London remains a Labour stronghold in a country that voted decisively for Boris Johnson. How will the former Mayor of London approach the capital that he knows and loves?
Well, that settles it. With such an emphatic Conservative win, much is resolved. We will leave the EU at the end of January and Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be in a very strong position to deliver on his manifesto.
I have written before about the way that London, which once voted quite like the rest of the country, has come to diverge from it. A quick look at the electoral map shows you that remains true.
As England swung behind the Conservatives, Labour retained its number of seats in the capital, swapping Kensington for Putney. True, the Conservative vote went up in London as well as elsewhere. But this did not translate into Labour losses and the broad pattern of London voting peculiarity remains. Following the 2017 election, 18 per cent of Labour’s parliamentary seats were held by London MPs. That figure is now 24 per cent.
This could leave London in a vulnerable position. Clearly it was on the losing side of the argument. And beyond the party political arithmetic, both the main parties campaigned on a ‘levelling up” ticket, with the suggestion that they would divert resource and energy away from the capital and the wider South East to ‘poorer’ parts of the country (though, as measured by, well, poverty rates, London is one of the poorest regions). Boris’s success in labour Northern strongholds is likely to deepen that levelling up commitment, as the Conservatives seek to pay back all those former Northern Labour voters who switched allegiance and cemented their new Red-Tory coalition.
Against that, Boris Johnson has made some big promises both before the election and in his manifesto that could bode well for the capital. As Mayor, he consistently campaigned for more devolution and for investment in infrastructure and skills. The manifesto is silent on any big London measures – there was not even a promise to continue to develop the case for Crossrail 2, as there was in the 2017 Tory manifesto. Indeed, if you were to take the manifesto literally it looks as if London is in line for a Windrush Memorial and a Holocaust museum next to Parliament – both noble, yet comparatively small commitments. But there have been lots of promises to increase investment and up spending on public services across the nation, and some of that will surely find its way to London.
There are some other promising commitments, including a focus on apprentices in all new infrastructure projects, more investment in the further education college estate and a dedicated allocation to help people in disadvantaged communities. And as we’ve previously argued, the Conservative manifesto has a specific focus on helping young people, who are hardest hit by London’s housing costs, to buy and rent. Promises included offering long-term fixed rate mortgages, abolishing ‘no fault’ evictions and a commitment to end rough sleeping.
Most promising of all perhaps, is Boris’ commitment to a White Paper on English devolution – a promise the PM made even before he called the election. There is a strong Tory tradition that believes in urban self-government, running all the way back to the Chamberlains a century ago, picked up by Michael Heseltine in the Thatcher government and carried on at least to some extent, by George Osborne, Greg Clark and their City Deals, in the Cameron years.
London is not going be at the centre of this government’s attention. But we can hope that it will benefit from a broader ‘devolve and invest’ agenda.
Both London’s rather vulnerable position and the opportunities a Boris government represents means that the Mayor, London boroughs, MPs, business groups and civil society will have to work closely and creatively together to make the case for the vital role that the capital can play in a post-Brexit, Boris-led UK.