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A look ahead to the London 2024 mayoral election

On 2 May 2024, Londoners will head to the polls to decide who to elect as the Mayor of London. All 25 seats on the London Assembly will also be up for election. Assistant Consultant, Strategic Communications, Philip Sellar dives into the electoral changes that have taken place since the last election, profiles the main candidates and their focuses – particularly on the built environment – plus signposts what to look out for as we approach election day.

What happened at the last election and what’s changed since?

The 2021 London Mayoral Election was held a year later than initially planned due to the pandemic. The two main candidates were Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Shaun Bailey (Conservative). Sadiq Khan was first elected as Mayor of London in 2016 and was seeking a second term in 2021. Shaun Bailey has been a Member of the London Assembly since 2016. 

The candidates had to adapt to the circumstances brought about by the pandemic and fought campaigns that moved away from on the ground campaigning and towards digital platforms. The pandemic arguably also contributed to a reduced turnout from 46% of the electorate in 2016 to 42% in 2021. Sadiq Khan had favourable polling in the run up to the May election with a solid lead against his Conservative opponent. Some polls had this margin as wide as 25%. However, while Khan was ultimately re-elected, the closer than expected result surprised political commentators. On the first round Sadiq Khan had around 40% of the vote while Shaun Bailey had around 35%. Khan ended up being the more transfer friendly of the two and received 55% of the vote while Bailey was on 45%. 

The 2021 election was the final election in which the Supplementary Vote (SV) system will be used. Essentially SV allows voters to vote on a preferential basis. Critics of the system highlighted that the 2021 Mayoral Election saw a doubling of rejected votes with 114,000 first preferences votes rejected, demonstrating that some voters found the system complex.

In September 2021, the UK Government announced that SV would be scrapped and that future mayoral elections would be held under First Past the Post (FPTP) which the UK Government argue is familiar to the electorate and is simple to understand. The UK Government also announced and implemented other electoral measures including having to use ID at polling stations. 

Who are the main candidates?

There are 13 candidates who are standing in the upcoming mayoral election. However, there are only two candidates who have a serious chance of becoming the next Mayor of London - Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Susan Hall (Conservative).

Sadiq Khan is the current Mayor of London and has held the position since 2016. Prior to that he was a Member of Parliament for the constituency of Tooting for 11 years (2005-2016), serving in the last Labour government, and has a legal professional background. Also served as a councillor in Wandsworth in the 1990s.

Susan Hall has been a Member of the London Assembly since 2017 and between December 2019 to December 2023 was the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly. Prior to that she was the Leader of Harrow Council and the Leader of the Conservative Group on the council. She is still a councillor in the borough and has held that position since 2006, and her professional background is as a small business owner. 

Issues that have emerged on the campaign trail

The incumbent Sadiq Khan is balancing highlighting his record over the last eight years with what he plans to do if re-elected for a third term. His priorities include making London safer, tackling air pollution, making transport better and creating more opportunities for young people, among other focuses.

Susan Hall will want to be seen as the change candidate for the election and has focused heavily on issues related to crime and policing as well as a commitment to reversing the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) expansion. The Conservatives see particular potential in highlighting ULEZ as it was viewed as a significant factor in helping them unexpectedly retain the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency in a parliamentary by-election back in July 2023. 

According to recent polling done, the top issues that will determine how Londoners will vote next week are the economy, housing and policing/crime. 

Manifesto positions on built environment, planning and housing

Both candidates agree that increasing housing supply is an important factor to addressing London’s housing crisis. However, Khan and Hall differ on how to do this. 

Sadiq Khan wants the Greater London Authority to take a more proactive role in housebuilding. His manifesto has a commitment to 40,000 council houses being built by 2030 in collaboration with an anticipated Labour government. Furthermore, he wants to build on recommendations from the 2022 Kerslake Review. The review essentially looked at how the Greater London Authority could be more effective with housing delivery on the land it owns. Lord Kerslake recommended the creation of a City Hall owned housing developer and proposed that it could be created in two phases. Phase one would be the strengthening and expansion of the GLA’s existing housing delivery systems which Khan started the process of implementing. Phase two is the creation of a new City Hall owned developer. 

Khan has stated that if re-elected the second phase would be implemented during his next term in office. He also wants to create more Land Assembly Zones and Mayoral Development Corporations with a focus on regeneration, the building of homes for first time buyers and the social rented sector.

Susan Hall’s position on how to address housing supply is that the mayor should be working with the private sector to increase ‘institutional investment’ in build to rent schemes in particular. Her manifesto also states a commitment to increasing the supply of houses for home ownership. Hall believes that housing supply has been hindered by ‘red tape’ created in the 2021 London Plan and inaction from City Hall. If elected, Hall wants to conduct a review of planning policies, especially in relation to brownfield land that is located near significant public transport infrastructure such as train stations. 

She also wants to co-operate further with local authorities by working with them to regenerate their housing estates and offer the use of planners from City Hall to address the planning application backlog across the local authorities, ultimately speeding up decision-making process for prospective developers in London. 

Both candidates have also shown differing priorities when it comes to planning. For example, Sadiq Khan does not mention the issue of the green belt once (despite national Labour’s recent ‘grey belt’ announcements) while Susan Hall raises it as she believes in its importance as a buffer to ‘urban sprawl’ and that under her, green belt land would be protected. Alternatively, Susan Hall did not mention rent controls, while Sadiq Khan would like to introduce 6,000 ‘rent control rooms’ that would have their rents capped and linked to the incomes of key workers. 

Other notable points raised in Khan’s manifesto:

  • Advocacy for the phasing out of the leasehold system and replacing it with a ‘commonhold’ system 
  • Local authority buy back of former council homes to increase social housing 

Other notable points raised in Hall’s manifesto:

  • Move away from high rise developments towards high density low rise home building
  • Working with local authorities to bring thousands of empty homes back into use

What the polls currently say and what to look out for?

Currently, Sadiq Khan appears to be on course to win a third term. For example, the latest poll from YouGov shows Khan on 46% while Susan Hall is on 27%. However, the poll appears to indicate that the lead over his Conservative opponent is narrowing with polls at the start of the year showing wider leads. 

Recent polling also shows growing differences between Inner London and Outer London. According to YouGov’s latest poll, Sadiq Khan enjoys a commanding lead over Susan Hall in Inner London with 64% compared to Hall with 14%. On the other hand, Outer London appears to be more competitive territory for the Conservatives. Khan is still ahead with 38% but Hall is not far behind on 33%. ULEZ may be playing a role here with those in Inner London being generally supportive of the expansion while those in Outer London, with less access to public transport, providing more support towards scrapping the expansion. 

Polling also appears to show that Sadiq Khan enjoys higher name recognition than Susan Hall – although, this is to be expected with an incumbent. However, Londoners appear to have mixed views of Khan when asked, while a large proportion of the electorate still remains undecided on Hall. This shows Susan Hall has a significant opportunity to make in-roads among voters in the final days of the election.

It is also worth factoring any impact national politics may have on the mayoral race, which is likely to favour Khan. Votes will be counted over the course of two days with the Greater London Returning Officer expected to announce results for the mayoralty and assembly on Saturday 4 May.

For more insights on the London 2024 mayoral election and its potential impacts, please contact Philip Sellar.

25 April 2024

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