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6 November 2023

Is Sadiq Khan cruising to re-election after all?

There are reasons to be sceptical of a new YouGov poll suggesting Khan would win by a 25-point margin.

By Ben Walker

A bit of a narrative buster today. A YouGov poll for the Mile End Institute has found that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is cruising to a third term as he leads his Conservative opponent Susan Hall by 50 per cent to 25 per cent. Khan’s re-election had been cast into doubt by a Redfield and Wilton poll showing him just a point ahead of Hall (33-32) and a JL Partners poll putting him two points ahead (37-35).

Next year’s mayoral election will be the first to be held under first-past-the-post rather than the preferential supplementary vote, under which Khan was able to scoop up second preferences from Liberal Democrat and Green supporters.

The YouGov poll shows Khan leading not only in inner London but outer London too. But his 25-point advantage rests against a backdrop of curiosities that require your attention. The first is that overall favourability towards Khan is low. Just 30 per cent feel satisfied with the way he has performed since becoming mayor in 2016, while 46 are dissatisfied. This isn’t too dissimilar to where Ed Miliband stood among voters in the closing stages of the 2015 general election campaign, when an Ipsos poll found 35 per cent satisfied and 54 per cent dissatisfied. Politicians generally fare poorly among the median Briton but it’s discouraging for the Labour mayor of an increasingly Labour-supporting London to be stuck in this territory.

The second issue concerns Ulez, or as my colleague Anoosh put it in the group chat this morning (sorry, reader, we forgot to add you): Who-lez? YouGov found 40 per cent in favour of extending the Ultra Low Emission Zone to outer London and 40 per cent against. No doubt the larger share of voters would be against it in locales such as Uxbridge or Ruislip. But an even split in London as a whole is about the best pro-Ulez campaigners could hope for at present.

From a Conservative perspective, I doubt that Ulez is a potent enough issue to topple Khan. There are other issues over which Londoners are far more likely to vote for or against mayoral candidates (such as housing and, now, the Middle East). 

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There is one final data-point from the YouGov poll that I want to draw your attention to. Khan’s current numbers would represent the most comfortable re-election of any London mayor since the elected office’s establishment. And the numbers broadly reflect how the region would vote in a general election. This, in and of itself, isn’t remarkable but it is at the upper end of expectations for Khan.

Local contests such as mayoral elections are meant to be an outlet for protest votes but the mayor is only five points behind Labour’s current London vote share. By contrast, at the 2021 election Khan performed eight points worse than Labour did in the region at the 2019 election, while his Tory rival Shaun Bailey did three points better.

It’s because of this that I don’t expect Khan to win re-election next year by a 25-point margin. The move away from second preferences may concentrate London voters’ minds (if, indeed, they’re even aware of it) but for the Labour coalition to hold together for a London mayor with a 30 per cent approval rating is a tall order.

If the campaign to re-elect Mayor Khan centres on Mayor Khan then expect that 25-point lead to fragment. But if the campaign is focused on Brand Labour, Brand Labour and nothing but Brand Labour then perhaps this poll may have some reflection in reality.

[See also: Rishi Sunak's biggest weakness is his own side]

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