The race to become the next mayor of London has become significantly closer after Labour’s shock by-election defeat in Uxbridge put incumbent Sadiq Khan’s flagship green policy in doubt.
Last Thursday’s result, which saw the Conservatives narrowly hold off Labour to retain the west London seat, has been attributed to huge opposition to the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) to outer boroughs.
In response – and under pressure from Labour leader Keir Starmer – the current occupant of City Hall has said he is open to new ideas to help people with the daily charge for vehicles that do not meet emissions standards, but insisted he would not compromise on the existence of the scheme itself.
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It is hoped anger at the Ulez expansion, which will only affect one in ten cars in the capital and is due to come into effect at the end of August, will have subsided by the time the London mayoral election is held on 2 May 2024.
Who is standing?
Labour’s Sadiq Khan, the current London mayor, has said he wants to send a “send a message” to the Tories in seeking to become the first politician to hold the Mayor of London office for three terms.
He will face off against Conservative candidate Susan Hall, who came out top from a shortlist of relative unknowns. A London Assembly member and former council leader, she is a vocal supporter of Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Donald Trump “and is riding a populist (if not yet popular) ticket to City Hall”, said Londonist.
While a “fine candidate”, Hall is also a “dull one”, argued leading pollster James Johnson on Conservative Home, and though she may be able to draw on her experience serving in the London Assembly over the past six years, “her right-wing views may not be the easiest fit for many Londoners”, said Londonist.
The Liberal Democrats only announced its shortlist of candidates this month, with Rob Blackie, an anti-Brexit campaigner and adviser to start-up technology companies, and Chris French, a former Met Police officer and founder of the LGBTQ+ forum Lambeth Links, “the two names who have been thrown into the ring”, reported the Evening Standard.
Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) will put forward Howard Cox, a small-business adviser with a track record of campaigning for lower petrol prices, while Hackney councillor and NHS inequalities adviser Zoë Garbett will be looking to build on growing support for the Greens in the capital.
A host of independent candidates from across the political spectrum are expected to join them on the ballot paper.
What will be the key issues?
Khan will be looking to focus on his environmental and council-house-building policies as key achievements of his tenure, while Londonist claimed his “Superloop” bus network will also “figure prominently” in campaigning.
Many have long seen his re-election as a foregone conclusion, but the huge opposition to Ulez expansion has raised questions about whether he can, in fact, be beaten.
Hall has made reversing the policy one of the centrepieces of her campaign while Khan’s “appalling record on crime makes him vulnerable, as does his mismanagement of the capital’s transport network”, said The Telegraph in a leader column.
On top of these, “Labour will face the obstacles of incumbency in seeking a third term”, said The Guardian, “and a change to the electoral system, which means votes from lower-ranking candidates can no longer be transferred to the top two”.
What do the polls say?
The change to a first-past-the-post voting system is seen as the big wildcard in next May’s election. Forced through by the government, the change in how the mayor is elected is “expected improve the Conservative mayoral candidate’s chances of winning in a city which has been increasingly Labour-leaning in recent years”, said On London. This is because they will not have to assemble a coalition of more than 50% of the voters, just a plurality.
Looking at the last election, for example, Khan secured 40% of first preference votes, with his Tory rival on 35%, meaning closing the gap should be easier.
A poll from mid-June, conducted before Hall was selected, put the Labour incumbent on 41%, with the as yet unnamed Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates on 33% and 8% respectively. Garbett was one point behind on 7% while Reform UK’s Howard Cox was on 5%.
Sky Bet still has Khan as strong favourite to win on 1-4, ahead of Hall on 5-1. Barring a spoiler candidate like Jeremy Corbyn running on the left it looks to be a two-horse race.
“Voters think of the contest more through a presidential than a party lens,” said Johnson on Conservative Home. “Disassociate Sadiq from Labour, and the Tory candidate from the Conservative brand, and a [Conservative] victory is not beyond the realms of possibility.”
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