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26 May 2015

The next mayoral election is closer than you think

Labour haven't won in London for eleven years. Without the right candidate, we'll lose again.

By Steve Reed

Labour has won just one out of the four elections for Mayor of London, and we’d be making a huge mistake if we think our candidate is guaranteed victory next year.   Boris won by taking Labour votes, Ken won by taking Tory votes.  Our candidate next year must have appeal beyond Labour and take votes directly from the Conservatives.  

There’s an assumption that Labour did well in London in an otherwise catastrophic General Election earlier this month.   Things aren’t quite that simple.  We may have done better in the capital than other parts of the country – but there was no overwhelming Labour victory in London either. 

The real story in London was the collapse of the Liberal Democrats.  Their vote went down by 14.4 points.  Labour was the main beneficiary with our vote share rising 7.1 points compared to 2010.  But we took almost no votes from the Conservatives.  In fact, there’s evidence from Survation that while many left-leaning Lib Dems switched to Labour, this masks the fact that many Labour voters switched to the Tories.  What’s worrying for next year’s mayoral contest is how the Tory vote in London has increased at every general election since 2001 and is now at its highest for nearly two decades. 

At this year’s General Election most of London’s safe Labour seats saw a below-average turnout while safe Tory seats saw turnout rise above average.  This follows the trend in both 2008 and 2012 where Boris Johnson mobilised the outer London Tory vote.  In a London-wide mayoral vote that matters.

In May, Labour finished 300,000 votes ahead of the Tories in London, but that lead vanishes if a Tory mayoral candidate can attract UKIP’s 300,000 voters.   While many former Lib Dem voters switched to Labour, there were 272,000 who stuck with the Lib Dems after they’d spent five years in coalition with the Tories.  There’s a good chance these Lib Dems would support a Tory mayoral candidate over Labour.  In a mayoral election where second preferences count, you can see how the Tories have a path back to City Hall next year if Labour can’t appeal beyond our own voters. 

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Labour’s disastrous General Election result nationally was based on a misguided core vote strategy, aiming to mobilise the 35 per cent of the electorate assumed to be Labour rather than winning support from other parties as well.  In fact, we didn’t even manage that – Labour’s share of the vote was just 30 per cent nationally.  The same core vote strategy that failed across Britain will fail in London too. 

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Sadiq Khan who ran Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, Diane Abbott and David Lammy each have less than 20 per cent support according to the latest Evening Standard opinion poll on potential Labour candidates.  Tessa Jowell scores over 40 per cent.  Jowell, with her record of setting up Sure Start and bringing the Olympics to London, does even better among non-Labour voters than with Labour voters although she’s ahead in both groups.   Tessa has the kind of broad electoral appeal that’s necessary to win in London. 

Labour must shake off the complacent assumption that we are destined to win the mayoral election next year.  This year’s general election, even in London, show’s that’s not the case.  If Labour picks the wrong candidate, we’ll lose.