Sadiq v Susan; Is an upset in London really possible?

Ella Rose, Senior Consultant and Patrick Adams, Consultant

This Thursday will see voters up and down the country head to the ballot box to elect their local councillors and metro Mayors. Although this cycle has come quicker than usual, with the 2020 elections having been delayed because of pandemic, the shift in the national political landscape since the last election has been seismic.

As always, the result in the country’s largest city will be closely watched, with London holding elections for its Mayor and the makeup of the Greater London Assembly (GLA). A broad cast of characters have put themselves forward for Mayor, including candidates from the Liberal Democrats, Reform, the Greens, and of course, Count Binface (whose campaign pledges include affordable croissants, something many can get behind). However, the contest is widely agreed to be a two-horse race, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan, Mayor since 2016, standing for an unprecedented third term against the Conservative’s Susan Hall, a current Assembly Member.

As Borough Councillors in London, albeit in different boroughs representing different parties, we’ve been pounding the pavements ahead of the GLA elections, knocking on doors and delivering leaflets for our respective parties as they make the case to voters. Our view on the election, despite our political differences, is broadly similar. While the polls are significantly in Sadiq Khan's favour, the actual results are expected to be much closer, as his popularity varies across different parts of London. His policies and campaign pledges such as free school meals are having positive cut through on the doorstep, but it’s fair to say that the reception to the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has been mixed.

His Conservative challenger, Susan Hall hasn’t had much cut-through or name recognition. The selection process for her was mired in controversy and accusations of politics that don’t align with the majority of Londoners, with even Hope not Hate mounting a campaign against her election. It is safe to say an opponent with better name recognition would have had a stronger chance of deposing Sadiq Khan from City Hall’s new base in Docklands.

However, one important factor swings in the Conservatives favour, the change to London’s voting system. Previous elections have been run with the supplementary vote system. The Electoral Reform Act 2022 changed this in favour of first past the post. The Institute for Government has said that this “risks reducing voter choice and ultimately may damage the position of mayor”.

Removing the supplementary vote has handed power back to Labour and the Tories, and particularly the Tories at this juncture. Whilst many of the centre and left, mainly the Lib Dems and Greens might have opted for a second vote for Labour, Sadiq Khan will need to win those voters over on a first preference to secure victory. There is certainly a lot of squeeze messaging coming from Labour HQ, with the former Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor backing Sadiq.

With national polls showing the Conservatives twenty points behind the Labour Party, it seems unlikely that Susan Hall will be Mayor of London next week. However, the Conservative Party could scrape a win if they manage to secure high voter turnout in the outer London boroughs, largely due to opposition to ULEZ.  On the wider City Hall, not much change is predicted, but split voting does sometimes produce interesting results. All will be revealed at the end of the count on Saturday.

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