It’s been an extremely dramatic election night across the U.K., where Theresa May’s Conservative Party defied expectations by losing its majority, albeit not as yet its ability to form a government. Over a night where Conservatives unexpectedly lost seat after seat, one district stood out even more than the others: the small but incredibly wealthy London district of Kensington. It’s thanks to Kensington, the richest constituency in Britain, that a result can’t fully be called yet. After two botched counts during the night, polling staff were exhausted that they need a rest before recounting this afternoon. Finally, this evening, the constituency was definitively declared for Labour.* Clearly, something incredible has happened.
The richest cluster of neighborhoods in Europe has just for the first time in its history voted in an MP from the center-left Labour Party. The last, now-rejected count found Labour just 35 votes ahead, a first for an area whose electoral boundaries have shifted but never yet returned anyone but a Conservative to Parliament.
It may be understandably hard for an American reader to understand how seismic this shift is. The U.K.’s Labour Party, which first rose to prominence as an explicitly socialist party in the 1920s, has never had much of a foothold with the old guard that Kensington is associated with. It’s historically been to the left of U.S. Democrats, a position it has returned to under current leader Jeremy Corbyn, who’s stood on a platform of nationalizing railways and postal services and abolishing university fees. This isn’t like citizens of the Upper East Side or Bel Air cheerleading for Hillary. A better example: Imagine the affluent Dallas enclave of Highland Park turning out big for Bernie Sanders. It’s like raising the red flag over Downton Abbey.
So how on earth did it ever get this close? The answers say as much about the way central London has been hollowed out by hyper-gentrification as they do about the current direction of British politics.
UPDATE: This post has been updated with new information: Around 9 p.m. London time Friday, Kensington was officially declared a win for the Labour Party.