Post by sirbenjamin on Apr 26, 2021 15:08:44 GMT
The Tooting constituency is in inner South London, taking in seven wards of the London Borough of Wandsworth, though its recent political history is, in essence, the polar opposite of the ‘flagship Tory borough’ in which it lies. Tooting (and its predecessor seat Wandsworth Central) has been held by the same party since 1964, but decades of unbroken Labour representation don't begin to tell the eventful history of a constituency that has seen a number of close, sometimes acrimonious contests, and controversial candidate appointments. Conversely Wandsworth council has been Conservative-controlled for over 40 years.
The name of the seat is arguably less than satisfactory as it includes Wandsworth Common, Earlsfield and the residential fringes of Balham, Streatham and Wimbledon, while the Southern part of Tooting itself is actually on the other side of the border with Merton – demarcated by the River Graveney - and is in the Mitcham & Morden constituency. One of the component wards is also simply called ‘Tooting’, and there are two Graveney Wards in different boroughs, facing off over the River and generally adding to the geopolitical untidiness, at least for those like me who care about such things!
In the 1970s the sitcom 'Citizen Smith' introduced Tooting to a wider audience as the home of revolutionary Marxism, while in reality the MP at the time was the less radical Tom Cox, a low-profile backbencher on the mid-left of the party who seldom appeared on television demanding freedom for the area, but quietly went about representing it for an impressive 35 years, often with quite small majorities (just 1,441 in 1987).
Having successfully defended Tooting eight times, Cox’s eventual successor in 2005 was Sadiq Khan, who built a high profile in a relatively short space of time and after just 11 years as an MP became Mayor of London, triggering a By Election in a key marginal on the day that MP Jo Cox was tragically murdered, which added to the febrile atmosphere on the day.
For several elections, particularly the General Elections of 2010 and 2015, the Conservatives targeted this seat hard, only to come away empty-handed, and this was the case again in the By Election, the ‘middle one’ of candidate Dan Watkins’ trio of defeats here. (The Conservative viewpoint is generally that if Watkins, rather than the controversial Mark Clarke, had been the candidate in 2010, Khan would likely have been defeated.)
In a seat with notable Asian and Polish populations and significant numbers of NHS staff working at St George’s Hospital, Labour’s candidate Rosena Allin-Khan, a Polish-Asian NHS doctor (and Bedford ward councillor) appeared an extremely cynical choice of candidate for a party spooked by narrow escapes. One way or another, the selection proved effective for the By Election, with Allin-Khan achieving a substantial majority of 6,537 on a reduced turn-out, following two GEs where Sadiq’s lead had fallen below 3,000 votes. In 2017 and 2019 Allin-Khan was able to enjoy a majority far more comfortable than her predecessors had managed as the Tory focus switched away from the seat.
In the early 2000s, foreign language ‘translations’ of election literature distributed in the area and not subject to scrutiny became the subject of controversy, given the significance of the Asian vote. Following the threat of a lawsuit, local election agents agreed to clean up their act and whether or not underhanded smear tactics had had any effect in the past, they would be unnecessary now – though there are still people in possession of evidence that could make life difficult for Mr. Khan. If ‘Freedom for Tooting’ had been translated into Urdu, it would probably come out as ‘Free hospital treatment for your family in Tooting will end if the Conservatives are elected’.
Sadiq still lives in the seat, in semi-leafy Furzedown at the Southern end, and his presence has undoubtedly turned the ward from a Tory-leaning marginal into one that is safe for Labour, making the parliamentary seat safer in the process. Furzedown ward includes Graveney school, one of the largest in the country, whose alumni include broadcaster Naga Munchetty, frequent local Communist Party candidate Phil Brand and, umm, me. Education and Healthcare are important employers, which may explain why the seat was such a tough nut for the Tories to crack, even at the height of their pre-Brexit popularity in London.
At the Northern end of the seat, Wandsworth Common ward has traditionally been one of the strongest for the Conservatives in the borough. It extends almost to Wandsworth town centre and the River Thames and with green public spaces and owner-occupancy predominating is not dissimilar in character to the bits of Furzedown and Bedford wards around Tooting Bec common.
In between the Commons on the fringes of the seat the area is Tooting proper, along with Earlsfield and bits of Balham. Here the housing is denser with a greater proportion of socially and privately rented property as the A24 and the Northern Line running beneath it provides a convenient, if not particularly rapid, route into Central London. The area has become younger and trendier in recent years, and while this was vaguely positive demographic news for the Conservatives during the Cameron era, traditional working class Labour voters are now more likely to be replaced by contemporary middle class Labour voters rather than Tories. The fishmongers in Tooting Market may have been replaced by craft beer pop-ups, but the psephological impact is somewhere close to neutral.
With a Labour majority of over 14,000 and two other seats needed to be won back in Wandsworth, Tooting’s days as a realistic Tory prospect appear to be over, whatever happens at a national level. Freedom - from Labour representation at least - seems destined to remain out of reach.
Can we have some official stats please?