Tensions between the Conservative Government in Westminster and the Labour Mayor of London in City Hall have led to disputes over the balance of power between the two offices, with Sadiq Khan warning of an “anti-London agenda” in Westminster. Conservatives are increasingly aware that the party “are in deep electoral disfavour across most of the very capital of the nation they run.” Indeed, our latest voting intention polls underline this reality: Khan holds a significant lead over his Conservative rival Shaun Bailey in the Mayoral Election rac , while the Conservatives continue to trail Labour in London in General Election Voting Intention polls.
In our most recent poll of 2,500 members of the London public, a large majority (64%) of Londoners believe the role of Mayor of London has a “huge impact” on their daily lives, with just 25% saying the position has “little effect.”
However, despite public belief in the everyday relevance of the Mayor’s position, only around a third (35%) of respondents believe that the Mayor has more control than the Prime Minister over policies specific to London. Almost half (48%) believe that the Prime Minister has more control over policies specific to London.
Looking at specific policy areas, an overwhelming majority of Londoners believe Westminster has more power and responsibility over healthcare (72%) and coronavirus measures (73%) in London than the city’s own Mayor, a perception which is likely to have been reinforced by the Government’s actions in the capital during the pandemic, including the construction of the NHS Nightingale Hospital in nine days. The pre-eminence of the UK Government rather than the devolved authorities in regard to health and coronavirus was also highlighted to the London public during the early stages of the pandemic, when Mayor Sadiq Khan expressed his disappointment over being left out of emergency COBRA meetings.
Sadiq Khan and the UK Government have repeatedly clashed about immigration, with Khan underlining his disagreement with the Government’s plan for a ‘points based system’ after the UK leaves the EU Transition Period. A large majority (72%) believe Westminster has more power than City Hall regarding immigration issues.
Khan’s administration has attempted to take a proactive role in supporting the capital’s economic growth, through launching an Economic Development Strategy. However, almost two-thirds (64%) of Londoners consider that the Prime Minister and Westminster continues to have more power and responsibility in supporting the city’s economic growth.
A majority (51%) believe that the Mayor’s control over housing policy outweighs the Government’s responsibilities over the issue, which may indicate public awareness of Khan’s ‘Homes for Londoners’ scheme and pledge to build a minimum of 80,000 new homes a year. A significant minority (40%) consider that the Prime Minister and Westminster continues to exercise more control over housing in the capital, which may reflect public understanding that the Government can take certain actions in relation to building development, for example in the controversial case of the Westferry Printworks Development.
A more convincing majority (70%), believe Khan holds more power over transport. New measures initiated by Khan such as the ‘Hopper’ bus ticket, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), and the expansion of London City Airport have provided evidence of the Mayor’s role in the transport sector. Nevertheless, disruption to the transport network during the coronavirus pandemic has required Khan’s administration to seek multiple bailouts from the central Government. City Hall and Westminster ‘remain at loggerheads’ over how TfL should be run, and it remains to be seen whether the Government will ask for greater control over the city’s transport network in return for financial support.
The public was largely split on policing and the environment, with both results falling within the margin of error. While crime has been one of the most prominent issues on which Khan has been criticised , he has himself emphasised the limitations to his power, claiming crime is “clearly a national problem that require national solutions.”
The Mayor’s record on the environment is particularly mixed. While he has sought to act upon his pledge to make London the greenest global city by introducing measures such as the ULEZ, some have pointed to his lack of action or influence in response to the Extinction Rebellion protests.
While respondents believe Westminster generally has more control than City Hall over issues that impact the capital, Londoners are strongly divided on whether the role of Mayor of London should be scrapped or see its powers diminished, with 36% in favour and 37% against scrapping the Mayor’s position.
Demographic examination reveals that supporters of reversing devolution are more likely to be Conservative supporters. Notably, a majority (52%) of Shaun Bailey’s likely supporters favour scrapping or diminishing the role, compared to just 27% of Khan’s supporters. This variation is likely a reflection of Labour voters seeing the Mayor as a way to counteract the strong Conservative majority in Westminster.
Almost half (49%) of the public would favour the capital’s level of devolution being extended to other regions of England, while just 12% would oppose. A significant proportion (39%) gave no opinion in favour of either side.
Overall, a clear majority of Londoners consider that the Mayor’s actions have a significant impact on their day-to-day lives. Nevertheless, divisions in opinion on whether the role should be scrapped indicates that a large proportion of Londoners are dissatisfied with the impact of Khan’s policies on their lives. Moreover, a majority of the London public believe that the Government continues to be the key authority on a range of issues.