London Mayoral Election: Is Sadiq Khan a certainty?

This article first appeared at on 1st March

We daren’t use the word ‘certainty’ lightly in politics nowadays but the Betfair market signals pretty much imply that is the case in the race for Next London Mayor. Sadiq Khan is up for re-election in May and is rated 96% likely at odds of just [1.04].

Stewart withdrawal reduces uncertainty

These elections – the Greater London Assembly is also in play – were postponed last year due to Covid. One consequence of the delay is the absence of the Independent candidate most likely to impact the outcome – ex-Conservative Minister Rory Stewart. Whilst he wasn’t showing much cut-through, Stewart would have received a lot of media coverage, mostly sympathetic.

Whereas Stewart had the potential to eat into both the Tory and Labour shares – if not necessarily win – now it is effectively a straight fight between the big-two. An alternative vote system is used, meaning Lib Dem, Green and smaller party votes will be redistributed to either Khan or his Tory opponent, Shaun Bailey.

Polls project Khan landslide

Given very consistent electoral and polling trends dating back to long before Khan won in 2016, those transfers should prove decisive even if he underperforms. He consistently polls around 50% in the first round so may not need them. Head-to-head in the second round, Yougov record Khan leading Bailey 64-36, in line with several Redford and Wilton surveys.

To a distant observer of UK politics, such numbers may seem surprising. His predecessor was Boris Johnson, so London isn’t necessarily beyond Tory ambitions. Labour are in a dismal place nationally. London has no shortage of problems and Khan is frequently attacked over his record on crime and transport. Critics constantly accuse him of gesture politics and virtue-signalling.

Labour dominate London nowadays

The explanation runs much deeper than personalities. Since the Johnson era, London has changed politically to profound effect. Brexit transformed the dynamics as UK politics descended into culture wars. New voting blocs were formed based on age, ethnicity and education level.

The upshot nationwide is a Tory majority, as older, whiter, Brexit-backing constituencies abandoned Labour. But in younger, diverse, graduate-rich London, they have become dominant. Even as Jeremy Corbyn led the party to catastrophic, historic defeat in 2019, Labour won two-thirds of London seats, with 48% of the vote, leading the Tories by 16%. They even gained Putney.

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