An exclusive poll for the Evening Standard put the issue well above concerns about affordable housing and revitalising the capital’s pandemic-hit economy.
It comes as the main candidates crossed London today in a last-minute dash for votes ahead of polling stations opening at 7am tomorrow.
Horrified shoppers had to be evacuated from Brent Cross yesterday evening when a 21-year-old man was stabbed to death. An 18-year-old has been arrested on suspicion of murder.
A total of 52 per cent of respondents urged the new mayor to tackle knife crime. Building more affordable homes was backed by 37 per cent. Reopening London after Covid was a priority for 35 per cent.
According to research for the Standard, crime is the one issue on which Mr Bailey has made inroads, with Londoners split evenly on whether he or Mr Khan offers the best solutions.
A YouGov poll last night gave Mr Khan a 12 point lead in the race for City Hall, based on first preference votes, down from 21 points a month ago.
The Labour candidate was down four points to 43 per cent while Mr Bailey was up five to 31 per cent, although there is a three-point margin of error in the figures. Mr Khan would secure re-election by 59 per cent against 41 per cent after second choice votes were added, the poll predicted.
The official results are not due until Saturday evening “at the earliest” — with returning officer Mary Harpley now warning that she may not be able to declare the winner “until Sunday morning” due to Covid precautions slowing the count.
Today’s Opinium poll for the Standard asked 1,005 adult Londoners to select their top three priorities for the next mayor. After knife crime, affordable housing and the economy, reducing violence against women and girls came fourth on 25 per cent, followed by the need to tackle air pollution (24 per cent).
Making London safer for pedestrians and cyclists was backed by 21 per cent. Only 10 per cent said getting Crossrail open was a priority.
Knife crime in London has increased by more than 60 per cent between Mr Khan taking office in May 2016 and the start of the pandemic in March last year, according to Office for National Statistics figures. But more recent data from the Metropolitan Police shows that in the 12 months to March, knife crime was down 33 per cent on the previous year, and knife crime with injury had fallen by 19 per cent. Homicides were down 15 per cent over the same year-on-year period, although the figures are likely to have been influenced by the three lockdowns.
This is the one issue that keeps me up at night-time — the safety of Londoners
Speaking to the Standard today, Mr Khan insisted that he was “not complacent at all” about the need to tackle violent crime. “As long as I meet bereaved families, I will continue to be motivated by this being an important issue,” he said. “This is the one issue that keeps me up at night-time — the safety of Londoners — whether it’s from terrorists or violent criminals or the virus.”
He added: “One of the things we have sought to do over the last five years is to make sure Londoners are aware of the obvious fact that the increase in crime is complex.
“I’m not excusing it, but it is linked with deprivation, poverty, lack of opportunity, inequalities. When I became mayor the proportion of funding from City Hall to the police was 20 per cent. I have increased it to 30 per cent. I have used both council tax and business rates to invest in the police.”
Mr Bailey, who polls show is gaining support among core Tory voters, said Mr Khan had underestimated the impact that crime would have on the mayoral race. “He didn’t realise that crime was punishing Londoners,” he said. “I said very early on that crime was the issue.”
The victim stabbed to death at the shopping centre was named by his family as Gedeon Ngwadema of Colindale. His mother, Thethe Elonga, collapsed as she went to lay flowers today. His uncle, Freddy Umbha, said: “More needs to be done to tackle knife crime. It’s time these boys gave up their knives. No more families should have to suffer.”