Is London calling for Sadiq Khan?

With the London mayoral election looming, Labour is taking the lead in the early battle for reputational supremacy.

John Lehal
John Lehal

The Prime Minister may be granted the glamour of the motorcade and a regular private audience with the Queen, but with responsibility for an £11bn budget, the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London, the Mayor of London is the UK’s most powerful directly elected politician. 

In two months’ time, the third person to hold the post since its inception will take office, with a mandate from around a million Londoners.

It is often said that London has more in common with other major metropolitan hubs around the world than it has with the rest of the UK, and its voters are almost as unpredictable as its climate. So what can we expect to happen on 5 May?

London is increasingly a Labour city. And as shadow minister for London, Sadiq Khan oversaw some terrific results.

In 2014, Labour comfortably topped the polls in the European elections, securing half of the city’s MEPs in the face of a nat­ional onslaught from UKIP. The local elections on the same day saw 20 of London’s 32 boroughs tilting for Labour. 

And in last year’s general election, Labour out-polled the Tories by 300,000 votes and gained seven seats in the capital. Labour MPs now represent 45 of the city’s 73 constituencies.

When Londoners return to the polls in May, Khan looks set to get the hat-trick for Labour.

With the Labour leader’s poll ratings persistently poor, the Tories have repeatedly labelled Khan as "Jeremy Corbyn’s candidate", but they underestimate support for Corbyn in the capital, where he is much less of a liability than elsewhere in the UK. 

Despite the advantage of having Boris Johnson by his side, and with a relatively popular Government in office, Zac Goldsmith’s campaign doesn’t seem to have got off the ground. 

In 2012, the ‘Boris factor’ saw the Conservative mayoral candidate secure over 250,000 more first preference votes than his party’s Assembly candidates. Goldsmith doesn’t have the appeal of Johnson, and will struggle to build such a cushion of support. 

Khan has a strong policy offer too: he is demanding more powers for London, with housing his number one priority, and he has learned from other cities in pushing for skills and further education to enter the Mayor’s ambit of responsibilities.

In contrast, Goldsmith’s lacklustre campaign has been characterised by a stark absence of policy solutions.

Labour also has a clear advantage on the ground, with considerably more council leaders, MPs and MEPs to act as local figureheads for Khan. Add to that the swell in party members, and Labour will easily win the field war. 

At a time when the morale of moderate activists is low, the mayoral campaign is motivating members to campaign for a Labour man in City Hall.

Londoners, true to their reputation, are developing a habit of bucking the national trend when it comes to politics.

In Khan, they have a man to lend a Labour voice to a Labour city, and it seems that 2016 is his year.

John Lehal is MD of Insight Consulting Group

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