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Mike Freer (left) campaigning with Boris Johnson: London’s demographics are changing (photo: Boris Johnson)

The capital bucked the trend. London left Conservatives scratching their heads and provided for Labour a thin silver lining to a vast and gloomy cloud after last month’s general election. Labour outperformed the Conservatives in the city to a greater extent than the Conservatives outperformed Labour across the country. Nationally, the Tories won 37 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 30. In London, however, Labour garnered 44 per cent of the vote, the Conservatives just 35.

It hasn’t always been like this. Until the mid-Eighties both parties did more or less as well in the capital as they did nationally. For the decade until 1997, the Conservatives were actually more popular in London than they were in the rest of the country. But after last month’s election the capital is more politically distinct from the rest of the country than it has been at any point since the Second World War.

The London result is made all the more uncomfortable for the Conservatives by the capital’s centrality to the party’s vision for Britain. David Cameron is fond of talking about getting ahead in the global race. If anywhere in Britain looks like a competitor in that race, it is London. The Conservatives triumphed last month because voters across the country thought them to be the party of aspiration. Yet in London, where so many of middle England’s ambitions are realised, the electorate was nonplussed. It preferred a party that planned to introduce a mansion tax — a policy that would almost exclusively hit Londoners.

Of the ten seats the Conservatives lost at this election, four were in London. Most had expected the party to lose more. One of the most surprising holds of the night was in Hendon, where Matthew Offord defended a majority of 106. Particularly gloomy Conservatives had talked of losing seats like Battersea, where the party had a majority of 5,000. Instead, Jane Ellison won 3,500 more votes. These victories, however, are footnotes to the Conservatives’ capital conundrum.

Clues as to the challenges the Conservatives face in the capital could be found on the doorsteps of Finchley and Golders Green, where I went canvassing with Mike Freer MP two days before the election. In what we now know to have been an entirely unwarranted moment of panic, Conservatives were worried Freer might lose his seat to Sarah Sackman, an impressive local Labour candidate.

“Labour are throwing the kitchen sink at me,” Freer said. “It’s been a much tighter fight than we’d have hoped for.” (In the end, Freer held his seat with a comfortable majority of 5,662.) Freer and his colleagues in the capital are at an organisational disadvantage. Trades union headquarters, universities and numerous safe seats in the capital give the Labour party a ground army that the Conservatives struggle to match. On the day I was there, Freer claimed that Labour volunteers from Tower Hamlets and University College London had made the journey across town to his seat. 

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