The election result shows the two emerging faces of urban England

So, that went well. Image: Getty.

The Centre for Cities on the election result.

Though social care, security, and fox hunting were all the big issues of the day, Britain’s cities were a key battleground in the election – yet no party managed to triumph. For both parties, urban voters are still in reach, and how the parties develop policy towards cities over the next period will be critical for the next election.

The first change we noticed is that Labour’s vote surged, seeing an urban swing of 6 per cent compared to 4 per cent nationally. But in individual cities, swings were swung in both directions. Labour’s advance was concentrated in London and the outh, while the Conservatives made gains in cities in the North, the Midlands, and also in Scotland. Leaving aside Scotland, this reflects the emergence of two different urban economies – one open, dynamic, and increasingly Labour, and another that is struggling, frustrated with a lack of order, and increasingly Conservative.

At the last election in 2015, the Conservatives won the majority of the vote in just under half of all English cities, with Labour taking just over half. All Scottish cities were won by the SNP – reflecting opinion in much of the country. But last week the urban map started to change as more English cities voted for Labour, leaving the Conservatives with a majority of the vote in five fewer cities than in 2015.

But interestingly, while more cities particularly in the South have swung towards Labour, the Conservatives gained votes in the North and Midlands.

Cities in the North of England saw a 4 per cent swing from the Conservatives to Labour; those in the South saw a swing of 10 per cent to Labour. Labour actually saw swings against it in some of its urban heartlands, including Stoke, Middlesbrough, and Sheffield. This resulted in Labour’s one loss of the night – Mansfield, on a 17 per cent swing away from Labour to the Conservatives.

Click to expand.

The characteristics of these cities may offer some explanation as to why this election saw a swing toward the Conservatives. Many voted to Leave the European Union, and may be seen as the ‘left behind’ places. While both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn focused on an inclusive rhetoric – for the many not the few; a country that works for everyone – the harder stance on Brexit proposed by the Conservatives, with a promise for restoring jobs from it, may have helped turn the dial towards the right.

That is in contrast to the more prosperous, urban south where a big issue is affordability, specifically in housing. In this election Labour have shown they are not just the party of urban Britain – but a specific kind of urban Britain, increasingly southern, middle class, and potentially relatively highly skilled.

There are exceptions of course – for instance, Basildon swung to the Tories, and York to Labour – but even these outliers prove the broader rule. Labour is making gains in the cities that are successfully responding to economic and social change with more openness, while the Conservatives are advancing in the cities that are seeking a more orderly relationship with these developments.


The picture in Scotland is different with the four cities swinging to the Conservatives rather than to Labour, mostly at the expense of the SNP. This saw the Conservatives achieve a majority of the vote in Aberdeen, part of a return for the party to their historic heartlands in the Borders and North East Scotland, as well as gains in Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. In these three cities though, it is Labour who are in second place to the SNP, and who have seen its vote share stabilise and recover slightly from 2015. Each of the Welsh cities swung to Labour, who picked up support from every party, though again, the cosmopolitan Cardiff saw a much larger Labour swing than the more traditional cities of Swansea and Newport.

Overall, the results in cities reflect the results in Parliament – a stalemate. Yet the swings have shown emergent patterns reflecting two halves of urban England – larger or at least growing cities, or ex-industrial cities where growth is stagnant and skills are low. However policymaking pans out over the next parliament, both of the main parties will need to recognise that there is a distinct split around the country, and politics reflects economics.

All cities need to see parties committing to growing their economies and supporting people into skilled work, and they need to see their place supported when the costs of growth become too high. For the Conservatives, that’s bringing back their traditional middle class supporters by improving housing affordability. For Labour, appreciating how and where local economic gains will be made might stop them losing the urban North altogether.

Anthony Breach is an economic analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared. 

 
 
 
 

London Overground is experimenting with telling passengers which bits of the next train is busiest

There must be a better way than this: Tokyo during a 1972 rail strike. Image: Getty.

One of the most fun things to do, for those who enjoy claustrophobia and other people’s body odour, is to attempt to use a mass transit system at rush hour.

Travelling on the Central line at 6pm, for example, gives you all sorts of exciting opportunities to share a single square inch of floor space with a fellow passenger, all the while becoming intimately familiar with any personal hygiene problems they may happen to have. On some, particularly lovely days you might find you don’t even get to do this for ages, but first have to spend some exciting time enjoying it as a spectator sport, before actually being able to pack yourself into one unoccupied cranny of a train.

But fear not! Transport for London has come up with a plan: telling passengers which bits of the train have the most space on them.

Here’s the science part. Many trains include automatic train weighing systems, which do exactly what the name suggests: monitoring the downward force on any individual wheel axis in real time. The data thus gathered is used mostly to optimise the braking.

But it also serves as a good proxy for how crowded a particular carriage is. All TfL are doing here is translating that into real time information visible to passengers. It’s using the standard, traffic light colour system: green means go, yellow means “hmm, maybe not”, red means “oh dear god, no, no, no”. 

All this will, hopefully, encourage some to move down the platform to where the train is less crowded, spreading the load and reducing the number of passengers who find themselves becoming overly familiar with a total stranger’s armpit.

The system is not unique, even in London: trains on the Thameslink route, a heavy-rail line which runs north/south across town (past CityMetric towers!) has a similar system visible to passengers on board. And so far it’s only a trial, at a single station, Shoreditch High Street.

But you can, if you’re so minded, watch the information update every few seconds or so here.

Can’t see why you would, but I can’t see why I would either, and that hasn’t stopped me spending much of the day watching it, so, knock yourselves out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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