THE BLOG

To Win in 2015, Tories, Labour and Lib Dems Need to Think Cities

20/06/2014 12:57 BST | Updated 20/08/2014 10:59 BST

The next UK General Election is now less than a year away and all of the parties have been busy sharpening their policy agendas and campaign messages.

The election itself will inevitably focus on issues that matter most to voters - from jobs and housing to wages and welfare. But it is less well recognised that the election in 2015 will be determined primarily in our urban areas, and that the fortunes of each of the major political parties depend upon how they perform in, and help support, UK cities.

First, two thirds of key marginal seats identified by the three main political parties are located in urban areas and not just in the north of England, but all across the country.

Figure One: Top 50 marginal seats for the 2015 General Election

2014-06-20-140618KeySeatsandPollingnew3NN.jpg

Cast the net a little wider, and of the 194 seats with the lowest majorities heading in to polling day, three fifths are in urban areas, and virtually all are within the travel to work areas of the UK's 64 largest cities.

This means the pressures cities face will at least partly shape the preferences and needs of voters in the majority of marginal seats in 2015. Whether it is reducing traffic jams or the crush on the morning commute, improving buses and trains, more jobs or new homes, politicians from all parties looking to tip the balance in these urban battlegrounds will need to understand and respond to the needs of urban voters.

Second, cities are fundamental to solving the big "national" challenges facing the UK.

Let's consider the need to create more jobs. Already home to over half of all businesses, nearly two thirds of all jobs, and three quarters of high-skilled jobs, the rate at which the UK's 64 biggest cities are creating extra jobs is faster than anywhere else - since the end of the recession, over 90% of all new private sector jobs have been created in cities, providing work for their residents and people living in surrounding areas.

Figure Two: Where are jobs most concentrated in our economy?

2014-06-20-140506UKAllJobDensityHighresSMALL.jpg

For the next Government to create more and better jobs, improve wages and living standards, cities from Newcastle to Brighton, and Manchester to Cambridge need more powers and more control over their money to provide the infrastructure and skills that businesses need to grow in the years ahead.

Or what about the housing crisis? Rather than a national phenomena, as is commonly thought, the housing crisis is being playing out on the streets of the most successful cities. People living in Oxford, Cambridge, York, and of course London, are facing rising housing costs compared to wages and the supply of homes available to buy or rent in these cities is not keeping up with demand.

Figure Three: Comparing housing affordability across the country

2014-06-20-Housing.jpg

In contrast, it's not lack of houses causing problems in cities such as Barnsley, Blackpool and Bolton, but the number of empty homes which is discouraging new residents and blighting local areas. Here, improving quality rather than boosting supply is the issue. We can only tackle the housing crisis by tailoring policies to the needs of cities.

And these are just two examples - cities are also at the heart of a host of other issues vital to winning in 2015, from reducing welfare dependency (nearly three quarters of housing benefit is spent in our urban areas) to tackling inequality (over four fifths of deprived neighbourhoods are located in our cities).

UK cities therefore hold the key not only to winning the next General Election, but to governing successfully in the years that follow.

That's why national politicians, city and business leaders, sector and policy experts, and the academic community, are coming together as part of a Think Cities campaign to make the case loud and clear that the futures of our urban areas need to be at the top of the political agenda over the coming months.

For more information on the campaign, and how you can get involved, email: info@thinkcities.org.uk

To find out more about how cities will help determine the 2015 General Election, see this from buzzfeed.