A new opinion poll suggests that Sadiq Khan enjoys a massive lead over his Conservative rival Susan Hall, with the Labour incumbent, who is seeking to win a third successive mayoral election, enjoying the support of 50 per cent of London voters compared to Hall’s 25 per cent – a figure that will surely send a shudder of anxiety through whoever, if anyone, is in charge of the Tory party in the capital.
The findings of the survey, by YouGov for Queen Mary University of London’s Mile End Institute, differ dramatically from those of the two polls previously published since Hall’s selection as candidate in July, both of which gave Khan only very narrow leads. The more recent of them, by JL Partners, conducted between 9 and 21 September, put him just three points ahead.
Can he really have stretched his lead by so much in the space of less than two months? The new poll and the one before it arrived at their headline numbers using slightly different methods: YouGov excluded don’t knows, those who said they would not vote or refused to say, and weighted their findings according to respondents’ likelihood to vote, whereas JL Partners used only those most respondents most certain they would vote. Even so, the difference between the two polls feels slightly unreal. We might need a few more and a bit more time for Londoner’s to get to know Hall, before a really clear picture of the contest emerges.
But let’s take a look at some of the factors that might have been having at least some effect on how London’s electors have been viewing the two frontrunners.
The fieldwork for the new poll was done between 12 and 17 October, beginning soon after Hamas committed its atrocities in Israel. That attack and Israel’s ferocious military response have, of course, produced strong reactions from political leaders and among activists and communities across Britain, particularly in the capital. There is no question that Mayor Khan has responded impressively to the test of recognising the concerns of Jewish and his fellow Muslim Londoners alike, fulfilling the mayoral role, in fraught and delicate circumstances, of speaking for Londoners in all their variety. Adding his voice to calls for a ceasefire in the war, albeit an expression of a forlorn hope, makes sense in the context of London and mayoral responsibilities. He has risen above the fray and stood foursquare against extremism.
It has been extremely difficult for Hall to have a comparably “good war”. In part, that is simply because not being the Mayor relegates her to the sidelines. It is also because Khan’s long-established reputation as a Muslim Londoner who is alive to the needs and anxieties of Jewish Londoners gives him a plausibility as a peacemaker she cannot begin to match, no matter how many hard stares she gives him across the chamber at City Hall. Her unbelievably crass claim at the Tory conference early last month that Jewish Londoners are “frightened” of a supposedly “divisive” Khan has underlined that she is an unacceptable candidate. Perhaps an increasing number of London’s voters are reaching that conclusion.
Khan’s further enlargement of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to cover all of Greater London continues to generate daily media coverage, almost all of it negative from the nationalist hard right outlets who have adopted Hall as a beacon of hope as the Tories struggle nationally. But the YouGov poll provides support for my unfashionable view that the ULEZ is not going to be the great, defining issue at the election next May some have cracked it up to be.
It finds that 42 per cent of Londoners support the latest expansion, 26 per cent think it should be shrunk back to within the North and South Circulars, and 20 per cent think the ULEZ as a whole should be scrapped. That makes 46 per cent in all who are against the expansion – slightly more than are in favour. Yet 50 per cent say they will vote for Khan, who introduced the expansion, and only 25 per cent say they will vote for Hall, who has vowed she will do away with it “on day one”. If ULEZ is “hated” by so many, as Hall’s media fans endlessly proclaim, how come twice as many Londoners would prefer to Khan to continue as their Mayor, despite almost the same percentage thinking the expansion was wrong?
Meanwhile, the impact with voters of Khan’s free school meals policy, which has ensured that no household in the capital containing a primary school age child has to meet that Monday-to-Friday cost this academic year, has yet to be measured. Anecdotal evidence suggests the initiative is being well-received. It might not inspire criminal vandalism in the suburbs or furious “culture war” column inches, but the parents and carers of nearly 300,000 primary school kids in the capital are better off as a result of the policy.
If the lead the YouGov poll gives Khan comes as a surprise, the big picture of the small print largely conforms to what we would expect. For example, Khan is further ahead of Hall in inner London than in outer London, further ahead of her among black and minority ethnic Londoners than among white Londoners, and preferred by every age group except the over-65s.
The poll also measured Londoners’ general election voting intentions and found Labour even further ahead of the Tories than Khan is ahead of Hall, whose biggest challenge is overcoming the built-in disadvantage any Tory candidate would face in Labour-leaning London. But rather than differentiate herself from Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and the rest, she seems determined, from her attitudes, to her policy positions, to her habitual True Blue attire, to closely associate herself with them. It is still early days, but there is no sign in the YouGov poll that this approach to the mayoral campaign has helped her so far. And there is no sign that she is minded to change.
X/Twitter: On London and Dave Hill. If you value On London and its coverage of the capital, become a supporter or a paying subscriber to editor and publisher Dave Hill’s personal Substack for just £5 a month or £50 a year. Photograph: Sadiq Khan with Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis at City Hall from Mayor Of London X/Twitter feed.