Philip Cowley: Sadiq Khan looks safe, but white, working-class and older voters have turned against him

Philip Cowley: Sadiq Khan looks safe, but white, working-class and older voters have turned against him

When we at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) first started a series of polls looking in detail at London’s political micro-climate, we found that Sadiq Khan could plausibly claim to be the most popular politician in Britain. In March 2017, the London Mayor’s net satisfaction rating – that is, those who thought he was doing well minus those who thought he was doing badly – stood at +35. No other frontline politician could attract such ratings. Such was his cross-party appeal in London, he even had net positive support from Conservative voters. But our most recent poll, published on Monday, shows, those days are now long gone.

The Mayor’s net rating remains positive, but only just. Under half (44 per cent) of Londoners think the Mayor is doing well. Almost as many, 40 per cent, think he is doing badly. This results in a net score of +4, the lowest since QMUL’s Polling London project began. Back in April, this stood at +22, and it has now fallen in each of the last four polls we have run.

The Mayor’s ratings are now negative among white voters, working-class Londoners, the over-50s, those in Outer London, Leavers, and Conservatives. Some of these – Leavers and Conservatives, say – aren’t much of a surprise and some obviously overlap. But back in April, Mayor Khan was still ahead among men, those aged 50-64, working class Londoners, those in outer London, and white Londoners. All of these leads have now gone. 

In April, he was +12 with white Londoners; now he is -5. He was +14 in outer London; now -5. With C2DE voters he was +5; now -7. He was then still narrowly positive with 50-64 year olds at +4 (and narrowly behind, at -9, with over 65s). Now he’s -5 with the 50-64s and a stonking -24 with the over 65s. He was +15 with men; now he is at evens.

One of the other striking features of the poll is a marked shift in voting intention for Westminster. Labour remains dominant in London, but both the major parties have seen falls in their popularity. At 26% the Conservative share is the lowest since we started polling – and a full seven points down on what they managed in 2017. And this is the percentage figure once you remove those who will not vote. So overall fewer than one in four Londoners now support the Conservatives.

Labour are still doing very well, but the shine is clearly coming off. They are seven points down on what they achieved in 2017. The gainers have been the rest: Liberal Democrats up five points in this poll, to 15, higher than in any poll we’ve done (the previous highest was 14, prior to the election, when Labour were in the doldrums), and close to double their 2017 performance; UKIP up two to four, and the Greens on five, more than double their performance in 2017. However, The gap between the two main parties remains 22 percentage points, exactly as it was in 2017, and double the 11 point gap in 2015. 

In terms of Westminster parliamentary contests – given that most constituencies in London are Labour-Conservative battles – this represents very little change, bar perhaps one Lib Dem gain.

The fall in Labour support explains some of the fall in the Mayor’s ratings (Labour voters happen, not surprisingly, to be more positive about him than others), but that is not the whole picture. Even among Labour supporters Khan is now viewed less positively than previously. In April he was +63 with Labour voters; now he is down to +38. Satisfaction with him has also fallen among other parties’ supporters: in April, he was +49 with Liberal Democrats. Now he is down to +25. He was -32 with Tories, and is now down to -59.

How much does this impact on the next mayoral election in 2020? Certainly, Sadiq Khan qua Sadiq Khan looks vulnerable, to a degree that would have seemed surprising a year or so ago. Some of those who ruled out seeking to become the Conservative candidate may now be regretting their decision. Yet, given the strength of the Labour vote and the ongoing weakness of Conservative support, Sadiq Khan as the Labour candidate still looks pretty safe.

Philip Cowley is professor of politics at QMUL.

Categories: Analysis

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