Boris pulls ahead in the polls

But the London mayoral race is not won yet.

Is the London mayoral race a done deal? A Populus/Times (£) poll this morning suggests it might be, giving Boris Johnson a 12 point lead over Ken Livingstone.

In the first round of voting, the poll gives Johnson 46 per cent of the vote to Livingstone’s 34. In the second round, with all other candidates eliminated, the incumbent retains the 12 point gap, with 56 per cent to his Labour rival’s 44.

The poll was not good for the Liberal Democrats, with their candidate Brian Paddick polling behind the Green candidate, Jenny Jones (with five and six per cent of the vote respectively), and sharing fourth place with independent candidate Siobhan Benita. Ukip’s Lawrence Webb polled at three per cent, while the BNP’s Carlos Coriglia trailed at just one.

Why this sudden poll success for Johnson? The Times cites a surge of support for Johnson in outer London, where his lead extends to 20 points. While Livingstone polls marginally better than the Tory mayor in the inner city, with 51 per cent of the vote, he should really be doing better in these Labour heartlands.

However, Boris's team should not pop open the champagne corks yet, as this poll does not tell the whole story. Firstly, it is worth noting the possibility that this poll is an outlier – it has given Johnson his highest lead for months. The 12 point lead is double the margin which got Johnson into City Hall in 2008.

Elsewhere, the Evening Standard has published a poll by YouGov, which gives Johnson a narrower lead of three points in the first round, with 44 points to Livingstone’s 41. In the second round, the lead increases to four, with Johnson on 52 and Livingstone on 48. This is consistent with a Standard/YouGov poll last week, which put Johnson just two points ahead.

While a win for Johnson looks most likely, the relatively narrow lead still shown in some polls illustrates that the race is not quite a dead cert. It is hard to see, though, how Ken -- still failing to excite enthusiasm amongst his core supporters -- will pull off a victory.

David Cameron will certainly be hoping for a Tory win in London on Friday to distract attention from his other woes. A rather different poll by ITV News/ComRes last night showed that 49 per cent of the public think that the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt should resign, while just 16 per cent think he should remain in post. Those are dire figures given that the Prime Minister has gone out on a limb in Hunt’s defence, despite not being in possession of all the facts.

As I argued yesterday, a win for Boris could halt the flow of bad news and shore up support for the government from Conservatives. This is somewhat ironic given that if Boris wins, it will be contingent on how much he can differentiate himself from his party’s top command.
 

Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson await the results of the 2008 mayoral election. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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