by Henry Hill
Friday, 14
October 2022
Analysis
13:00

The Tories face extinction in London

Conservative inaction on housing has lost them the urban vote
by Henry Hill
Credit: Getty

The Tories could be wiped out in London, and they only have themselves to blame. News that a decade of house price growth will be negated by rising interest rates, which in turn were brought on by injudicious policy, does not augur well for inhabitants of the capital, nor for the Conservative MPs counting on their vote.

The party allowed its housing policy to be set by Theresa Villiers and Iain Duncan Smith, two MPs fighting doomed rearguard actions in marginal London constituencies. During the leadership contest, IDS interrupted his speech introducing Liz Truss at the London hustings to urge the assembled activists to join his campaign against new housing.

For the sake of extending their hold on those seats for just a few more years, the Conservatives passed up an historic opportunity — and likely gave Sir Keir Starmer an opportunity to tackle the housing crisis in a manner far less congenial to the Shire Tories and their comfortable, short-sighted voters.

A Survation poll earlier this week suggesting that all their London MPs could lose their seats is striking, but hardly extraordinary given Tory inaction in the capital. Alongside likely losses in Birmingham and Greater Manchester, it could see the party all but shut out of the cities altogether.

Conservative apparatchiks will doubtless have excuses. After all, London has been moving away from the Conservatives for some time. A clutch of seats which David Cameron won, or came close to winning, in 2010 recorded big Labour majorities, even at the 2019 landslide.

It’s also true that, with the exception of Boris Johnson, the Tories struggle to even run a close second in city-wide contests such as the mayoralty.

But the capital is a big place, and the Conservatives’ growing urban weakness has been no barrier to their holding on to comfortable suburban seats in Greater London.

Dramatic losses there suggest terrible results across swathes of the Party’s traditional heartlands in southern England, of the sort augured by the Chesham and Amersham by-election, which saw the Liberal Democrats seize one of the Tories’ safest seats. 

The tragedy for the Conservatives is that if they do pay this terrible electoral price, they will have absolutely nothing to show for it. And it need not have been that way.

A bolder and more strategically-minded prime minister than Johnson might, in response to that disastrous by-election, have offered his restive Home Counties MPs a deal: scrapping Robert Jenrick’s planning reforms nationally, in exchange for dramatic liberalisation in London.

The political logic behind a ‘Metropolitan Planning Bill’ was sound. The Tories have been going backwards in London anyway; it would stop Labour voters getting priced out and moving to seats such as Canterbury; and it would generate plenty of growth, and thus revenues to spend on ‘levelling up’.

If Labour push for lots of new housing in marginals and commuter towns, they could carve out a big slice of the Conservative heartland for a generation  — and their opponents will deserve it.

But in the end, is that not basically the whole story of Johnson’s premiership? That having accrued a great hoard of political capital with his historic victory in 2019, he proved too afraid to lose it and entirely unwilling to spend it?

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Ben M
Ben M
1 month ago

there is an enormous amount of building that has gone on in London for years. Drive in on the A2 and you will see new housing. Check the population – but also levels of recent immigration when the census comes out. Remember 1million people were given visas last year, overseas students were allowed to bring dependents. 35K of Channel migrants so far this year, filling ordinary hotels so that now places are being sought in country hotels. See Mark Steyn on GB News.
We have been infantilised to such an extent that we think we can have everything with little effort and no comeback.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 month ago

The first step is to stop importing people, because I see no shortage of house building.

Cassander Antipatru
Cassander Antipatru
1 month ago

As others have said, we can’t build enough houses whilst importing 1 million or so people a year. I suspect as well that a lot of the opposition to loosening up planning laws is downstream of this. People instinctively recognise that no new housing will be enough, and that we’ll have to keep building and building until their hometowns get swallowed up in urban sprawl and completely change their character. It’s not surprising if they put their feet down and say, “Sod off.”

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
1 month ago

The irony is that if the Tory’s had got a grip of migration there would be no housing crisis eating them alive.
With an average of 400 000 (known) migrants arriving each year, over the last 10 years, the Tory’s have presided over demands on housing, schooling, health care and infrastructure stemming from 4 million new people, most of whom have settled in London and the South East.
By failing on the central thing that got them voted in, they have created numerous other problems that they are unable to fix.
It goes without saying that iIn week 0 of her tenure, Truss announced she would increase migration.
They are very, very stupid.

Last edited 1 month ago by hayden eastwood
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

After today’s events, the tories are done for a decade or so. Maybe even forever – that other Unherd article about FPTP never giving new parties a chance? Watch that space, the Tories may be about to evaporate.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

The SDP taking a chunk of Liberal and Labour votes would be a good start …

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
1 month ago

The Conservatives face extinction in London?

That would be their dream come true. They face extinction everywhere. And although I have always supported them, in the interests of humanity, I think that total extinction is the only kind way for them, now.

They need to be replaced by something better. A great deal better.