OPINION - Reality check: Susan Hall might win the London mayoral election

In the course of three or so years and more than 700 editions, this newsletter has been known to drop the odd clanger. Typos, of course ('guilt-edged' still haunts me late at night) and even once contriving to use an image of Tower Bridge to illustrate a story about Hammersmith Bridge. But at least both crossings are in the right city.

The Conservative Party has been forced to delete an attack ad on Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan because the video, which included black and white footage of a stampede in a train station, was in fact taken from New York's Penn Station, following reports of gunfire.

This unforced error is not exactly out of keeping with the Hall campaign, which officially launched on Sunday, for reasons no one can quite explain. Traditionally, insurgent candidates try to generate as much media coverage as possible. Hall, as so often, moves in her own way.

Yet, for all the light entertainment generated by the Hall campaign: the fact that she won the Tory nomination by a bit of a mistake, her historic tweets, the disastrous media performances, the seemingly total lack of support she has received from the national party... she might still win.

Incidentally, this thinking is also the public message that the Khan campaign wants to get out. Like any politician with a seemingly insurmountable polling lead, the mayor is keen voters know the race is much closer so they actually bother to turn out on polling day. But I think he might also believe it.

Yes, Khan enjoys a 24-point advantage. But voters are also largely dissatisfied with his performance on a range of issues. A majority of Londoners say the mayor has done badly or very badly on dealing with knife crime and gangs, tackling homelessness and improving the availability of housing. Moreover, polling has historically overstated Labour's performance in the capital, and underestimated that of the Tories.

And this time, Khan is running for a third term, no easy task. One made more complicated by the switch to first-past-the-post, which means that Khan will need Green and Lib Dem voters to actually vote for him, rather than rely on their second preferences. Meanwhile, there's the new voter ID law and not forgetting, London's older population votes more than the young, and they're backing Hall.

But the Tory candidate has one further trick up her sleeve. A real policy disagreement with Khan on something plenty of Londoners care about: the extension to the Ultra low emission zone, the issue that helped to swing last year's Uxbridge by-election the Conservatives' way.

Which brings us back to Khan. It is noteworthy that, despite their falling out over Ulez, the mayor launched his campaign with Keir Starmer. Recall that the Labour leader somewhat threw the mayor under the bus following the Uxbridge defeat, when he said the party was "doing something very wrong" if the policies it put forward "end up on each and every Tory leaflet."

Why the rapprochement? Khan is wise to the fact that he isn't an especially popular incumbent, and so it makes sense for him to be associated with a buoyant national Labour Party. Conversely, Hall is staying about as far away from Rishi Sunak and the national Tories as possible to the extent that, as Londoner's Diary points out, the colour scheme on her leaflets is a deeply un-Tory orange.

Back in the prelapsarian days of September 2023, I wrote a newsletter with the slightly esoteric subject line: 'Even Susan Hall is a generic Conservative candidate'. What I meant by that is despite her foibles, there is no reason to think why Hall won't get the usual Tory vote in London. Every time Boris Johnson's name has not appeared on the ballot, this has never been quite enough to win. But it is also far too much to rule anything out.

This article appears in our award-winning newsletter, West End Final – delivered 4pm daily – bringing you the very best of the paper, from culture and comment to features and sport. Sign up here.