The headline result from the 3 May elections in Islington was ‘no change’. Labour held on to 47 of 48 seats in the town hall, with the sole Green councillor, Caroline Russell, retaining the only opposition spot.
Indeed, Islington has the distinction of being the only local authority in London to see no shift in the partisan distribution of seats following the recent polls.
This result should perhaps come as no surprise in a borough that is home to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as well as to his shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who are also Islington’s two members of parliament.
In line with patterns seen across London, Labour increased its share of the four-party vote at the expense of all its main competitors, nudging the second-placed Greens down from 20 per cent in 2014 to 19 per cent, the Liberal Democrats from 15 per cent to 13 per cent, and the Conservatives from 10 per cent to 9 per cent.
Yet beneath this placid surface, fine-grained analysis of last Thursday’s election results tell a slightly different story: there was in fact far greater variation in party performance than was the case four years earlier.
Labour’s vote share in Jeremy Corbyn’s own ward of Finsbury Park rose from 66 per cent to 73 per cent. The party also grew its vote in ten other wards. At the same time, Labour saw its support slip in five wards, four in the middle swathe of the borough straddling the Ginger line – Barnsbury, Highbury East, Mildmay and St Mary’s – plus St George’s in the north-west Tufnell Park area.
Despite a slight decline in aggregate vote share, the Greens also had a good night overall, mainly at the expense of Labour. Their sole councillor Caroline Russell increased her share of the four-party vote dramatically from 28 per cent to 45 per cent in Highbury East. The party also made substantial inroads into St George’s, where its vote more than doubled from 17 per cent in 2014 to 38 per cent.
This suggests that the Greens are adopting a shrewder, more targeted approach to electioneering, which may also account for their gains across London – four seats in Lambeth and four in Richmond – plus two very near wins across the border in Hackney, one in Dalston ward by 21 votes following a recount.
The story for the Liberal Democrats was different. Bucking the national trend, their vote fell in 10 of 16 wards, though the party saw its vote in St Mary’s shoot up from 13 per cent to 26 per cent.
Of all the main parties, the Conservatives had the worst night: their vote share fell in all the wards where they stood candidates in both 2014 and 2018, save Canonbury in which their support inched up very marginally from 14.1 to 14.4 per cent.
Though the borough’s electoral landscape may not have undergone any profound transformations at the recent polls, it has become more variegated, with shifts between Labour and the Greens accounting for most of the major changes. So the message for 2022 is ‘watch this space’: electoral politics in Islington could well become more competitive in years to come.
Methodological note: Unlike many local authorities, Islington council has not released ward-level turnout data, making it difficult to calculate precise vote percentages. To analyse change in the relative vote share of the major parties in the borough we can use an alternative ‘four-party vote’ figure that is the sum of the votes for the highest-polling candidate from each party – Labour, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. The percentages recorded here reflect the vote share of the top-performing candidate in each ward as a proportion of the four-party vote in that ward.