Political Landscapes of London

Londoners will decide on their new mayor on the 3rd of May in this year’s mayoral election. Directly elected mayors were introduced in England in 2000 when Labour candidate Ken Livingstone was elected the first Mayor of London. He therefore also became the first to have this position in England under the Local Government Act 2000 introduced by the then Labour government under Prime Minister Tony Blair. Meanwhile, other cities have followed, and more will have a referendum on the issue on the same day Londoners go to the polls this year.
Livingstone was serving as Mayor for two consecutive terms, but got beaten at the last election in 2008 by the current Mayor Boris Johnson. Both candidates now fight for re-election and their chance to lead the city into an eventful year (and beyond). What is often less talked about are the remaining candidates of the smaller parties, which also stand for election. Seven candidates stand for election this year, representing various political shades. And while eventually it will be a battle between the two candidates of the Conservative and the Labour Party, the voting patterns beyond the provide interesting details of London’s political landscapes, as outlined in a feature that Danny Dorling and I prepared for Political Insight (see previous post on this website).
Voters can make a first and second choice from the list of candidates. If their 1st preference vote is not successful in the first round of counting votes (where a candidate has to come over 50% of the votes to be successful), then their second preference will be taken into account and added to the candidates that made it through the first round of counting. This voting system allows voters to express their main political preference first, while not losing their vote to a less likely candidate (as they can still support a stronger candidate that they prefer to another one). Therefore the 1st preference vote provides a clearer view of what political perspectives are represented in London.
In my analysis of the 2008 election (data was kindly provided by Michael Thrasher of the University of Plymouth), I took a look beyond the two main parties and mapped the proportional distribution of votes for all political parties that had a candidate standing for election at the 2008 mayoral election. The geographical patterns that emerge are expression of the diverse demographics that compose the social landscape of the capital: In the following map, each party’s individual shares are mapped onto a gridded population cartogram of London:

The 2008 London Mayoral Election in Maps(click for larger view)

The two main political parties, Labour and Conservative, are one aspect (and too often the only that people look at), together assembling an almost complementary image of what is the majority of votes that were cast in 2008. Beyond that, the general trend of the distribution of votes from the smaller parties shows perhaps less surprisingly that the more right-wing views are mainly concentrated in areas that are otherwise Conservative heartland. However, between these parties there is clear difference between the strongholds of the respective parties, such as the BNP being particularly string in the east of the city, while UKIP builds a much stronger and almost contiguous ring of supporters in Outer London. The more left-oriented voters, in conrast, are to be found in the more central areas, and between North Central and North East London – not least where many students live, complemented by Green Party supporters towards the West and South of these areas. The Liberal Democrats complete that assessment by adding strongholds in the South West and the fringes of Green and Left List-voting.
It is important to keep in mind that each of these patterns stands for considerably different total votes, as the following graph shows. The bar chart shows the outcome of the first preference votes from that election (displayed in logarithmic scales to give the smaller parties enough space to allow for a better distinction):
The 2008 London Mayoral Election in Maps
Despite the differences in total votes however, the very specific patterns that emerged from the 2008 election are a good indicator for the patchwork of socioeconomic conditions and their demographic position that people are living in. The BNP, for example, has a maximum vote share of over 20% (even slightly more that the maximum vote share of the Liberal Democrats, even if they are much stronger in their total vote share). While the mainstream parties get the majority of votes across the city (and will decide the outcome of the election), the distribution of votes for minor parties shows the prevailing more polarised views that people hold in the different areas of the city. This will eventually also reflect the decision that people make who vote for one of the two big parties (and who will most probably get the second vote that is usually needed to be successful in that election). But it is more than just politics that these maps show. It is an assessment of how people live and what people think they need to change their lives (or to sustain their position) in a city that is often seen as the most unequal city in the western world.
A modified version of this map was published in a Political Insight feature:

  • Hennig, B. D. and Dorling, D. (2012). In Focus: London’s political landscapes. Political Insight 3 (1): 38.
    Article online (Wiley)

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