From the dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park to the friendly, vibrant atmosphere on Sydenham High Street. For every fried chicken shop, there is a hipster cafe round the corner. Shoppers can buy a cup of coffee for the same price as a family bargain bucket. Like much of south-east London, the effects of gentrification are starting to take shape in Sydenham, the suburb at the heart of the Lewisham West and Penge constituency.
Over the past decade, there has been a significant demographic shift in the area. This constituency was formed before the 2010 general election, comprising the electoral wards of Bromley and Lewisham. Since then it has been a Labour stronghold.
Voices from the streets:
“After nine years of Conservative rule and austerity I think we deserve better. I cannot understand why anyone, especially young people, would vote for the Tories.”
Samantha Begum, 22, graphic designer
“I honestly do not know who to vote for. I have lived in this area for over 50 years, and I think these young upstarts moving south do not appreciate how things used to be here and how they still are, the cost of living is through the roof.”
John Hooper, 58, business owner
Its predecessor seat, Lewisham West, was a marginal seat for much of its existence, alternating between Labour and the Conservatives for the best part of 30 years.
In the 2017 election, Labour candidate Ellie Reeves won the seat with a clear majority of over 11,000 (66.6% of the vote). Her closest challenger was the Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey (now running for Mayor of London) who had a 23 per cent share of the vote. This result represented a strong swing in Labour’s favour, its most substantial increase since gaining consistent majorities from 2010 onwards.
Labour’s Lewisham landslide in 2017 can be attributed to many things, not least of which the Referendum split in this constituency. Over 65% of people voted to stay in the European Union in 2016 from Lewisham West and Penge. Despite Labour’s ambiguous Brexit stance in 2017, many voters preferred their soft Brexit model to the Conservatives’ hard Brexit offering.
One of those was welfare officer Nashita Asker, 28. She said: “The Tories have one card to play and it’s Brexit. I voted to remain in the Referendum, and I will vote Labour in this election.”
In the upcoming Christmas election, this split will play a vital role, once again, in deciding the vote.
Ellie Reeves, who took just one day off for maternity leave as the election was called, will stand again, this time against Aisha Cuthbert of the Conservative Party and Alex Feakes of the Liberal Democrats.
The Conservatives will hope that the Lib Dems, the only party promising to revoke Article 50 altogether, will divide the remain vote. The Tories might have a chance to monopolise all the leave voters, some of whom might be traditional Labour voters, and turn the result in their favour.
Lewisham West and Penge is one of the most ethnically diverse constituencies in the UK. Compared to the national average of 10% per constituency, BAME citizens account for 30% of the population in this area.
Reeves, 38, voted against reducing grants to the local government in February 2019. Her campaign pledge on Twitter says: “We desperately need a Labour Government to reverse nine years of Tory austerity damaging our community, and I will do all that I can to make this happen.” The unemployment rate in this constituency is very high at 5.9%, meaning cuts to government spending will affect this area more than most.
Three more candidates complete the choice for Lewisham West and Penge: James Braun of the Green Party, Teixeira Hambro of the Brexit Party and Katherine Hortense of the Christian Peoples Alliance.
Braun will rely on voters who prioritise the environment above all else in light of Labour’s recent refusal to back the 2030 zero-emission target. The fact that 80% of Green supporters voted to remain in the EU might strengthen their case.
Labour won Lewisham West back from the Conservatives in 1992 and have not looked back. The growing influence of Labour in Lewisham in the early 90’s to the present day is an indication of how the demographics in the area have evolved. Barring any major upset, Lewisham West and Penge will once again be a Labour fortress after the 2019 General Election.
2017 Result: Labour Hold (Majority: 11,190, 43.5%)
Turnout: 72,899 (73% )
|Ellie Reeves||Labour||35, 411||66.6|
|Shaun Bailey||Conservatives||24, 221||23|
|John Russell||Liberal Democrats||3, 317||6.2|
|Karen Wheller||Green Party||1, 144||2.2|
All 2019 Candidates:
- Ellie Reeves (Labour)
- Aisha Cuthbert (Conservative)
- Alex Feakes (Liberal Democrats)
- James Braun (Green Party)
- Teixeira Hambro (Brexit Party)
- Katherine Hortense (Christian People’s Alliance)