Spotlight on the London Mayoral Election

February 17, 2020
Local Elections | UK Elections

The London Mayoral Election is almost two months away. It will be the first major election contest in the United Kingdom after the Tory’s landslide victory in December shifted the political terrain. But how will this national shift apply, if it applies at all, to liberal, global London?

One of the critiques frequently levied during the December election at the Labour Party––and at other members of the elite, political class in the media and in the other parties––was its increasing London-centrism. The results ultimately bore out this alienation: the only constituency Labour gained from 2017 was Putney in London. The London region was also where Labour performed best relative to the other parties, winning 48% of the vote share to the Conservative’s 32% and the Liberal Democrat’s 15%.

London therefore is a different terrain than the rest of the nation, and the upcoming election provides an opportunity for Labour to reassert itself and to potentially test new positions on key issues at a local scale. If Boris Johnson from his position as London Mayor could kickstart his eventual transformation of the Tory Party, then so can a Labour Party that is looking for new ideas. At the same time, this election is a risk for Labour. Coming only a month after the end of its leadership contest, it may bring further attention towards the London-centrism of a party looking to bring back its former voters who are everywhere but London.

For the Conservatives, the other parties and the independent Rory Stewart, this election will be an uphill battle. Yet, an unconventional Tory candidate has won in London before. Can Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey extend his range of support beyond his own party? He must, if he is to have any chance of winning.

In a poll of 1,200 voters in London conducted recently by Redfield & Wilton, we were able to take a look at some of the opportunities and challenges for all parties provided by this unique contest.

Our poll ultimately shows incumbent Sadiq Khan holding a commanding lead over Shaun Bailey. Our final table, which incorporates a turnout weighting and excludes those who say they do not know how they would vote, has the Labour candidate winning nearly 43% of the vote-share to Shaun Bailey’s 25%. Rory Stewart is a distant third with 12%.

In the London Mayoral election, you will be able to vote for your first and second preference candidates. If the London Mayoral election were to be held tomorrow, for which candidate, if any, would you vote as your first preference?  

However, while Sadiq Khan holds a decisively strong lead, a fifth of our respondents did indicate that they did not know how they would vote if the Mayoral Election was tomorrow. Moreover, 2019 General Election Conservative voters indicated more frequently that they were certain to vote: 62% to Labour voter’s 52%. Most interestingly, more than half of respondents believe that London has gotten worse in the time that they have lived in London. This election could still become a genuine contest –– but only if an ambitious candidate plays it right.

How would you best describe how London has changed while you have lived in London? In the time I have spent living in London, London has…

What would it take for candidates to distinguish themselves and have a shot at challenging Sadiq Khan? Conversely, what would it take for Sadiq Khan to extend his lead and show his party a potential path towards future national success?

According to respondents of our poll, the two most significant key policy areas in this election for them are Housing and Law and Order at 18% each. Healthcare (16%) and the Environment (12%) also promise to be key issues.

Those who care about certain issues tend to, unsurprisingly, be drawn towards particular candidates. For instance, 40% of those who selected Housing as their key issue for this election say they would vote for Sadiq Khan. By contrast, only 9% of those respondents who care about housing currently support Shaun Bailey. Meanwhile, 43% of those who care about Law and Order will currently vote for either Shaun Bailey (28%) or Rory Stewart (15%).

Thinking about the upcoming mayoral election, which key policy issue is the most likely to determine how you vote?

Candidates will likely play to their strengths and maximise their base of support. Indeed, Shaun Bailey, for example, has already framed his campaign around the issue of crime in London. But if any candidate is to have any hope of winning over voters from the other side, they must stake distinctive positions on issues that voters on the other side care about. For Shaun Bailey, this would be Housing and Healthcare. For Sadiq Khan, it would obviously be policing.

If candidates otherwise play it safe, as they may be inclined to do, it may be that this contest ultimately does not draw significant attention and enthusiasm. After all, the highest ever turnout in such an election was 45.3%. When asked what effect the Mayor has on the day-to-day lives of Londoners, a third of respondents to our poll said they thought the mayor has little effect.

Given this low-stakes background, with a potential for high payoffs, candidates should follow a simple maxim: be bold!

Data tables for this research can be found here. To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.