So we have Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London for another few years. That’s a most disappointing outcome for anyone who understands how his transport policies have damaged the capital. His main contender, Shaun Bailey, did better than expected and did manage to achieve 35% of the votes on the first round versus Khan’s 40%. But on the second round it was 55% for Khan to 44% for Bailey.
The multiplicity of candidates and parties certainly helped Sadiq Khan to get re-elected, although his majority was reduced from the 2016 election. On the first round, all the votes for other than the two leading candidates totalled 625,000 whereas Khan got only 1,014,000 (that’s only 120,000 more than Bailey). The reallocation of votes in the second round were more in favour of Khan and hence the outcome.
The turn-out was low at only 41%.
The Conservatives did well at the national level, with a good win in Hartlepool, but that was not significantly translated into improvements in London. The Government’s handling of the pandemic crisis seems to have been appreciated with Boris Johnson’s handling of the Brexit negotiations being also supported.
But London was different. Why is that? The Conservatives certainly lost popularity in London over the Brexit issue with a large number of EU nationals now in London, who could vote unlike in the Parliamentary elections. Was Shaun Bailey a good candidate and did he put forward attractive policies? I am not sure he had the impact needed to overcome an incumbent Mayor although he was better than Zac Goldsmith who was the last Conservative contender. London has become a very polarised city in socio-economic terms with large numbers of immigrants many of whom rely to some extent on social security handouts or are in low-paid jobs. There has also been a high level of unemployment in recent months because of the epidemic which might have been a major concern and housing continues to be a problem for many (Sadiq Khan’s promotion of rent controls may have been politically appealing if not very practical and with long term negative consequences if implemented).
Political organisation and the use of social media also seemed to be stronger in the Labour Party with Sadiq Khan using his position as Mayor to promote himself in the media.
How did the parties fare in the few local Council bye-elections in London (the main ones are not until next year)? It’s interesting to look at the four bye-elections in Lewisham where concerns about the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) might have had an impact. In Bellingham, Catford South, New Cross and Sydenham the percentage support for the incumbent Labour Party all fell – from 66% in 2018 in Bellingham to 55% this year for example. But that was not enough to change the dominance of Labour – we still have one party in control.
It was not clear that local issues were a major concern or that the electorate were influenced by them. But the inability to do much local campaigning may have had an impact and more concern about other matters such as crime and housing than local transport, traffic congestion and air pollution may have had an impact. The general apathy about local politics also hindered a rational choice – for example turnout of voters in Bellingham was only 36%!
Even the confusing voting arrangements might also have had an impact with three different votes – for the Mayor, for London Assembly Members and for local Councillors not helping. The encouragement of postal voting, particularly by Sadiq Khan, might also have influenced the vote as it is easier to commit vote fraud that way, i.e. submit a vote on behalf of someone else or “coach” people how to complete the forms.
In conclusion, and as someone who has been voting for the last 50 years, it’s worth saying that the quality of candidates and their policies seems to be dropping. Who would ever have guessed that unimpressive individuals such as Sadiq Khan or Nicola Sturgeon could ever become leaders in London or Scotland? They have both pursued very divisive politics in the apparent desire to stay in power rather than advocate what is good for the people and country as a whole.
Perhaps the problem is that few people wish to get involved in politics nowadays and those with talent avoid it. There is just too much back-biting and personal abuse in politics.
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