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OPINION - ‘Londonisation’ of the South-East is hurting the Tories

 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

Where does London stop and the terrifying provincial nothingness begin? Please don’t shout at me, that was a question originally asked by Jay Foreman several years ago in this excellent video.

Wrong answers include the end of the Tube, the other side of the M25 or when the postcodes stop making sense. The correct answer is the Greater London Boundary, within which the 32 boroughs and all of human experience can be found.

These borders are by their nature a bit random. There’s no impassable mountain range separating Barnet from Hertfordshire or vast desert between Sutton and Surrey. And so, while London is not formally expanding, it is extending its reach through the export of people. This is already having major political, social and economic implications for surrounding towns, as well as the city left behind.

Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics has warned Rishi Sunak he should be concerned about the threat of political “Londonisation” of the South-East. Travers told the Standard: “It looks as if people are leaving London and some of them are taking their Liberal Democrat and Labour-voting habits with them”.

This migration from city to commuter belt has, Travers suggests, contributed to Lib Dem surges in seemingly true blue Tory areas such as Windsor and Maidenhead (home to Theresa May), Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), Chichester (Gillian Keegan) and Elmbridge (Dominic Raab) to name a few.

While persuading voters to change their minds is always worthwhile, in a first-past-the-post electoral system, spreading your voter base into a more efficient distribution is nearly as good. So, while the Tories have clearly lost support after more than a decade in government and overseeing a flatlining economy, demographic change is doing a lot of the heavy lifting for Labour and the Lib Dems.

Of course, this is not an unalloyed good for the capital itself. Some Londoners are choosing to move out as they always have, for more space or a change of scene. The rise of remote and hybrid work makes that easier, as does new infrastructure projects such as the Elizabeth Line.

But plenty are simply being priced out of the city, due to soaring rents and sky-high property prices. Indeed, as we report in today’s paper, there is a surge of people in their twenties and thirties moving back in with their parents.

Those that don’t are often spending £1,000 a month for a *room* in a shared house. Email notifications for anything new on the rental portals – for the mere chance to view a property – is a daily reality. It is no fun and if nothing else, for this price and at that age, London really ought to be fun.

And this, in part, explains why so many schools in the capital are closing their doors. At the risk of hyperbole, do we want to live in a city without children?

Clearly, we need to build more homes for rent and to buy, but the NIMBY vote is large, it is concentrated and it has a grip on all political parties. The Conservatives for a period did not know whether to stick with the NIMBYs or twist, but have now opted for the former. Meanwhile, only today, Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing, was celebrating the halting of a plan to build 477 homes in her constituency. And don’t get me started on the Lib Dems.

The Londonisation of the South-East is changing British politics. That is good news for the Not Conservative Party I wrote about on Friday, which is set to make gains at the next general election. But a new parliament does not magically resolve the central problem holding back the capital and its economy, one that is leading to an outflow of people: how to build more homes.

In the comment pages, Ayesha Hazarika says the Coronation illustrated that Britain and the royals have missed out from Harry and Meghan’s exile. Anne McElvoy concludes Vladimir Putin is flailing like never before, as his latest bleak speech shows. While Melanie McDonagh predicts that if John Lewis loses its way, shoppers will be bereft.

And finally, National Express’ new name is bland and meaninglessget used to it, says a (delightfully) curmudgeonly Jonathan Prynn.

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