Robert Gordon - Clark, London Communications Agency: Carving up the London pie

If local and national polls are held on the same day, which party will win most in the capital?

With most commentators decided on a 6 May general election, we are gearing up for a 'double-header' in London, with local elections due to take place on the same day for the first time since Greater London was formed in 1963.

Combining these makes predicting results across 73 constituencies and 32 boroughs much harder, not least because of a potential significant increase in local turnout.

London borough election percentages have tended to average in the mid-30s; the national vote tends to average in the low 60s.

So, many council wards with normally safe majorities could be under threat. We also have a mass of constituency boundary changes, some very significant.

For the Conservatives, three of the top four smallest Labour majorities nationally are in the capital.

But analysis of the top 130 swing seats shows clearly that London is not the real battleground. The Tories will win or lose the election in the Midlands and the North. It's hard to imagine the Conservatives winning Tooting, which stands at 112 on their target list, compared with Warwick & Leamington Spa at 117, a better bet despite a stronger Labour majority.

Locally, Conservatives perhaps reached a high-water mark in 2006, holding 14 councils outright and sharing control of five more.

They should win Merton, but can they win Kingston, Richmond, Sutton and Hounslow? The numbers don't make it easy.

So the measures for them are whether they become the party with the most MPs in London - currently 21 to Labour's 44 - and if they can increase control of boroughs by more than one.

Labour's strategy has to be all about hanging on to key seats such as Dagenham & Rainham. Ending up with around 35 seats - half of the London seats - would be a major result.

At borough level, Labour did badly in 2006, losing control of nine councils, including Lewisham, which it had held for 38 years. Can Labour keep Tower Hamlets, Barking & Dagenham and Haringey? Can it perhaps surprise people and win back Islington? Old heartlands such as Brent, Camden, Southwark and Lewisham look likely to remain with no overall control.

Post-election, Labour will want to win back the mayoralty. If Jon Cruddas or Sadiq Khan lose their seats, Ken Livingstone, the current favourite, could be challenged. If the Tories form the next government but Labour wins the mayoralty in 2012, the victor would be the highest profile governing politician for Labour in the country, the same scenario as with Boris Johnson now.

The Liberal Democrats will be asked the usual question of whether they can finally become a genuine party of force.

This will be tricky if their campaigning resources are contending with two elections on the same day.

There will be a focus on their battles with the Tories in south west London, especially Susan Kramer vs Zac Goldsmith in Richmond. But the telling point will be in Brent, Camden, Islington and Haringey, where they have increased votes but not always on seats.

Some headline battles will define London politically - the Tooting seat and Sutton and Kingston councils will be Tory benchmark targets and they could sneak into Poplar & Limehouse with George Galloway and Jim Fitzpatrick splitting the left vote.

Labour will pray that Cruddas in Dagenham & Rainham and Margaret Hodge in Barking can stave off the BNP. It could take back Islington and will hope that Andrew Slaughter in Hammersmith and Dawn Butler in Brent Central hold their seats in the west.

The Lib Dems will be challenged in the south west, but might win Haringey and pick up one or two seats in central London. It will be fascinating to watch.


- Who are your five fantasy dinner party guests from the political world?

It has to be London politicians for us. Margaret Thatcher (who abolished the GLC), Ken Livingstone, Trevor Phillips, Dick Whittington and Samuel Pepys (to take notes) would make a rather intriguing evening.

- Predict one thing that will happen in the week running up to the election.

Boris Johnson will be seen on the campaign trail with David Cameron in Ealing.

- A hung parliament: good or bad news for public affairs?

This is something we've been predicting for two years, and it's neither good nor bad, just different. Read our political history after 1974.

Robert Gordon Clark is managing director, London Communications Agency

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