19/03/2018 16:00 GMT | Updated 19/03/2018 17:08 GMT

Tories Facing May 'Meltdown' In London With Council Seats Set To Hit Record Low, Pollster Lord Hayward Warns

Labour could get its highest ever vote share in the capital

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The Tories are on course for a record low number of councillors in London in this year’s local elections as the “Corbyn surge” continues, one of the party’s veteran pollsters has warned.

Robert Hayward said that the Conservatives were in such trouble in the capital that Labour could get its highest ever vote share since its previous high in 1974.

The Tory peer, who famously forecast the ‘Shy Tory’ effect that led to John Major’s victory in 1992, suggested Theresa May was facing a meltdown in London with the loss of more than 100 seats.

The party could drop from its current 615 seats to below its previous all-time low of 519 councillors in 1994, when John Major was getting hammered by Labour. Labour’s previous highest total was in 1971.

Lord Hayward said that his party’s standing was so low in the city that it could also be reduced to a ‘rump’ in a string of councils.

There are currently five boroughs in the capital where there is not a single Tory councillor and the number of ‘wipeouts’ could increase to eight.

However, both Hayward and LSE London expert Tony Travers cautioned that outside London the Conservatives’ support was holding up and with national polls neck-and-neck there was unlikely to be pressure on Theresa May to step aside after the May 3 elections.

Almost 1,850 seats in 32 boroughs across London are up for grabs. In 2014, the last time the same seats were fought, Labour won 1,060 and control of 20 councils while the Tories took 615 seats and nine councils.

Labour are polling a huge 12 per cent higher in London today than 2014, according to one chart unveiled on Monday.

The huge change in Labour's popularity in London compared to its national vote share.

In an elections briefing that laid bare how divided England is between London and the rest of the country, Hayward set out how Labour was on course for an historic result in Corbyn’s own backyard.

“I would be surprised if the Tories did not have an all-time low of councillors in London despite Theresa’s May progress in recent weeks,” he said.

He said that the Jeremy Corbyn ‘surge’ in London in last year’s general election, and years of increasingly populous minority ethnic communities, were combining to turn the city more ‘red’ than ever before.

“We are seeing an incredible demographic shift and Labour were very successful in the general election and I would expect that to continue in 2018.”

In one stark example of the demographic changes, one ward in Redbridge, north east London, has seen the number of ‘White British’ residents fall from 55% in 2001 to around 20% in 2011.

The Conservatives have tried to keep up by selecting a more diverse set of council candidates but appear to have been outgunned by Labour’s appeal under both Ed Miliband and now Jeremy Corbyn.

Hayward added that the Tories are in danger of becoming a ‘rump’ in areas such as Ealing, Redbridge, Greenwich, Enfield and even Harrow - all areas where they ran the town hall in living memory.

Although Westminster and Wandsworth councils, the Tories’ two flagship boroughs in London, are likely to fall to Labour, the key borough of Barnet is likely to go Labour, Hayward said.

Tony Travers
Long term changes, with Thatcher's 1979 victory, Blair's 1997 landslide and the 2010 Lib-Con coalition key points.

But outside London, the picture was very different, with the Conservatives strong in previously difficult areas such as Staffordshire, while in the East and West Midlands its support was holding up and even gaining on Corbyn’s party.

“I expect the Tories to lose seats overall and the Liberal Democrats to gain seats in some parts of the country,” Hayward said.

“I don’t expect them to lose to such an extent that it would endanger Theresa May’s prime ministership.”

Referring to Labour’s chances outside the capital, he said: “For a party in opposition they should be doing far better outside London”

UKIP’s vote has collapsed since the 2014 elections and Hayward said they party may this year ‘disintegrate and disappear’, with both Labour and the Tories picking up its support.

Professor Travers, who runs the LSE’s Department of Government, said that Labour was currently polling at 50% in the capital, well ahead of its last record of 42% in 1974. The second highest ever total was in 1998 just after Tony Blair’s first landslide, when the party scored just over 40%.

But he added that the with the Tories still ahead in the national polls, it was logical that such big leads for Labour in London were mirrored by big leads for the Tories outside the capital.

“They are still trailing in the total number of councillors across England after eight years of the Tories being in power, albeit in coalition with the Liberal Democrats for part of that,” he said.

“Outside London, the Tories are doing surprisingly well.”

Hayward pointed out that Labour ought to be taking control of the Tories’ northern council in Trafford, rather than it falling to no overall control. 

The Conservatives are quietly confident as they are currently polling 7.6 per cent higher outside of London than they were in 2014 – the last time the same council seats were contested.