On London event: An elections guide, a dazzling panel and a shepherd’s pie

On London event: An elections guide, a dazzling panel and a shepherd’s pie

I find organising events nerve-racking: there are so many arrangements to be made and things to remember. Then, having barely crossed the final item off my list, I find myself alone in an empty venue with 20 minutes to go until the start, hoping and praying that enough people turn up to save me from acute embarrassment.

Then, my grateful relief as the seats start to fill up is rudely disturbed by my remembering something else. Help! I’ve got to stand up and speak!

All of those anxieties and emotions featured in my build-up to last night’s On London gathering above my local Lower Clapton corner shop, Palm 2, at which I presented selected highlights from this year’s On London Guide to the On London guide to the 2024 Mayor and Assembly elections, compiled by me and On London contributor Lewis Baston.

It is therefore with great joy that I feel able to declare the whole thing a success, from the pleasure of meeting several On London supporters in person for the first time to the enthusiastic eating, drinking and gossiping that went on at my house later. Throughout, there was a lot of wisdom shared and a lot of laughter and jokes.

Lewis himself couldn’t be at the event, but he was certainly there in spirit as all the guide highlights I picked out were examples of his input into our joint effort, rather than mine. And the seal of quality was set on the proceedings by two other On London contributors – panelists Christabel Cooper, a brilliant reader of electoral trends who is director of research at Labour Together, and Jack Brown, lecturer in London Studies at King’s College and author of, among other good things, a fine book called The London Problem.

A lot of discussion focussed on whether or not there is any serious prospect of the Conservatives’ Susan Hall winning the mayoral contest and therefore depriving Labour’s Sadiq Khan of a historic third term. After all, opinion polls keep saying Khan has a big lead, and key conditions for a Labour candidate’s victory in London – the party ahead nationally, the Tory rival having no obvious crossover appeal – look firmly met.

The one area of doubt concerns Khan’s ability to motivate enough Labour supporters in the capital to ensconce him at City Hall once more. Although opinion polls have been putting him far ahead of Hall, they’ve also indicated that his popularity in London is significantly less than that of his party. In that discrepancy lie seeds of hope for Hall. But can they grow into laurels of victory by 2 May?

The panel thought not. That was despite Jack, rather dazzlingly, testing the evidence by constructing the best case scenario possible for a shock Tory triumph. Christabel, marshalling vast psephological insights, anticipated a Khan win by a margin rather smaller than the 20+ point advantages some surveys have recorded. I should have asked for a show of hands, but I’d say the mood of the gathering – a rather distinguished one, I might say – was that Khan will win by a number much closer to 10 than 20, and maybe by a bit less.

As for Assembly seats, the guide’s view that the Tories will lose West Central and (probably) Havering & Redbridge to Labour did not come under challenge. The Tories are also thought likely to be deprived of the three-way marginal South West, though by which of their opponents is less clear. Could mildly vulnerable Croydon & Sutton switch from blue to red? The feeling was probably not.

I walked back to my house with most of the attendees in tow. There, we made short work of a shepherd’s pie I had prepared in oblique tribute to Jeffrey Archer, the author and bon viveur who used to serve it to guests at his lavish parties. Archer was lined up to be the Tory candidate for the 2000 mayoral election, the first ever, but withdrew after scandal engulfed him. He used to serve Krug with his dishes. My budget didn’t stretch that far. However, that failing aside, I think a good time was had by all.

This year’s On London elections guide was generously supported by Lowick and elegantly designed by Hutch Agency. Photo by Sheila Fitzsimons.

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