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Don’t write Zac Goldsmith off just yet

Although the man himself appears uninterested in securing the top prize, it could still be his. 

By Stephen Bush

In a recent interview with the BBC, the only question about London that Zac Goldsmith was able to answer correctly was about a place that doesn’t exist – about the first proprietor of the Queen Vic, the pub in Eastenders.

That feels appropriate, because if the polls are to be believed, a Goldsmith mayoralty remains the stuff of fiction. The pollster changes, but the song remains the same: Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate, is miles ahead in the mayoral race, with leads either at or above ten points, despite a barrage from the Goldsmith campaign describing Khan as “radical” and “divisive”. (Both words that many believe, including the former Conservative parliamentary candidate Shazia Awan, are thinly-disguised ways of saying “scary Muslim”)

Labour staffers are feeling cheerful. Khan’s politics are near-identical to Ed Miliband’s, and Miliband’s Labour secured 45 per cent of the vote in London last May, while Khan is a more charismatic and dynamic campaigner than Miliband ever was. Most feel that a message they believe is racist and Islamophobic cannot work in the capital. “It’s the Crosby message,” one aide told me, “That worked nationwide, but it didn’t work here.”  

But Goldsmith’s chances are better than they look. The most recent ComRes poll puts Khan ahead with 53 per cent against Goldsmith on 47 per cent once second preferences are accounted for – but in it, 50 per cent of respondents claim they are “certain” to vote (grading themselves a “10” on a one to 10 scale of likelihood to vote). At the last mayoral election, in 2012, turnout was just 38 per cent. The highest it has ever been is 45 per cent, in 2008, while in 2004 and 2000 it was just 35 per cent. (Ken Livingstone has the unlucky fate of winning more votes in his two defeats to Boris Johnson than he did in victory in 2000 or 2004)

Assume for a moment that turnout is even only as low as 45 per cent, down on that 50 per cent figure in the most recent ComRes. We know that when turnout drops it does so among the young, the poor, and people who live in inner London  – the three groups where Sadiq Khan is strongest and where Zac Goldsmith is the weakest. In all the polls, Goldsmith is ahead among the over 55s, while Labour field organisers in the outer boroughs believe that the Goldsmith campaign against Khan is hitting home.

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It may be that Khan’s path to victory is not as clear as Labour might hope.