Amidst the fanfare surrounding the EU referendum, today’s Tooting by-election has come around virtually unnoticed. Triggered by Sadiq Khan stepping down after being elected Mayor of London, the contest does not look like it will herald much in the way of surprises. Barring a big upset, Labour’s Rosena Allin-Khan is set to win. Labour have held onto the seat since 1974, and it seems likely we won’t see a Tory win this time around either. But today’s by-election will be a closer race than it might have been a few years ago. At the last election, Labour’s majority was slashed from 15,000 in 1997 to 2,800. And Allin-Khan will be up against Dan Watkins, who ran against Khan in 2015, winning some 22,000 votes. So does he stand any chance of defying the odds this time around?
There has been suggestion that gentrification in Tooting will help the Tory cause. That seems like a sweeping statement, and given how Labour’s support has collapsed amongst blue-collared workers, it is more complicated than it might have been to say gentrification would eliminate Labour’s core support. Voter turnout, given how close today’s by-election is to next week’s referendum, could prove more influential. In a seat with a relatively small margin, Labour will need to ensure it gets its base out to make sure its candidate crosses the line in this race. Whilst voter apathy might have been caused by referendum fever gripping the country, though, the controversy surrounding Zac Goldsmith’s campaign could help Labour’s cause here. Goldsmith’s misguided attempt to link Sadiq Khan with various unsavoury characters sparked a backlash. And in Khan’s own back yard, the negativity surrounding that campaign is unlikely to do the Tories any favours here. That being said, Dan Watkins, the Conservative candidate seems amiable and well liked in the constituency. But he has a long way to climb today if he stands any chance of coming out on top. What’s more, given that the resources piled into Tooting in the run-up to the 2010 election, when Tooting was the most heavily canvassed area in country (some three million leaflets were dished out), didn’t pay off, it seems that winning Tooting is a big ask for the Conservatives. With that in mind, it looks likely that Labour will cling on in Tooting but with the referendum rumbling ever closer, don’t expect to hear much about this by-election in tomorrow’s papers.
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