Blog: Tories may be ousted from Wandsworth heartland due to ‘Brexit realignment’ –

Exclusive: 'Brexit realignment' may lead to big gains for Labour in Thatcher's Wandsworth heartland  getty/ supplied
Key areas have been up for grabs in today’s local elections with a landmark swing predicted in the Conservatives’ Wandsworth heartland (Picture: Getty/Supplied)

A ‘Brexit realignment’ may have secured the Tory bastion of Wandsworth for Labour as the votes are counted in the local elections.

The Conservative heartland associated with Margaret Thatcher during more than four decades of blue rule is ‘leaning Labour’ according to YouGov.

A swing to the red in the west London constituency, which was the testbed for many of Thatcher’s economic policies, would be one of the most Teutonic shifts to emerge from today’s poll.

Voters in the whole of Scotland, Wales and London and several major councils in England have cast their ballots, with the fate of more than 5,000 seats hanging in the balance overall.

Since it was taken over by the Tories in 1978, Wandsworth has been nicknamed Thatcher’s favourite council but the party now only has a small lead. Projections of results in 16 key councils, based on analysis of 5,026 people in England over the past week, do not bode well for her legacy.

Dr Patrick English, associate director at YouGov, said: ‘Our forecast suggests that Labour are going to exceed their 2018 result in London. 

‘That was a very, very high baseline, their best result in the capital for something like 50 years.

‘Expectations this time round were that Labour might struggle to match or surpass that result, but that’s not what we are finding in the figures. 

‘We think that the Conservative vote share is going to fall in areas like Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet, and Labour could benefit from that in big wins by taking those councils.

Sign outside a polling station on election day in the UK
A sign outside a polling station in the London suburbs during the 2022 local elections (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

‘In Wandsworth and in many other London boroughs there has been a lot of demographic change in recent electoral cycles.

‘What’s more, the Brexit realignment happened in London as much as it did in the red wall where it’s mostly been focused on.

‘There’s been a polarisation effect away from the Conservatives for many London voters who opted for Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum.

‘We saw the first real whack of that in 2018 and I think Labour might complete the job in a lot of these London councils.’

Shifting loyalties at the ballot box have included younger voters giving Labour a significant boost in the 2017 General Election as their turnout increased by more than 20% on the national poll two years earlier.

The dividing line has been linked to an increasing polarisation of voters along age and geographic lines following the EU Referendum.

Research by YouGov and the Mile End Institute ahead of today’s poll showed that Labour was ahead in the capital by 57 points among those aged between 18 and 24, compared with 41 points between 25 and 49-year-olds.

People walk past a polling station during the local elections in London, Britain May 5, 2022. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
People walk past a polling station in London as voters make up their minds in the local elections (Picture: Reuters/Peter Nicholls)

Dr English explained: ‘The Brexit realignment is the coalescing of voters along Remain or Leave divides around the respective parties championing those positions, as almost their main identity, between around 2016 and 2020 – and arguably up to this year in the case of the Conservatives.

‘The obvious cases in particular are up in the north of England and the Midlands, which voted more Conservative than they had done previously in both 2017 and 2019. A lot of that was because these communities voted for Brexit, and while the Conservatives championed that cause after the referendum, Labour were characterised as anti-Brexit. 

YouGov associate director Patrick English has projected that Labour is likely to gain electoral ground in London (Picture: Patrick English)

‘The flipside in the south was that a lot of Conservative voters started to drift away to Labour and the Liberal Democrats because they voted to Remain.

‘There was a realignment of old, traditional party support lines that have driven a wedge through the vote in terms of Brexit and the ways the parties were realigned after Brexit. In London and in the south, this is the “blue wall” equivalent of the now-infamous “red wall” phenomena.’

Wandsworth has been regarded as a flagbearer for Conservative values, with some of the lowest council tax rates in England, despite the fact that all three of its MPs are Labour. The leadership claims it was the only local authority in England to cut its share of the levy this year.

Victoria Collett is among those who voted to keep the status quo at local level. She is part of an arm’s length divide that many Tory councillors have tried to create between themselves and the partygate and sleaze allegations that have engulfed Boris Johnson and his government.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves with his dog Dilyn after voting at a polling station during the local elections, in London, Britain May 5, 2022. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Boris Johnson leaves with his dog Dilyn after casting his vote in the 2022 local elections at a polling station in London (Picture: Reuters/Hannah McKay)

Labour leader Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria at the TRA Hall, London, as voters go to the polls in the local government elections. Picture date: Thursday May 5, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Elections. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria cast their votes at a polling station in north London (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

The solicitor, 31, said: ‘I voted a very different way to how I voted in the General Election, because the local councils have a very different relationship with you than the general government as a whole.

‘When I did my research around the Labour-run councils which was, for me, the main alternative, the risks for the elderly, infirm and disadvantaged within the community would be much more severe given that we currently have the lowest council tax in the country and we are not in debt and have a really good public transport network that is supported and maintained.

‘It was also about making sure that elections that have a very low turnout typically do have voters who are thinking objectively about those who are disadvantaged in the community, rather than being particularly anti-Labour or anti-Tory. So it is better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.’

Westminster's political class will have their eyes on the results of today's local elections  (Picture: Getty Images)
Westminster’s political class will have their eyes fixed on the results of the local elections (Picture: Getty Images)

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner appeared in a video message alongside Putney MP Fleur Anderson that was shared on Twitter in a bid to effect an upset at the polls after 44 years under the Conservatives.

Mark Berry, a historian and musicologist, was among those whose allegiances have shifted against the established order.

In a post on Twitter, he wrote: ‘Voted Labour, with a heavy heart, in Wandsworth. Doubt I could bring myself to do so in national elections and understand why others cannot in these; they do not deserve our vote and have done what they can to discourage it. But the prize of ridding Wandsworth of Tories won out.’

Tory candidates in some battlegrounds were listed as ‘local Conservatives’ in an attempt to dissociate themselves from the continued reports surrounding lockdown-flouting parties and power struggles that have engulfed No10.

Other significant London battlegrounds where the Tories currently hold power are Westminster, considered less likely to see an upset, and Barnet, which has been blue for two decades.

Outside the capital, Hartlepool, where the Tories became the biggest party last year, and Southampton, where control has been wrested back and forth between the main parties, are among the keenly-watched areas.

Polls shut at 10pm, with the results expected to roll in from the early hours tomorrow. Hartlepool and Plymouth are due to declare first, with Wandsworth’s outcome anticipated at 5.30am.

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