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The birth of four-party politics? Almost everywhere in London it’s a two horse race

May 27, 2014

‘London is out of touch’ screams the Sun in disbelief at the capital city’s refusal to embrace UKIP. Nowhere else in England and Wales did the Farage insurgency fail to secure first or second in the popular vote.

In fairness this followed a slew of newspaper commentary in the aftermath of last week’s local elections suggesting that London’s increasing political exceptionalism was unhealthy – or exemplary, according to taste.

Its cosmopolitanism, embrace of globalisation and ethnicity (in the 2011 census fewer than half of respondents identified themselves as white) make it a tough nut for UKIP to crack. Indeed in only three of London’s thirty-two boroughs with all-out elections last Thursday did UKIP gain representation (an aggregate of twelve councillors in the former Essex and Kent outposts of Havering, Bexley and Bromley). This helps explain why London provided Labour with one of its brightest spots in an otherwise firmly pedestrian performance – elsewhere UKIP’s advance this year was disproportionately at Labour’s expense.

Labour also massively reaped the benefit of a fearful collapse in the Liberal Democrats’ standing in the capital. Having won 246 council seats in the previous London local elections in 2010, the coalition junior partner slumped to just 115. One statistic sums it up – in the four archetypal trendy London boroughs of Islington, Camden, Lambeth and Brent, where in the past five years the Liberal Democrats have either run the council or had parliamentary representation, they were last Thursday reduced from a total of 58 council seats to just two.

In eighteen London boroughs the Liberal Democrats have no representation and in a further six can boast only a single councillor. Beyond their South West London strongholds (or former strongholds) of Sutton, Richmond and Kingston (by no means a coincidence that these are the three London councils where Labour lacks any representation) only in Southwark does the Party have ten or more councillors – even here, with Simon Hughes’ strong base, the Liberal Democrat presence slipped from 25 to 13.

So for all the talk of four-party politics nationwide, London has essentially become polarised into a series of Labour-Conservative fights, other than in the three Liberal Democrat-Conservative battlegrounds mentioned above. Needless to say Tower Hamlets is a law unto itself!

Remarkably only in Havering (24 Residents, 22 Conservatives, 7 UKIP and one solitary Labour) does the composition of any London local authority include more than two parties with five or more councillors.

It is certainly true that in several other high profile capital cities (think Washington D.C., Berlin or Paris to take three immediate examples) the political outlook and preferences tend to be more liberal than in the nation beyond. However the UKIP hurricane has doubtlessly come as yet more of a shock to a political class, media and opinion formers whose attitudes and outlook are conditioned by living, working and socialising in a city state that increasingly looks and thinks very differently from the country beyond its boundaries.