralty. In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn won an outright majority of the vote, and this year 90 Tory councillors in London lost their seats.
That isn’t just about the issues and the changing face of the capital’s electorate. London Labour itself is booming. A sizeable share of Labour’s membership—estimates vary from 20 per cent to 48 per cent—live there.
Even at the most pessimistic end, that would suggest something pushing 100,000 people.
I’m aware of some local Labour branches—not constituency parties, but the next layer down, covering one or two council wards—that claim over 1,000 members.
That allowed Labour to deploy hundreds of activists to target seats in polling day last year, allowing for vast Get Out The Vote operations in seats like Croydon Central, where Gavin Barwell increased the Tory vote but still lost by a margin of over 5,000 due to Labour’s surge.
By contrast, the decline of the Conservative grassroots has struck in London as it has elsewhere. The turnout figures for Bailey’s selection imply a total membership of around 15,000. That’s an underestimate—peculiarly strict rules attached to the ballot denied a vote to various members—but not by a lot.
So the new mayoral candidate will find his troops outnumbered, in a city which started left-wing and has in recent years become more so. He will be up against a polished incumbent, whom it must be said retains a fair bit of sympathy after…