The "donut strategy" is dead. London's next mayoral election will be fought in both city and suburbs

Conservative Zac Goldsmith and Labour's Sadiq Khan shaping up for next year's mayoral fight. Image: Getty.

London’s demographics have changed tremendously since the first Mayoral election in 2000, blurring the differences between inner and outer London. This demographic osmosis poses challenge to the long accepted “donut strategy” of treating inner and outer London as two distinct targets.

Consistently deployed in previous mayoral elections, the "donut strategy" was first seen in Ken Livingstone’s targeting of inner London with Zone 1-3 friendly policies: the Urban Task force, the congestion charge, and rent controls. Seeking election for the first time in 2008, Boris Johnson latched on to the untapped voter potential in outer London, committing to unwavering opposition to Heathrow expansion and generous funding for outer London boroughs.

Yet the parties’ natural voters – the older suburbanites who tend to vote conservative, and younger, more diverse ones leaning towards Labour – are no longer conveniently distributed along inner/outer lines. 

Today, outer London is more like inner London used to be – increasingly young and international. In the decade to 2014, the rate of people born abroad has increased faster in outer than in inner London. The fastest increases in migrant population happened in the previously whiter outer London boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, Bexley, Havering and Sutton.

Perhaps through lack of choice rather than an attraction to the suburbs, “Generation Rent” is settling down in outer London. In Havering, Greenwich, Enfield and Harrow, the number of households who are private renters more than doubled in the decade to 2011; it tripled in Barking & Dagenham.

Interestingly, the majority of these new private renters did not move it in new rental homes, but into buy-to-lets that were formerly owner occupied: that’s more than 10,000 homes shifting from owner occupation to private renting in Croydon and Ealing, about 8,000 in Enfield and Brent.

Outer London is getting poorer, while inner London is getting richer. In the 15 years since the first mayoral election, outer London has gotten poorer, with more households being considered poor in 2011 than in 2001. This is explained by three factors: younger and poorer households moving to outer London, a drop in wages after 2007, and a simultaneous rise in housing costs.

The 2015 general election hinted at these changes. The capital was immune to the loss of 26 Labour seats lost across the whole country, with the party picking up four seats from the Conservatives in the capital, all in outer London.

Yet these results remind us that London’s changing demographics also affect the prospects of UKIP and the Greens. Less well-off areas will not necessarily vote Labour. UKIP outperformed the Lib Dems across London, doing particularly well in outer East London.

Nor should it be taken for granted that a wealthier population means votes for the Conservatives – the Greens performed best in Hackney North and Stoke Newington, an area that is a byword for inner city gentrification.

As the son of a billionaire from Zone 5 takes on the son of a bus driver from Zone 2, there may be little reason to expect then donut strategy to fall from favour. Of course, both candidates declare themselves capable of governing for all of London, balancing core vote and outreach strategies.

Yet London is not the city is used to be, both in terms of its demography, and its distribution of voter groups. Safe assumptions of prosperous Tory suburbs and poor Labour inner city no longer hold true.

Kat Hanna is research manager at the Centre for London think tank.

This article was originally posted on our sister site, The Staggers.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.