Had Sadiq Khan’s opinion poll lead over Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey fallen slightly in the new Redfield & Wilton opinion poll it would not have been a surprise: the Labour incumbent has been enjoying leads over his second-placed Tory challenger of just over 20 percentage points for months, but with the rescheduled election drawing nearer and Bailey starting to receive more media attention as a result, it would be normal for the gap to close a little.
However, the new poll, conducted over the weekend and into Monday, told the opposite story: first preference vote support for Khan has increased by two points to 51 per cent since the previous poll in January – carried out by the same company – while that for Bailey has fallen by three points to 25 per cent, extending Khan’s lead to a massive 26 points.
Why is Bailey doing so badly? Why is he appearing to make so little impact on the contest as Khan powers ahead towards what now seems very likely to be the biggest win in a London Mayor election yet?
Neutral observers will point to the difficulty of Bailey still being fairly unknown to London voters: despite the Redfield & Wilton poll coming after the Tory hopeful’s campaign launch received substantial coverage, 30 per cent of poll respondents said they knew nothing of his policies even at this stage of the race, compared with 29 per cent who said they know “some” of them, 20 per cent who said they know “many” of them and six per cent “everything” he is offering.
As for Bailey’s political critics, they regard him as a shrill, callow lightweight and are unrelenting in their scorn for campaign tactics they regard as devious, dishonest and – in the case of his Twitter response to the disappearance of Sarah Everard – downright disgraceful.
But the Redfield & Wilton poll findings, some of them responses to questions about issues On London suggested, might point to more objective reasons why Bailey’s campaign isn’t cutting through so far.
For example, he has been consistently critical of Khan about violent crime in London, making much of his past experience as a youth worker to suggest he speaks with authority. He has also accused Khan of seeking to shift the blame for violent crime on to the government, which Khan has criticised for long-term spending cuts (which began when Boris Johnson was Mayor) he has had to compensate for since being elected in 2016.
A problem for Bailey with his line of attack is that many Londoners seem inclined to accept the premise of Khan’s defence: the new poll shows that 43 per cent of them consider the Prime Minister and Westminster – national government – to have more power and responsibility with respect to policing in London than the London Mayor and London Assembly do. True, the proportion who think the reverse is almost as high – 41 per cent – but with such a substantial percentage regarding the Mayor’s influence in this area as relatively small, the scope for Bailey to attach blame to Khan looks limited.
A policy area Londoners regard the Mayor (and Assembly) as having far more control over than national government is transport – by 59 per cent to 28 per cent. With that in mind, has Bailey been taking the most productive approach to transport issues in terms of making a good impression with electors?
He has highlighted the high profile issue of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) – the closing-off of residential streets to through-traffic with the aim of encouraging healthier alternatives to car travel, improving air quality and aiding social distancing during the pandemic.
Bailey claims LTNs are “causing chaos on London’s roads” and heaps the blame for this on Khan. In fact, although Khan supports the introduction of this new wave of LTNs as part of his Streetspace programme, it is also Tory national government policy, with funding provided to Transport for London to put it into effect in the capital. But the question raised by the new opinion poll is whether it is electorally wise for Bailey to take such a line on LTNs.
It is the case that Tory boroughs have been less keen on them than Labour ones (Wandsworth being the prime example), but what do Londoners as a whole think about LTNs? The new poll underlines previous findings that far more Londoners are in favour of the introduction of LTNs than are against them. Redfield & Wilton’s latest results are that 47 per cent of Londoners either support or strongly support them (33 per cent and 13 per cent respectively) compared with just 16 per cent who oppose or strongly oppose them (nine percent and seven per cent).
The poll also found that 24 per cent said they live in an LTN compared with 49 per cent who said they don’t (27 per cent said they didn’t know), and that more Londoners (42 per cent) think LTNs “redirect cars to other areas” than think they “reduce the overall number of cars on the road” (32 per cent). These figures might indicate that support for LTNs is quite soft (people who don’t live in them just like the sound of them) and that a plurality might be aligned with Bailey’s assertion that they add to congestion elsewhere.
Perhaps the Bailey’s campaign’s thinking is that although those opposed to LTNs are quite a small minority, they are highly motivated and therefore highly likely to vote. But, if so, that seems to add weight to the view that the ambitions of Bailey’s campaign are confined to limiting the ongoing damage Tory support has been sustaining for most of the past ten years or so rather than setting out a full, alternative vision for running London
His campaign has also been marked by a general disinclination to speak up for the capital’s broader interests when key elements of its social and economic functioning, such as Transport for London, the West End and the Square Mile, have been brutally hammered by the impacts of Covid-19.
Bailey has rebuked Khan for speaking out about national issues over which he as Mayor has no control, notably Brexit. Yet Redfield & Wilton’s poll indicates strong approval for Khan taking advantage of his public position to speak out on national issues. Fifty-six per cent either agree (39 per cent) or strongly agree (17 per cent) that he should do so. Only 16 per cent think the opposite.
Maybe Bailey would have done better to have been more critical of the Conservative government’s attitude to London – a highly negative attitude for an entire year now – and argued to the electorate that, as a Tory Mayor, he would have a better chance than Labour’s Khan of getting a good deal out of Boris Johnson and his administration.
Redfield & Wilton asked its survey sample to what extent, if at all, it agreed or disagreed that “when London is locally run by the same party that has a majority in Parliament, the London government would be better able to secure funding and projects for London”. A striking 64 per cent agreed (42 per cent) or strongly agreed (22 per cent) with that statement. A mere five per cent disagreed. Has it been wise for Bailey to try to blame Khan rather than Covid for TfL’s financial troubles and fail to challenge the government over its handling of TfL? Has it been wise to ignore the years of government cuts to Met funding?
Last year, it was reported that Bailey’s campaign was to receive a communications overhaul from a company that claimed its could help clients “to earn a reputation”. Whoever is currently in charge, they appear to still face an uphill struggle to establish a reputation that is helpful. Bailey may yet pick up some ground on Khan as election day comes closer, but the new poll findings raise the question of whether he has taken the wrong side in too many key arguments for too long to avoid a crushing defeat on 6 May.
Image from Bailey campaign promotional video.
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