The latest poll of Londoners by Redfield & Wilton Strategies has produced fascinating findings about which layer of government is thought to have the most power and responsibility for a range of key policy areas and which one ought to have the most.
The survey panel of 1,500 Londoners was asked if they think “the UK government should give the London Mayor more control than he has now over policies specific to London”, or “the same control” or “less control” than he has now.
The response was that 35 per cent think more power and responsibility should be given to the Mayor by the government, 30 per cent think things should stay the same and 16 per cent think the government should give the Mayor less power.
The Londoners were also quizzed about specific policy areas. Redfield & Wilton asked: “In the following policy areas, who do you think CURRENTLY has the most power and responsibility with respect to London?” and offered a choice between, on the one hand, the Prime Minister and Westminster and, on the other, the London Mayor and the London Assembly.
Ten policy areas were then listed: policing, economic growth, housing, taxation, transport, environment, immigration, healthcare, coronavirus measures and welfare. Respondents said they think the Prime Minister and Westminster have more power and responsibility than the Mayor and Assembly in all but two of these – housing and transport.
The panel was then asked whether the PM and Westminster or the Mayor and Assembly SHOULD have the most power and responsibility in those areas with respect to London. In all ten, a larger percentage of Londoners thought the Mayor and Assembly should have more power and responsibility in comparison to national government than they believe they have at present.
The differences were significant rather than overwhelming. Only in relation to policing did the balance change in favour of the Mayor and Assembly – collectively City Hall – having the greatest power and responsibility: 46 per cent think City Hall should have most and 41 per cent think the PM and Westminster should. Only 36 per cent think City Hall does at present – a difference of 10 per cent – while 47 per cent think the national government does.
That leaves seven out of the ten policy areas where Londoners thought the PM and Westminster should should have the most power and responsibility. Even so, there were some other quite large differences between what Londoners think the present situation is and what they think it ought to be.
The smallest, of just two per cent, was on transport, where 58 per cent favour City Hall having the greater power and responsibly compared with 56 per cent who believe it already does.
At the other end of the scale, on healthcare 13 percent more people think the Mayor and Assembly should have the greatest power and responsibility than believe they have it at present. A 52 per cent majority still favour the PM and Westminster in this area, compared with 37 per cent who think the opposite. But that 13 per cent difference between what Londoners believe the current position is and what it should be is notable.
There was a similar outcome with welfare: 46 per cent think the national government should have the most power and responsibility compared with 39 per cent who think City Hall should. At the same time, there was a 12 per cent different between what Londoners think the current situation is and what they believe it ought to be.
The other double figure contrast was on coronavirus measures, where again there was a 12 per cent different between perception and preference for City Hall, though this again was not enough to tip the balance of what people think would be right – 54 per cent think it right that the government – the PM and Westminster – have most power and responsibility compared with 39 per cent who think City Hall – the Mayor and Assembly should.
What conclusions can be drawn about Londoners’ appetites for greater devolution of power and responsibility to City Hall? The figures might be read as a limited but not negligible desire for national government to give more power away. But perhaps they can also be seen as essentially reflecting a preference for a Labour politician in the form of Sadiq Khan over a Conservative one – Prime Minister Boris Johnson – in a city that leans strongly towards Labour.
Another finding in the poll seems, on the face of it, to point to a quite different conclusion. Asked if “a stronger central government” would be “better for London”, 45 per cent agreed and only 15 per cent said it would be worse for the capital.
But this might simply reflect a general view that a strong government is better than a weak one for everyone. When the same question was asked in relation to the United Kingdom as a whole, the outcome wasn’t all that different: 51 per cent said “better” and 12 per cent said “worse”. And a recent poll for Centre for Cities by a different company, which asked a different question, found that 85 per cent of Londoners would like more devolution. The debate continues.
Redfield & Wilton’s poll findings have been provided exclusively to On London, which was delighted to have some input into the questions the company asked.
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