London was the one part of the UK where Labour was seen to do well at the 2015 election: they unseated four Conservative MPs for no losses, and held all their Tory-facing marginals.
It continues to serve as the Opposition’s point of light today, with Sadiq Khan’s growing lead in the mayoral race looking set to put a gloss on poor performances in Scotland, Wales, and English local elections.
Labour’s membership is also increasingly skewing towards London, with their candidate selection primary a much larger and more impressive (and more useful) exercise than the Tory equivalent.
Do we need a more muscular pan-capital Conservative organisation to go toe-to-toe with London Labour?
Unlike a normal city, London should be properly thought of as one of the UK’s Home Nations: it is larger than Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, and has a similarly (and increasingly) distinct political profile. The Party should treat it accordingly.
A more developed London Conservative Union/Federation/etc. might offer several benefits.
First, it could provide consistent, long-term strategies for fighting London elections, and coordinating Party resources in the capital.
As we pointed out in our post-election Battlegrounds Revisited series, it would only have taken just over 2,400 votes in May to save all four of the Conservative MPs who lost their seats in London.
Better distribution of Tory campaigners, or perhaps even just better sharing of on-the-ground intelligence, might have saved one or all of them – and transformed London’s election night narrative.
Second, it should provide a stronger, pan-capital campaign infrastructure for Tory mayoral candidates, giving them access to long-term, institutional experience of London-wide elections (whilst still maintaining sufficient flexibility to allow them to select their own campaign personnel).
It could also engage in fundraising, giving the party in the capital a pool of their own funds to draw upon.
This would be useful not only for campaigning, but – the third benefit – for commissioning research and policies from pollsters and think-tanks.
The Tories have a problem with winning in urban areas from one end of the kingdom to the other, but London – where we are still competitive and which is closest to party donors and most think-tanks – seems the best place to start looking for new ways to appeal to city voters.
The specifics of such an organisation are up for debate: a logical starting point seems some form of board drawn from different Conservative representatives in the capital, headed by a executive Chairman and fronted by a largely ceremonial President (the Mayor, if the Mayor a Tory be).
The Conservatives should be aware of the risks they face in the capital if Labour is allowed to become “the party of London”.
That we only saw off Ken Livingstone in 2012 by a relatively narrow margin, even with so unique a candidate as Boris, illustrates the risks. The Party does not want to be dependent on the magnetism of exceptional candidates to have a shot at winning (nice as it is to have exceptional candidates).
How can the Conservatives get on the front foot on the fight against Labour in the capital? A beefed-up role for the London Conservatives is surely part of the answer.