Waltham Forest election campaigns heating up

The Palace of Westminster
This year’s Westminster election is the first to take place in December since 1923

Three parliamentary seats are up for grabs in the borough, writes James Cracknell

Voters in three Waltham Forest constituencies will head to the polls on Thursday 12th December for a third general election in less than five years.

MPs agreed to hold an election as they faced another stalemate on Brexit and decided a fresh poll was the best way to break the impasse. It will be the first December general election in nearly a century.

While the Walthamstow and Leyton and Wanstead constituencies are considered to be safe Labour seats, Chingford and Woodford Green could easily swing either way. The area has been represented by a Conservative MP for half-a-century but has recently seen a surge in Labour support.

Changing demographics combined with anger over incumbent Iain Duncan Smith’s record as the former work and pensions secretary – he is described as the “architect of Universal Credit”, the controversial all-in-one benefit payments system – have put the Tories under pressure. The former Conservative leader’s majority was squeezed from 8,386 votes in 2015 to 2,438 votes in 2017 and the constituency is now one of the party’s key targets nationwide.

Faiza Shaheen is the Labour candidate hoping to usurp Duncan Smith in what would still be a big surprise. She is already a familiar face in Chingford having grown up locally and her campaign has been boosted by the hundreds of party members who have travelled from far and wide to help her canvass.

Another crucial factor in Chingford and Woodford Green is that two smaller parties have decided to step aside. The Brexit Party stood down its candidate David Axe after leader Nigel Farage agreed to give the Conservatives a clear run in seats they already held. It was the local branch of the Green Party, meanwhile, that made the decision to stand down its candidate to boost the chances of toppling Duncan Smith.

Walthamstow is a safe Labour seat that has only once elected a Conservative, in 1987. At the last election in 2017, Labour won a whopping 80% of votes – the tenth highest vote share in the country. Defending the seat is Stella Creasy, who has been busy campaigning across the constituency despite being pregnant. She gave birth on Wednesday.

The campaign in Walthamstow has been overshadowed, however, by an ongoing controversy over women’s rights. An anti-abortion campaign that has made personal attacks against Creasy in the past is now lending its support to the Christian People’s Alliance, which decided to stand in the seat specifically to target the pregnant Labour candidate. It has turned what should have been a simple re-election bid into an ugly and divisive battle that has made headline news.

In Leyton and Wanstead, John Cryer looks likely to cruise to victory in a seat that has been a Labour stronghold ever since creation in 1997. Cryer, who has represented the area since 2010, voted to leave the EU in 2016 but has since expressed support for a second referendum – 65% of voters in the constituency supported remaining in the EU at the 2016 referendum.

Not to be outdone by his Labour colleague in Walthamstow, Cryer has also become a parent during the election campaign. His partner, the Lewisham West and Penge candidate Ellie Reeves, gave birth to a baby boy earlier this month.

Among the other candidates in Leyton and Wanstead is independent Henry Scott, who just turned 18 earlier this month and is the youngest person to stand for parliament anywhere in the country at this election.