Lessons from the Mayoral elections

By Murad Qureshi

The Hartlepool electoral disaster for Labour and the subsequent in-fighting of the Shadow Cabinet plus the loss of 13 councils and a few hundred hard-working councillors ensured that the Mayoral contests up and down the country did not get the coverage they warranted – including the London one.

Out of the 13 contested, 8 were held, two gained from the Tories and one won for the first time. So there appears to be some mileage in them for Labour! So any insight from others on these other fronts would be appreciated.

Looking solely at London, there are some lessons to be learnt. Firstly let’s not trust the polls. In the London Mayoral contest, polls earlier this year suggested that Sadiq would win on the first preferences alone, something neither Ken Livingstone nor Boris Johnson managed in their time at City Hall. The actual results in London confirm that it’s very difficult for any incumbent Mayor to do this, though it appears to have been accomplished in Greater Manchester by Andy Burnham with 67.3% of the total vote, and in Salford by Paul Dennett with 59%.

Then we heard that Sadiq would win by a 20 point margin when it was actually 10.4%. The margin narrowed substantially in the last days of the campaign – if it was at all there in the first place. He secured a 55.2% of the votes in the second round run-off, compared with 44.8% for Conservative Shaun Bailey.

In absolute votes, Sadiq received 1,013,721 first preference votes and 192,313 second preferences for a final total of 1,206,034. Bailey’s final total of 977,601 was composed of 977,601 first preferences and 84,550 second preferences. Overall turnover was 42%, with for the first time over a million people voting by post.

Secondly, directly elected Mayoral contests are proving popular if we go by the results of the referendums in Tower Hamlets and Newham in London. These referendums were proposed by opponents of the directly elected Mayor model of governance, yet Newham’s electors opted by 56% to 44% to retain their Mayoral model. In Tower Hamlets the margin was much larger, with 78% for retaining it while 22% objected.

In another part of London, a campaign to have a directly elected Mayor in Croydon was launched a week after the London elections of 2021. So watch this space on even more Mayors in London. And as far as the City of Westminster goes, it may well be the only route for Labour to ever have control of the Council. 

Now while Sadiq’s first round vote share was down by 4.2 percentage points and the Assembly list vote share was down 2.2 percentage points, the London Labour Party machine has proven once again it can get over a million voters out, to win the Mayoralty plus up to 12 Assembly Members over the constituencies and London-wide top-up lists. All the nine constituencies we had held up well, returned both old and new candidates – though, alas, the lower turn out meant l did not get in on the list.

Some of the constituency results are worth looking at in a bit more detail, like West Central, covering what most people think of as London – Westminster, Kensington & Hammersmith and Fulham. While not unsurprisingly it had a lower turnout at 39%, coming out of the pandemic, the Tory Assembly Member only narrowly held it with a 1.6% margin across three local authorities and five parliamentary seats. Our candidate Cllr Rita Begum did very well for the constituency and even had a higher total vote than Sadiq as Mayor!

Clearly the Greens are the coming force – not so much in London with only one Assembly Member gained – although theu immediately got into bed with the Tories over the allocation of Committee posts. But in Bristol, the Greens gained an unexpected 13 councillors to give them joint control of the council. Certainly one of the reasons for the Green surge is an increasing awareness of the need for action on the climate crisis. It seems some voters don’t see Labour as the green option despite the steps take over the last five years, particularly under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

As for Sadiq, some have suggested he will need to move away from the showbiz, sloganeering, feel-good politics of recent years and focus on running the City. A case in point was his suggestion during the campaign of bringing the Olympics back to London, which l am not sure is a priority for Londoners coming out of the Covid pandemic lockdown. That said, his battles with government will no doubt continue to dominate the next three years, as he has been given a mandate to continue in that vein. And that will begin with a renewed wrangle over the finances of Transport for London this month.

Murad Qureshi was a member of the London Assembly from 2004 to 2016 and from 2020 to 2021.

Image: Sadiq Khan. Author: Shayan Barjesteh van Waalwijk van Doorn, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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