Labour looking to outer London for key election wins

Three Conservative seats in Barnet could be under threat, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Ed Milliband in Barnet (credit Noah Vickers/LDRS)
Ed Milliband in Barnet (credit Noah Vickers/LDRS)

A string of Tory-dominated seats in outer London is being eyed by Labour for the majority it hopes to win at the general election.

Ten months on from the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, which cast some doubt over Labour’s ability to capture the Conservatives’ suburban strongholds, the party has been encouraged by Sadiq Khan’s victory in the mayoral election.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “We saw swings to Sadiq both in inner London and outer London – and I think that’s really important.

“But a mayoral election, a local election, a by-election, is different from a general election.

“In a general election, people are choosing their government, and they’re choosing what happens on national issues like health and education, the funding of the police, energy, economic stability, growth, all of those issues – that’s what we’re going to be fighting on.”

Miliband, who is now the party’s shadow energy secretary, was speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service in Chipping Barnet, where Tory MP Theresa Villiers holds a slim majority of just 1,212 votes over Labour.

Villiers was firmly opposed to Mr Khan’s expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) to cover all of Greater London, calling it “the wrong scheme at the wrong time, hitting my constituents in the pocket without delivering any significant environmental or health benefits”. A few months before the expansion, she attempted to bring forward a bill which would have enabled the Government to block the move.

It is thought that opposition to Ulez played a key part in allowing the Conservatives to hold on to Uxbridge by just under 500 votes in July last year, but the number of cars, vans and motorbikes which comply with the clean air zone’s rules has risen since then.

As of December 2023, some 95.8% of vehicles seen driving on an average day in London were not liable for the £12.50 daily charge.

Asked whether Ulez was still a salient issue, Miliband said: “I think that Ulez was clearly an issue in the mayoral election, and the people of London made their choice – which was to re-elect Sadiq for an historic third term.”

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He added that the general election “will not be about that”, with Labour hoping to instead focus attention on NHS waiting lists, high energy bills and teachers being cut from schools.

With an average national poll lead of more than 20 points, seats like Chipping Barnet, along with neighbouring constituencies like Hendon, should be low-hanging fruit for Labour.

But Miliband said: “My experience of general elections is that nothing is a walk in the park, and we take nothing for granted.”

Some polls have projected the Conservatives losing all 21 of the London seats they secured at the last election, while others show them reduced to just five.

Despite Chipping Barnet currently having a small majority, Labour failed to win the constituency even during its landslide victories under Tony Blair.

The party’s candidate there, Dan Tomlinson, said Labour has “totally changed” since its catastrophic national defeat in 2019, and hopes to win over voters who have never before backed the party.

“Lifelong Tories in Chipping Barnet, who maybe didn’t even vote for us in 1997… They can look at me, they can look at [party leader Sir] Keir [Starmer], they can look at Rachel [Reeves, Shadow Chancellor], and see that the party’s changed – and they have a choice this time,” he said.

But neighbouring Conservative MP Mike Freer, who represents Finchley and Golders Green and is standing down at the next election, played down suggestions that Labour will win big in the suburbs.

“The Labour party try this seat in every election I’ve stood in, and they’ve not won yet, so I’m quite confident that we’ll hold this seat, as we will in many London seats,” he said.

“All I can say is the support is on the doorsteps, and I know from looking at the votes coming in on the mayoral election, actually we did far better in some of our London seats than the polls would suggest.”

Tory party chairman Richard Holden MP agreed, saying that the mayoral result showed many seats are “all to play for”.

He said: “I think the fact that Labour are still having to focus on seats like this, shows that the polls are so wrong.

“If those polls were right and Labour were 20, 30 points ahead, Labour wouldn’t be thinking about seats like this in Barnet. They wouldn’t be thinking about these outer London seats – they’d be thinking about other seats across the country.

“They know that this election isn’t over, they know that they’re going to have to fight for every seat.”

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