Can Khan be stopped?

October 18, 2019 | by Field Team

In this week's The Word From Westminster, Field’s Founder and Chief Executive Chris Rumfitt looks ahead to next year’s London Mayoral Election, and whether anything can stop Sadiq Khan winning a second term.

Next year, we will see voters in London go to the polls to elect the next Mayor of the capital city, and in amongst the chaos of national politics we thought it was worth a look at how the race for the biggest directly elected post in Britain is shaping up.

In 2016, Sadiq Khan was elected on a platform of delivering more affordable housing, tackling London’s air quality crisis and cutting tube fares. Four years later, and he will be forced to defend his record. But with just over seven months to go until polling day, how do we think voters will respond to the incumbent?

YouGov numbers rank the Mayor of London as the second most popular figure in the Labour Party – after Ed Balls (who let’s face it, is mainly popular for his dance moves!) and well ahead of Jeremy Corbyn – with a positive approval rating of 24%. He has also consistently been ahead in the London Mayoral polls – with more than half of voters saying they would back him in 2020. But that approval is in decline with net approval rating now at minus 1% compared to +33 back in June 2017.

Undoubtedly, the Mayor can enter the contest next year with a some of concrete achievements. For example, he has delivered on some of his key pledges such as bringing in the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), and sticking to his tube fares pledge which many doubted was possible. But compared to the high hopes of 2016, even many Labour supporters of the Mayor consider his tenure a bit underwhelming. Little real progress has been made on the housing crisis, and some of his policies have actually made house building harder. And on transport, under his watch TfL finances have plunged into the red whilst a poor relationship with central government impairs his ability to deliver. For business, Sadiq cuts a remote and often unhelpful figure compared to either Ken or Boris, who both engaged readily to get things done.

The other candidates in this race are, it’s fair to say, a bit of a strange hodge-podge. Despite a surge in Lib Dem popularity in London, the Lib Dem candidate Siobhan Benita will struggle with name recognition, and a lot of voters who might usually back the Lib Dems over Corbyn will be much more happy to support Khan. The Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey is having a hard time carving out a clear campaign message for himself, focusing a lot on attacking Khan, and not spending much time talking about major issues like Brexit. Then there is the Maverick candidate – the Independent Rory Stewart. Stewart is popular with moderates and has plenty of quirky charisma. But he is also unattached to any party brand and has no real connection in London.

The voting system in the London elections is an important factor here. The Supplementary vote system is used, whereby voters give a first and second preference, and if no candidate receives over 50% of first preference votes, all but the top two candidates are eliminated and second preference votes are reallocated. Rory will likely receive a lot of second preference votes, as the middle ground candidate who it is hard to hate. Sadiq Khan looks almost certain to top the poll, but if he does not get a majority of first preference votes then it all depends on who he is up against in the final two. Shaun Bailey will not get many second preference votes so if it is Khan Vs Bailey Khan almost certainly wins. If it is Khan vs Stewart however, Khan may have more of a problem with vote transfers.

A long way to go and a lot to play for but as it stands Khan is still the favourite. But Rory Stewart is certainly a potential banana skin the Mayor will need to be very careful not to slip on.

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