Of the 25 seats on the London Assembly, fourteen are constituency seats elected on a first-past-the-post basis (just like seats in Westminster). The seats themselves differ from their Westminster counterparts in one important regard: size. Each of these seats is the size of at least two London Boroughs and include within their boundaries half a dozen parliamentary seats at least. The most populous GLA constituency – City and East – has an electorate of over 500,000 people.
On election night, the assembly election results are invariably overshadowed by the result of the mayoral election, and what changes there are to the composition and party balance of the assembly usually come from the London-wide top-up list rather than constituency seats. In fact, of these fourteen seats, only 3 have changed hands since the creation of the assembly in 2000 – the Conservatives took Brent & Harrow from Labour in 2004 only to promptly lose it back to Labour in 2008, whilst the Conservatives lost both the Ealing & Hillingdon and Barnet & Camden seats to Labour in 2012. The other eleven seats have all been held consistently by the same parties since 2000.
Things could be decidedly more interesting this year, with 4 seats currently held by relatively narrow margins:
Havering & Redbridge – This seat had a Conservative majority of over 40,000 in 2008 but, in 2012, this slumped to a paltry 3,939, making it the second most marginal seat on the Assembly. Represented by Roger Evans – currently Boris’s official Deputy Mayor and a former Chair of the Assembly – since its creation, Evans is stepping aside this time to make way for Keith Prince, a former Conservative leader of Redbridge. The Conservatives lost control of that council in 2014 and lost one of their local parliamentary seats – Ilford North – in last year’s general election, indicating that the party is struggling locally. Senior Tories are very worried about losing this seat.
Ealing & Hillingdon – Previously a relatively safe Conservative seat, Labour’s Onkhar Sahota achieved a 13.4% swing in 2012 to overturn a majority of more than 26,000 and unseat serving Statutory Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes (and producing the big upset of the night). With a Labour majority of just 3,110, this is the assembly’s most marginal seat and the Conservatives’ top target.
Merton & Wandsworth – The Conservatives have held this seat since 2000, but the 2012 majority – 9,981 – is a pale imitation of the 26,293 the Party achieved in 2008. Labour will want to build on the 7.4% swing they achieved last time and make the most of the fact that serving assembly member Richard Tracey (who has held the seat for the Conservatives since 2008) is retiring.
Sutton & Croydon – This seat could provide the ‘Portillo moment’ of the 2016 London Election. The Conservative majority fell from over 40,000 in 2008 to just 9,418 in 2012, and the party’s top brass is twitchy about their prospects this year. Although the Conservatives lost control of Croydon council in 2014, they performed much better in last year’s General Election, when they held uber-marginal Croydon Central against expectations and took Sutton and Cheam from the Liberal Democrats. A lot will hinge on local Lib Dems – the party has often achieved more than 30,000 votes in this constituency and beat Labour into third place in 2000 and 2004. If they switch to Labour in big enough numbers, it could be game over for Conservative AM Steve O’Connell.