I usually vote early and have not made an exception today, on the occasion of the sixth set of elections for London Mayor and London Assembly. At my reassuringly familiar local polling station in E5 I was glad to find I was not alone in receiving the three ballot papers from the cheery staff behind the anti-Covid screen and making use of one of the specially-provided pencils – the sharpest I can ever remember – to mark my four crosses.
Turnout is the great unknown of this year’s elections. There are obvious good reasons for expecting it to be low – a combination of pandemic-induced hesitancy, apathy born of Sadiq Khan’s widely-expected easy win, low levels of doorstep campaigning, possibly significant numbers of Londoners being out of town and the minds of others simply being on other things.
That said, perhaps it won’t be as bad as some expect. Efforts have been made to encourage postal voting, and keep in mind that many (including me) expected turnout to be low in 2016 because it was the first mayoral election with no celebrity politician – no “Boris” or “Ken” – as a front-runner. In fact, 2016 saw the highest turnout ever at 46 per cent. This year’s delayed poll is, of course, taking place in profoundly different circumstances. But maybe we shouldn’t necessarily assume there will be a plunge to back below 40 per cent, as in 2000, 2004 and 2012.
The possibility of a low turnout is a particular concern for Khan, the Labour candidate, as the general rule of low turnouts is that they help Conservatives. The final four opinion polls of this campaign – see here, here, here and here – have also been the first of the past year to find first preference leads for Khan below 20 points – indeed, in three of them those leads have fallen to 12 or 13.
Even, so, they don’t suggest he is in much danger from Tory challenger Shaun Bailey, who has a best score of only 31 per cent of first preferences in those four polls, while Khan has stayed above 40 per cent by that measure. And the polls are pretty consistent in indicating that the final result, arrived at after second preference votes for the two leading candidates are added to their first preference totals, will be a win for Khan over Bailey in the region of a hefty 60 per cent to 40 per cent.
It will also be interesting to see who finishes third in what looks like the now-customary close-run thing between the Green Party and Liberal Democrat candidates – Sian Berry and Luisa Porritt respectively. There might be an outside chance of the hopeful of one of the smaller parties or a fringe Independent disturbing those placings.
City Hall hopes to have a result by Saturday evening, though historical precedent alone suggests the declaration might not come until Sunday. On London will, of course, bring you the news in detail as soon as possible.
On London has produced an 80-page guide to the 2021 London Mayor and Assembly Elections, written by On London editor Dave Hill and elections expert Lewis Baston. Make a one-time donation of £6 to the website and a copy will be emailed to you. Thanks.