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London mayoral election race under way as Sadiq Khan and Susan Hall set out pitch for votes

London mayoral election race under way as Sadiq Khan and Susan Hall set out pitch for votes

The starting gun has been fired on the race to be the next mayor of London – with the Mayor and his main challenger trading blows and warnings that the Ulez row could play a key role.

Despite Sadiq Khan being well ahead in a number of polls, well-informed activists believe a low turnout and changes in the voting system could leave “only 10,000 votes” between the Labour mayor and his Tory rival Susan Hall.

Labour fears Mr Khan’s big poll lead – two polls last November put him on 50 per cent, compared with about 25 per cent for Ms Hall - could lead to complacency among supporters.

It has adopted a three-pronged strategy to secure him an historic third term, the Standard has been told: getting the core Labour vote out, convincing Green and Lib-Dem voters to “lend their vote”, and discouraging Londoners from voting Conservative.

But Ms Hall believes her campaign, which focuses on safer streets and ending the “war on motorists”, is resonating with voters, especially in Tory outer London heartlands.

She told the Standard: “I really think I can win this, I genuinely do. I honestly think it’s going to be close. Why? Because I have been knocking on doors for months and months. The hatred for Khan in outer London, the venom, is astonishing.”

She said the Ulez expansion across Greater London continued to anger many Londoners. “People have got their non-compliant cars under canvas,” she said.

“Khan thought that by bringing in the Ulez expansion last August that people would have forgotten by polling day. Well, dream on, sunshine – they really have not forgotten.”

Polling expert and Tory peer Lord Hayward, writing in Wednesday's Standard, said the Tories faced an “enormously uphill task”, and would need the party’s unpopularity nationally to change by mid to late March to give Ms Hall a path to victory.

However, while securing victory would be “very difficult” it was not impossible – as Mr Khan was weaker than in 2021, and the Ulez expansion was a “real problem”. Labour’s refusal to back a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war could also cost Mr Khan votes.

Wednesday's Standard front page (Evening Standard)
Wednesday's Standard front page (Evening Standard)

Mr Khan, who personally backs a ceasefire, began doorknocking in Camden at the weekend – confirmation that, with just over 100 days until the May 2 poll, battle has commenced.

On Wednesday he was set to reveal more details of his £21 billion annual City Hall budget, followed later this week with an announcement on Tube and bus fare rises.

City Hall’s share of council tax bills are due to rise by 8.6 per cent from April, meaning a typical household will pay £471 a year to the mayor, out of about £2,000 in total once their borough’s share is added. Tube and bus fares are expected to rise by about 4.9 per cent, in line with national rail fares.

But families with children at primary schools will save up to £500 per child as a result of Mr Khan extending his universal free school meals policy for another year – a key re-election pledge.

Ms Hall, who would retain free school meals if elected, is expected to criticise Mr Khan for his “double whammy” of increases in council tax and the cost of travel.

Asked by the Standard what he would do in a third term, Mr Khan said: “Wait for the manifesto.”

But he added: “I hope Londoners will know from my track record, when we’ve got the means to do so, I do things like freezing fares, I do things like prioritising universal free school meals.

“It’s really important that we recognise that we’ve got to make sure we use the money we’ve got to continue to make our city safer, more prosperous, more affordable and fairer.”

Susan Hall was last summer named Conservative Party candidate for the Mayor of London election (PA)
Susan Hall was last summer named Conservative Party candidate for the Mayor of London election (PA)

One City Hall insider said that both the Khan and Hall camps were expecting the result to be “very close”, due primarily to the expected “very low turnout”.

The mayor’s record on crime - there have been 1,000 killings in London since Mr Khan was first elected – is also causing alarm, despite there being fewer homicides last year than in any year since 2016.

Tory insiders hope voters will not be alienated after Ms Hall appeared to endorse posts featuring Enoch Powell and Islamophobic criticism of Mr Khan dating back to 2017.

Turnout fell from 46 per cent to 40.9 per cent in 2021, and was only 33 per cent in key Labour areas such as Tower Hamlets and Newham. By comparison, it was highest in Tory-supporting Kingston and Richmond.

Turnout in May is expected to be further suppressed by new voter ID rules – voters will have to show photographic identification, such as a passport or driving licence, before being handed a ballot paper.

Sadiq Khan is seeking to acheive an historic third term as mayor (PA Wire)
Sadiq Khan is seeking to acheive an historic third term as mayor (PA Wire)

In addition, the switch from the supplementary vote system – where voters get a first and second choice – to traditional first past the post will mean that Mr Khan will not benefit from Lib-Dem and Green second choice votes.

In 2021, he gained 40 per cent of the first-round ballot, but was only 120,676 votes ahead of Tory candidate Shaun Bailey. Second preference votes widened his final margin of victory to more than 220,000 votes.

Thirteen candidates have already declared an interest in running.

These include Green candidate Zoe Garbett, Lib-Dem Rob Blackie, former Labour MP George Galloway, Howard Cox, the anti-Ulez campaigner who is standing for the Reform UK party, and Count Binface, an “intergalactic space warrior” who came ninth in 2021 with almost 25,000 votes. A record 20 candidates stood in 2021.

THE RUNNERS AND RIDERS

Thirteen candidates have already declared an interest in running, and more are expected to throw their hats into the ring in the coming weeks

SADIQ KHAN (Labour) Seeking a historic third term. Announced that his free school meal programme will continue for another year if re-elected. Tight-lipped on the rest of his pledges. Says focus is on making London “safer, more prosperous, affordable and fairer”.

SUSAN HALL (Conservative) Campaigned hard against the expansion to the Ultra Low Emission Zone last year. Vows to scrap the expansion “on day one”, saying it has “been devastating for people”. She also plans to invest £200 million of additional funding into the police and to set up specialist units to tackle burglaries and thefts.

ZOE GARBETT (Green) Pledges to de-prioritise policing of cannabis and to make public transport more affordable including free bus travel for under-22s.

ROB BLACKIE (Lib Dem) Says he will “get the police to focus on serious crimes and earn the respect of Londoners”. Believes the Met is wasting time on low level drug offences like laughing gas and should be free to investigate rapes and sexual offences.

HOWARD COX (Reform UK) Founder of the FairFuelUK campaign. Would scrap the entire Ulez and “extensively increase policing visibility 24/7 to cut crime”. He would increase affordable housing, particularly for low-income families”.

NATALIE CAMPBELL(Independent) Promises to take a CEO’s approach to deliver recovery and growth. Head of bottled water company Belu and chancellor of the University of Westminster, she was originally longlisted to be the Conservative candidate.

GEORGE GALLOWAY (Workers Party of Britain) Previously stood for the Respect Party in 2016. Advocates “decent, cheap housing for all” and “an end to imperialist wars”.

AMY GALLAGHER (Social Democratic Party) Will “push back on woke ideology” and vows to “depoliticise the police” and make transport free for under-25s.

SHYAM BATRA (Independent) Property and finance broker who wants to “give people a voice”. Promises to abolish Ulez, the congestion zone and 20mph limits.

TARUN GHULATI (Independent) Wants to re-open police stations in areas with high crime and to tackle inequality.

RAYHAN HAQUE (Independent) Proposes car-free Sundays in central London once a month and making capital “AI-ready”.

ANDREAS MICHLI ( Independent) Gym owner proposes free gym memberships for Londoners and to train police officers up to blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

COUNT BINFACE (Count Binface Party) In 2021’s contest, he promised to rename London Bridge “after Phoebe Waller” and for no shop to sell croissants for more than £1.