In the General Election in London last year, Labour won 300,000 more votes than the Conservatives. As a share of the vote Labour won 44 per cent to the Conservatives 35 per cent. By contrast across the UK the Conservatives were ahead of Labour 37 per cent to 30 per cent. It’s true that Labour are unpopular now in the Corbyn era. Opinion polls nationally suggest a Conservative lead of around seven points, as at the General Election. Perhaps the Conservative lead is understated and Labour has fallen back a bit. Yet the General Election figures for the capital last year show the huge challenge facing Zac Goldsmith in seeking to be elected the Mayor of a “Labour city”. Labour has more MPs, more councillors, more Party members.
A poll for the Evening Standard yesterday by Opinium showed Goldsmith five points behind on first preferences and (of more relevance) ten points adrift once second preferences are included. A poll from YouGov for LBC in January showed Goldsmith behind by ten points on both measures.
And yet, and yet…
The impression I have from my own canvassing is that Party allegiance is fluid with a Mayoral race. The conversations suggest an inclination to decide on how to vote on the basis of the individual candidates and their policies. In west London, Goldsmith is well known for his opposition to Heathrow expansion. I have came across (a few) Conservatives reluctant to vote for him as a result and (rather more) Labour and Lib Dem supporters contemplating doing so. Goldsmith’s decision to vote for leaving the EU in the referendum has also been spotted and provoked mixed reactions.
There is an appreciation that Goldsmith is a man of integrity – an appreciation that he means what he says, even if you disagree with him. For his Labour opponent, Sadiq Khan, there is a hunger for the job, which is a plus, but it has also led to flip-flopping – amusingly documented on this site by Peter Golds.
An inclination to vote on the basis of the candidate rather than the party will not always favour Goldsmith. But it does shake up the kaleidoscope. It makes the contest more uncertain.
One unedifying aspect to the election may be some of us voting on the basis of tribe rather than belief.
Khan is a Muslim so rather depressingly some may vote for him or against him on that basis. He can be expected to win some votes from non-Socialist Muslims. If there is a low turnout generally, but a high turnout among Muslims, this could be very important. Some white traditional Labour voters may refuse to vote for him due to prejudice. Perhaps just as many, if not more, Hindus and Sikhs may switch away from the Labour candidate for the same reason. More happily, of course, we have more of the aspirational, upwardly mobile ethnic minority communities in places like Harrow and Barnet voting Conservative for positive reasons.
Another factor is that Khan has also played the “race card” to claim that any criticism of his extremist connections is anti-Muslim. This crass behaviour has not succeeded in silencing scrutiny in the media – and nor should it.
The big unknown however is turnout. The Livingstone/Boris contests caught the imagination of the media. This year’s London Mayoral race is struggling to compete against the far more important choice being faced the following month in the EU referendum. Goldsmith’s personal following in and around his home territory of Richmond and Twickenham will be crucial. Will the white working class voters on the housing estates of Havering and Bexley go to the polls without the excitement of Boris? Will pensioners (mostly pro-Goldsmith) maintain there sense of civic duty while fewer youngsters bother?
The Goldsmith team are busy at present with a postal votes drive. Constituency agents from outside London have been seconded to help. The campaign machine has become better organised in recent months. Goldsmith’s media performances have become more assertive. He is still the underdog. But he remains a strong contender.