A new opinion poll has brought good news for Sadiq Khan. It finds he has extended his lead over all his challengers since the last mayoral contest poll, published in May. Khan was named as their first preference candidate for London Mayor in 2020 by 45 per cent of respondents to YouGov’s latest survey for the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) Mile End Institute. That’s an increase of two per cent for the Labour Mayor, despite a fall in support for his party in the capital over the same period. So which of his rivals has the best chance of narrowing the gap?
A new feature of the poll is that it is the first to measure the impact made by Rory Stewart, the former Conservative minister who announced five weeks ago that he will run for Mayor as an Independent. YouGov puts Stewart in third place on 13 per cent, 10 behind Conservative Shaun Bailey on 23 per cent, but ahead of Lib Dem Siobhan Benita on eight per cent and the Green Party’s Siân Berry on seven. How good is that for Stewart after just over one month in the field and how bad for Mayor Khan’s other challengers?
QMUL’s Professor Philip Cowley has told the Evening Standard, which published the main findings, that the poll contained evidence that Stewart could “cut through”, which raises the possibility of his making up ground and maybe finishing in second place. This would qualify him for the “run off” second round of the count when, under the supplementary vote system, second preferences come into play. The importance of second preference votes is often over stated. Only those of voters whose first preference candidate has been eliminated count, which means they are unlikely to be numerous enough to move the first preference runner-up into first place. It hasn’t happened in a London Mayor contest yet. Even so, for Stewart to finish second as an Independent would be a substantial achievement.
It is interesting to note where Stewart’s support so far has come from. He is the first choice of 15 per cent of poll respondents who said they intend to vote Conservative in next month’s general election, which means he’s eating into Bailey’s support. He is also the first choice of 20 per cent of Londoners who said they will vote Lib Dem in the general election, which means he’s eroded some of Benita’s too. If he can keep drawing from those two wells, his position ought to improve.
The poll can only be disappointing for the Lib Dem, who has been seeking to build momentum by stressing her party’s pure Remain position and generally becoming part of the “Lib Dem surge” that made it the most successful party in the capital in May’s European elections and has seen them perform well in a string of council by-elections. She has, however, overtaken Berry, who was in third place in the last poll. Berry has lost nine points since then, compared with only two lost by Benita.
What will happen next? Clearly, Stewart and the others need to overhaul Shaun Bailey, whose 23 per cent is unchanged despite Stewart’s arrival on the scene. This might be explained by his picking up some previous “don’t knows”. Although a very long way behind Khan, Bailey is also quite a long way ahead of everyone else – further ahead than six months ago.
Conventional logic suggests that the more the newcomer Stewart establishes himself in the London public’s eye, the more support he will attract. That said, the Three SBs – Bailey, Benita and Berry – can each hope for the same thing. And the challenge for all of them is how best to maximise their appeal – a challenge each will need to address in a different way.
Sadiq Khan currently looks well set to win a second term. Even so, the first opinion poll of next year, which will follow the general election and maybe the UK’s departure from the EU, should still make interesting reading.
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