Alex Crowley was Research Director and then Political Director of Boris Johnson’s London Mayoral election campaigns in 2008 and 2012. He is also the author of ‘Victory in London’, a book about how those campaigns were won.
“Already there are worrying signs that lessons have not been learnt. The orgy of self-congratulation that we’ve seen in London since Thursday is misplaced. Labour may have done better in the capital than elsewhere, but despite having genuinely excellent candidates and hard working activists, we fell well short of the mark – and our own expectations – in key target seats like Hendon, Croydon Central, Finchley and Golders Green, and Harrow East.”
The post election narrative says Labour bucked the dismal national trend in London, and many Tories I speak to say this means next May’s mayoral election is in the bag for Labour.
I say that’s Grade A, Mark One, Class One, Organic, Hand-Reared Cobblers.
The point is everyone said the Tories would get a thumping in the capital and we didn’t. Far from it.
Despite facing the formidable Labour/union London machine, our vote not only held up, it marginally increased from 1.1 million to 1.2 million votes (see results here). And Labour only increased as much as they did because of the Lib Dem collapse – not necessarily direct switching (although clearly there was some of that in certain seats).
Source: London Datastore
Everyone assumes the London mayoralty will revert back to Labour next year. This includes many in the Tory party. But I’ve never bought that analysis. After Thursday’s results I’m even more certain that City Hall is winnable again.
Why? Two reasons. First, in many inner and outer London swing seats, with middle class aspirational voters, the narrow left-wing Miliband platform was rejected. These are the same areas where mayoral elections are decided.
The problem for Labour next May is that all the current Labour candidates for Mayor (David Lammy, Sadiq Khan and Tessa Jowell) are positioned on this narrow left-wing, miserablist spectrum. This even applies to former Blairite Jowell, who knows she can’t win without union backing.
Second, turnout in a mayoral election is usually about half that of a general election, and we know from past elections that this favours the Tories.
At national level, Labour stacks up huge votes in safe inner London seats, like Camberwell & Peckham, where Harriet Harman now enjoys a 25,000+ majority. But in mayoral elections, many of these voters stay at home, viewing City Hall as a low-stakes level of local government (the Mayor has nothing to do with housing benefit for example – an issue which Labour used in this campaign to motivate its base).
Now that the General Election campaign is over, our next major electoral challenge will be the London mayoral election in May 2016 and we need to get cracking. We have been almost unforgivably slow in finding credible candidates so far, allowing Labour candidates time to prepare and build a profile.
As a result, we are now at five minutes to midnight. Labour will select by July, and the leadership contest is unlikely to affect that process.
The numbers clearly show we should not give up on City Hall – it is winnable again. But in order to do that whoever the Party Chairman is after the re-shuffle must, as a priority, smoke out the remaining candidates (and there are some very good ones in the wings) and quickly put in place a nomination process so that our candidate can at least have a fighting chance after the summer recess.
Put it this way: can you imagine the blow it would land on the new Labour leader in their first big electoral test in ‘home territory’ if we secured a third Conservative term at City Hall?