A second successive opinion poll has indicated that Susan Hall, the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, is not far behind Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan in the race for City Hall. Hall herself has made a number of media appearances of late and launched a campaign website bearing crafted messages. As her party’s national conference gets underway, how is she seeking to maximise her chances at next May’s election in a contest Khan remains favourite to win?
The Hall website has no policy content yet, but bears the promise: “As Mayor, I will put things right.” On X, formerly Twitter, Hall promotes the site saying “I will fix the bread and butter issues that matter to you” along with a trio of pledges: “Safer streets, more money back in your pockets, the ULEZ [Ultra-Low Emission Zone] expansion stopped on day one.”
The overall impression is that Hall, who has also characterised herself as a “common sense” politician, is portraying herself as down-to-earth, practical and mindful of Londoners’ day-to-day concerns, and, by saying she will “put things right”, suggesting she would revive a better London that existed before Mayor Khan succeeded her fellow Tory Boris Johnson in 2016.
How effective is her pitch likely to be? Concerns about crime never go away, and Hall is hoping to capitalise on recent, high-profile offences, trends and statistics by claiming they are the fault of Khan in his role as the capital’s equivalent of a police and crime commissioner.
Her vow to do away with the latest ULEZ expansion – though not the previous one from the centre to the North and South Circular roads, which she opposed prior to its implementation and has since changed her mind about – is long-standing, preceding even the Tories’ narrow win in the Uxbridge & South Ruislip by-election, which has been interpreted by her party and many in the media as a national bellwether outcome.
The pledge to put “more” money back in your pockets is a bit odd – Hall hasn’t yet put any money in anyone’s pocket, so if she wins she won’t be putting “more” in – but can probably be taken as a hint that she would reduce the Mayor’s portion of Londoners’ Council Tax. Such a policy might have additional appeal if inflation and the cost of living remain high.
The potential appeal of such priorities can be tested to some degree against the polling evidence. The most recent voter intention survey was conducted by J L Partners between 9 and 21 September. Their headline finding put Khan on 35 per cent and Hall on 32, based on the 480 people in a sample of 1,000 who said they were “absolutely certain” to vote.
When looking at the breakdown of the poll findings, we’re dealing with quite small numbers of respondents, so the usual circumspection should be applied. But three elements stand out.
- Khan was significantly more popular than Hall among female voters, which is interesting given that Hall is female and has been accusing Khan of disliking women. Conversely, Hall was found to be somewhat more popular among men.
- Khan was vastly more popular than Hall among the under-35s, and a little more popular among those aged 35 to 54. Where Hall led was among those aged 55 and over, where her lead was substantial. The differing distribution of support across the age groups is entirely to be expected, as older people are reliably more likely to vote Tory. A familiar concern for Khan will be that older people in general are also more likely to vote.
- Although Hall was found to be more popular than Khan in outer London, her lead over him was small – just three percentage points – whereas his over her in inner London was 12 points. More people live in outer London and the poll duly reflects that. However, in light of the prominence the Tories are giving the ULEZ expansion and the Uxbridge result, Hall might have been expected to be further ahead in the suburbs.
This could be further evidence that the ULEZ expansion will not be quite as big an election issue as is suggested by the amount of attention it continues to receive. The last poll of attitudes to the ULEZ as a whole (not just the expansion) found that, even amid the furore about it, more Londoners supported than opposed it, and the last poll of attitudes to the expansion alone found the same. And although the Tories and their media allies appear determined to keep the ULEZ in the spotlight, it seems reasonable to assume that its potency will fade with the passage of time.
That said, it is unlikely to disappear, and the Tories are attempting to build a wider case against Khan on the back of it: Steve Tuckwell, their successful by-election candidate, said on today’s Politics London that his victory showed that Khan doesn’t listen to outer London voters in general.
The outline of Hall’s approach to challenging Khan seems to be coming into sharper focus. Boris Johnson defeated Ken Livingstone in 2008 with the help of what was called a “doughnut strategy” responding to a range of outer London discontents. Hall appears to be trying to revive and adapt that approach, with resentment of the ULEZ as a fresh ingredient.
This marries up with appealing to the greater Conservative-voting tendencies and all-round conservatism of older people in a city whose older population has been growing – even though London is still, on the whole, a young city – and is particularly numerous in outer London.
Hall has also spoken out against new tall buildings appearing in the suburbs, another issue which seems to stir strong opposition among older Londoners keen to protect the existing character of their neighbourhoods. Tory MPs have got involved in local protests against high-rise housing developments, even when they aren’t in their constituencies.
In a recent interview, Hall said that crime is a bigger issue in inner London than outer, suggesting she thinks she can secure support there too. But could mobilising a car-owning, home-owning, conservationist outer-London “grey vote” that is fed up with Sadiq Khan, uncomfortable with change, likes the sound of “bread and butter” and “common sense” and wants things “put right” form the basis of unexpected win for Susan Hall?
The odds still seem against it. But another interesting detail of the the JL Partners poll was that “don’t knows” were running third on 12 per cent. With seven months to go until election day, there may be a lot of London votes to play for.