Campaigning to attract the support of London’s roughly six million voters has officially got under way today, as the formal pre-election period – previously known as “purdah” – begins with 45 days remaining until the elections for London Mayor and London Assembly seats on 6 May.
Labour incumbent Mayor Sadiq Khan starts the mayoral race as overwhelming favourite, having enjoyed unbroken opinion poll leads of more than 20 points throughout the last 12 months, with the most recent putting him 26 points clear, his largest poll lead yet.
Khan has today visited a jobs and youth services project in south London to highlight his core message of supporting the capital’s economy and its people as the city strives to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, which have devastated the retail, hospitality and culture industry sectors of the West End – key to national recovery too – and left London with the highest rate of unemployment in the country.
This year’s London elections, the sixth since the formation of the Greater London Authority in 2000, have been delayed for a year due to Covid-19. Khan’s consistent poll leads, with first preference vote support close to or exceeding 50 per cent, suggest an outside chance that he could win a second term without second preference votes needing to be counted
His closest rival, the Conservative Shaun Bailey, has struggled to make an impact on the City Hall race so far and been criticised for negative messaging, producing misleading campaign materials, having a narrow “core vote” strategy and choosing not to take issue with the Tory national government, which has been steering investment elsewhere in the name of “levelling up” the country and eroding the mayoralty’s powers.
But Bailey will hope to be helped by a “vaccine bounce” which has already seen the standing of Prime Minister Boris Johnson – Khan’s predecessor as London Mayor – improve significantly among Londoners and by greater media exposure as election day draws nearer.
Liberal Democrat challenger Luisa Porritt has been arguing voters looking for a credible challenger to Khan should turn instead to her. Taking third place in the last two polls, albeit with 10 and eight per cent first preference support, some distance behind Bailey’s 28 and 25 per cent, Porritt has called Khan’s insistence that only he or Bailey can win a “false claim“. Her policies on housing and high streets anticipate big changes in London’s neighbourhoods and working culture. She is also placing traditional Lib Dem stress on environmental issues.
Porritt will strive to mobilise Lib Dem support in the suburban south-west of the capital, where her party controls three boroughs and have three MPs and where Tories tend to be their main rivals, along with parts of Haringey, Southwark, Camden – where she is a councillor – and other parts of Inner London where there are loyal or latent pockets of Lib Dem sympathisers and seek to build from there.
Close behind Porritt in fourth in the last two polls, the Green Party’s Sian Berry is her party’s mayoral candidate for the third time. She finished third in 2016. Berry is also defending her seat on the London Assembly. She will formally launch her campaign later this week and has already made pledges to defend youth services, promote trans rights, improve road safety, provide “a new voice for older Londoners” and “flatten” the public transport fares structure, eventually doing away with different pricing zones.
An experienced campaigner and, like Porritt, also a Camden councillor, Berry can be expected to maintain her hallmark focus on the difficulties faced by private renters in the city, civil liberties and, of course, environmental issues across the board. The Greens hold strong appeal among younger Londoners and have grounds for hoping their support will be bolstered by those drawn to Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn but who are less enamoured of his successor Keir Starmer.
The most recent poll, which was conducted by Redfield & Wilton, was the first to measure support for Mandu Reid of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP). Respondents put her in fifth place on four per cent, just two percentage points behind Berry and four behind Porritt. WEP’s previous mayoral candidate finished sixth in the 2016 election and WEP will have hopes of finishing higher in 2021.
Reid is arguing strongly that tackling violence against and harassment of women and girls should be a far higher priority for the Metropolitan Police and for London and national politicians alike. WEP also campaigns on health, parenting and caregiving, pay and education.
UKIP, whose candidate finished fifth in 2016, are represented this time by Peter Gammons, a religious conservative. The party was the first preference choice of two per cent of Londoners in the Redfield & Wilton poll. A number of individuals have said they will run as Independents or representatives of other small parties.
Contests are also underway for the 25 London Assembly seats – 14 constituency seats and 11 Londonwide seats, allocated under a form of proportional representation. In 2016, Labour won 12 seats, the Conservatives eight, the Greens two, UKIP two and the Liberal Democrats one. The final day for submitting nomination papers and deposits is 30 March at 4:oo pm.
Update, 15:45: A new survey by Opinium has given Khan 53 per cent, Bailey 28 per cent, Porritt and Berry seven percent and Reid one per cent.
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