A new YouGov poll of Londoners prompted the Evening Standard headline: “Half of Londoners feel Sadiq Khan ‘doing badly’ as Mayor.” That is indeed what the poll found, with 32 per cent thinking he’s doing “very badly” compared with just 18 who think “fairly badly”. Against that overall 50 per cent, only 35 per cent thought he was doing (very or fairly) well.
On the face of it, that looks ominous for Mayor Khan’s hopes of winning a historic third term next May. But there are other ways of interpreting YouGov’s findings.
The same poll asked the same Londoners the equivalent question about the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party. Did they think Rishi Sunak was doing well or badly as PM? Only 32 per cent though he was doing well, which is three per cent fewer than thought Khan was doing well. And 51 per cent thought he was doing badly – slightly more than thought that about Khan.
Starmer too scored a little lower than Khan in terms of being seen as doing well, with 34 per cent compared with Khan’s 35 per cent. Where he fared significantly better – or less badly – than both Khan and Sunak was in the “doing badly” option, where he scored a comparatively good 44 per cent.
Measuring Londoners’ perceptions of national politicians against those they have of their Mayor should be done with caution. The Mayor is different sort of political figure doing a different sort of job. What’s more, Khan is a Labour politician in a city where the Conservatives are very unpopular.
However, it is interesting that Khan’s overall “doing well” rating was a little higher than those of both Sunak and Starmer. Khan, after all, has been Mayor for seven years, while the two national politicians are relatively new to their current roles.
One of the problems Khan will probably have to deal with when trying to win again is a feeling among some voters, perhaps including Labour supporters, that he’s been around for long enough. Yet his “doing badly” score was only two points higher than when YouGov asked Londoners the same question about him in January 2022 and his “doing well” figure was only two points lower.
All of that suggests that his approval rating, albeit negative to the tune of 15 points, has proved pretty resilient during a period in which London has experienced repeated public transport strikes and the devastating exposure of a malign culture and widespread incompetence in the ranks of the Metropolitan Police – two areas in which London’s Mayors have important responsibilities.
Khan’s ratings were still more negative when respondents were asked how he was doing in specific policy areas – minus 18 on transport, minus 39 on crime and minus 47 on housing. But even these might not give grounds for heady optimism among his political opponents, especially the Conservatives who have yet to even begin selecting their candidate for 2024.
A different YouGov poll published early this month, measuring general election voting intentions, gave Labour a gigantic 40 point lead over the Tories. Again, mayoral elections and general elections are different things. And candidates for London Mayor can attract less support on election day than their parties in the form of their London Assembly candidates, as Ken Livingstone found out in 2012.
The reverse can also be true, as Boris Johnson showed. But that rather underlines the importance for the Conservatives of finding a candidate who can rise above the very poor opinion so many Londoners have of the Conservative Party.
On paper, Sadiq Khan may look vulnerable. Tory optimists can point out that he won in 2021 by a smaller margin than even the later, tighter opinion polls suggested. The government changing the voting system from supplementary vote to first past the post could work against Khan too. But in reality, for all the negatives that might be ranged against him, it looks as if the three-time Labour candidate will be very difficult for whoever the Tories put up against him to beat.
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