Sadiq Khan: how Labour triumphed in London

During the campaign, London Labour spoke to a million voters – an amazing achievement and one that was possible only because vast effort went into building volunteer capacity.

A supporter in Redbridge listens at the launch of Labour's Euro campaign. Photo: Getty
A supporter in Redbridge listens at the launch of Labour's Euro campaign. Photo: Getty

A fortnight ago, Labour achieved its best election result in London in more than 40 years. Despite starting from a high-water mark, Labour gained 203 new councillors, taking control of five extra councils – Merton, Harrow, Redbridge, Croydon and, most astonishingly, Hammersmith and Fulham. In the European elections Labour won 37 per cent of the vote and doubled its number of MEPs. Half of London’s MEPs are now Labour.

The family is large and at times disparate, in London even more than elsewhere. It ranges from councillors, council leaders, mayors, MPs, assembly members and MEPs to the shadow cabinet, party members, volunteers and trade unions. Without all these groups working together, the May results wouldn’t have been possible.

In London, Ed Miliband’s bold policy announcements were at the heart of the campaign. Policies on making renting more affordable, raising the minimum wage and ending the exploitation of zero-hours contracts were pushed at every opportunity. The city is crying out for change and Labour is offering radical solutions. Yet one of the biggest challenges it faces is communicating what it has to offer: with the decline of old media (including local newspapers), an increasingly hostile press and growing apathy, it is harder than ever to get heard.

By fully co-ordinating messaging long in advance of the short campaign, Labour ensured that Londoners heard its themes not only through the national press but also in the Evening Standard, on regional TV, in local papers and in the party’s literature – all at the same time. More than in any other recent campaign, candidates adopted policy announcements as part of their local campaigning and repeated them through every medium at their disposal. The London Labour Party worked with the local media in the battleground boroughs with stories and even op-eds holding incumbent councils to account.

Local parties organised campaigns with the London-wide message without having the finer details dictated to them. For every London issue – from housing to childcare – branches were provided with the data for their area to use as they saw fit. They could include London-wide campaigns in their local literature, rather than having centrally produced, impersonal leaflets imposed from the top down. The result was a great mix of hyper-localised messaging, feeding into a strong overall narrative across the city.

But the heroes of the campaign were the organisers. In total, 17 of them were employed across London – more than at the last general election. They proved again (as if that were needed) that having organisers in place early makes all the difference on polling day. During the campaign, London Labour spoke to one million voters – an amazing achievement by our supporters and activists, and one that was possible only because vast effort went into building volunteer capacity.

The same few activists will never be able to speak to an entire borough. But if each of them recruits one extra person to volunteer, and they do the same, you can build a campaign team that can speak to more people than ever before. This is what London Labour’s organisers and candidates achieved, developing strong relationships with community groups and local opinion-formers along the way.

In London, Labour has 13 target seats for the general election. London holds the keys to Downing Street for Ed Miliband. Everyone should be proud of last month’s result – but it is just a staging post. The general election campaign starts now.

Sadiq Khan MP is the shadow minister for London