Suburbia will be the key battleground in the London and the General Elections

Recent events should convince us further - as if any more convincing were required - that it is in suburbia the next election will be won or lost, writes Rupa Huq.

Recent events should convince us further – as if any more convincing were required – that it is in suburbia the next election will be won or lost, writes Rupa Huq

Earlier this week the loss of the late Labour peer, pollster and party strategist Philip Gould from cancer reminds us that among his key modernising measures was the broadening out of Labour strategy in the 1990s the away from its natural comfort zone by a recognition of the suburbs as the key electoral battleground.

Vindicated by Labour’s best election result ever in 1997 he wrote:

“The unfinished revolution is rooted not in Labour’s traditional industrial heartlands but in the sprawling suburbs of an emerging middle class.

“Labour lost elections because it turned its back on this new constituency, ignoring the postwar rise of a newly aspirational electorate.”

Certainly Tony Blair at the start of his premiership was able to embody a sense of optimism and aspiration and to demonstrate himself to be remarkably attuned to “the national mood” – for example in his reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1997 which sharply contrasted with Buckingham Palace’s own ill-judged media handling of events.

Indeed, suburbia is a close-bedfellow of the much used New Labour term “middle England”. The next electoral challenge for London’s suburbia will be next year’s GLA and Mayoral elections of 2012 – now less than six months away.

The current Mayor, and his studied shambolic demeanour, is not a man of true substance; despite making much of his claim to be a mayor for the suburbs none of Boris Johnson’s actions have really lived up to this.

The removal of the congestion charge western extension, the so-called Boris bikes sponsored by Barclays and record fare hikes have done nothing for those in outer London. The much heralded outer London commission touted at the time of 2008 Mayoral election turned out to be a gimmick that largely sunk without trace.

West London, in particular the Ealing and Hillingdon GLA constituency, should be good Labour territory: it contains Labour MPs Stephen Pound, Virendra Sharma and John McDonnell but the party has failed to crack it since the seat’s creation. The turfing out of Tory Richard Barnes – one of Boris’s deputies – would be a big scalp for Labour.

Ealing in one of the key battlegrounds to winning back City Hall, and win it back we must. As Ken Livingstone says, behind the loveable moptop/ upper class twit exterior, Boris is just as ideologically driven as George Osborne and David Cameron – as evidenced by his defence at any price of the city and bankers who caused the world’s financial woes.

Admittedly the mood in 2011 is very different to 97 when Gould masterminded victory or 2000 when Ken first got in. In place of optimism is insecurity, both in social and cultural terms. The Tories may have reeled people in with their inheritance tax promise but this only really affects a small minority of people – it was more to assuage Daily Mail concerns.

In terms of other policy areas, Gillian Duffy’s comments to Gordon Brown in 2010 may have identified the flashpoint issue of immigration and its repercussions, although contemporary suburbia is much more ethnically mixed than it ever was, showing there is a difference between the numbers game and settled population with suburban needs like anyone else.

Housing is another suburban issue Labour should have acted further on in office but the Tories are making more of a mess now – Boris sneakily removed the 50% affordable housing requirement in new London developments.

Suburbs tend to be populated by families who are hit hard by the removal of child and other benefits – and I speak from experience here.

On all these issues Labour needs to show it is not a party of the metropolitan elite and ex-coalfields but can be relevant to those in the ’burbs too, otherwise our vote totals are likely – to use a metaphor nicked from recent Policy Network research – to go even further south.

See also:

Ken v Boris: Six months out, Livingstone steps up the pressure on transport and crimeShelly Asquith, November 8th 2011

Philip Gould: 1950–2011Shamik Das, November 7th 2011

Why isn’t Boris coming up with any solutions to London’s housing crisis?Jenny Jones AM, September 9th 2011

Another day, another Tory council planning to charge kids to playShamik Das, June 1st 2011

Leading Labour strategist says Labour must recapture the southToby Thomas, September 24th 2010

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