by David Talbot
Returning home over the Easter weekend, the rolling English shires are about as far removed from the London metropolis as can be imagined. In political terms, my hometown, Stratford upon Avon, is a fortress of Conservative blue. The next door constituency to the south east is the prime minister’s of Witney, but to the north lie the Labour behemoth cities of Birmingham and Coventry, ringed by marginals that defined the Labour party’s return to government in 1997.
Redditch, Warwick and Leamington Spa and Worcester symbolised Labour’s deep raid into traditionally Tory lands – with the latter even spawning the stereotypical voter that gave Labour a long look again after 18 years in the wilderness. But the difference between the attention Labour will give these seats and those in London is stark, and potentially come to symbolise its failure on election night.
A week before the Easter break an ITV poll detailed Labour’s sweeping gains in the capital, with the party nudging to nearly fifty per cent of the vote and set to take six seats off the Conservatives. London, Sadiq Khan explained, held the key to Downing Street. To reinforce the point, an Evening Standard poll the next day showed Labour holding an eleven point lead. This, in a national election that is on a knife-edge, was impressive and encouraging for Labour. As part of its general election coverage the Standard ran coverage of the closest race in London, that of Hampstead and Kilburn. But buried beneath the prose of a tight election was a key, and damning, statistic.
Two out of the four million much-fabled conversations Labour are set to have in this election are to take place in London. This is a gross distortion of manpower in already safe Labour seats and, at best, for gains that will barely scratch the surface towards a majority.