OPINION - How Sadiq Khan defeated Susan Hall (and the rumour mill) to win big in London

Sadiq Khan has won a third term (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Sadiq Khan has won a third term (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Sadiq Khan has been re-elected as Mayor of London, defeating Susan Hall 44 per cent to 33 per cent. Some instant reaction below:

In what is a Labour city, amid a highly anti-Conservative political environment, it would have been difficult for any Tory candidate to win the London mayoralty. But not impossible.

The party's best opportunity was to turn this contest into a referendum on Sadiq Khan, focusing on his biggest weakness (crime), his most divisive policy (Ulez extension) and his generally vibes-based mayoralty. Instead, by nominating a candidate as flawed as Susan Hall, the Tories allowed the election to become a choice.

One metric stands out above all others. Hall won Ealing and Hillingdon – which includes the Uxbridge and South Ruislip parliamentary constituency that Labour failed to win last year, apparently because of the Ulez expansion – by 2,000 votes. But that in fact represents a small swing *towards* Khan. Same story in Havering and Redbridge, another outer London area. Hall won it, as expected, but there was a 0.6 per cent swing to Labour. Khan actually *flipped* West Central, won in 2021 by Shaun Bailey.

Meanwhile, in Labour's inner London strongholds such as Lambeth and Southwark, Khan not only won big, but secured a 7.5 per cent swing from Tory to Labour. Minimising the losses where you're weak, maximising the gains where you're strong – it's a devastating combination.

True, Hall outperformed some polls which suggested Khan enjoyed 20+ point leads. She can take heart from a credible performance after enduring a rough campaign and a challenging introduction to national politics. But a glance north might make CCHQ may feel quite different.

In Ben Houchen (winner in Tees Valley) and Andy Street (currently too close to call in the West Midlands), the Conservatives selected strong candidates who differentiated themselves from a deeply unpopular national party. Sure, they benefited from incumbency, name recognition and a record to run on, but they are a reminder that candidate quality still matters, especially in local races.

With 44 per cent, Khan performed better than I had guessed. I thought the big question for him would be the extent to which he would be successful in 'squeezing' the smaller parties. Because it is one thing to convince Liberal Democrat and Green voters to give him their second preferences, quite another under first-past-the-post to ask them to ditch their parties altogether and cast their only vote for Khan.

But the mayor did more than that. He secured a swing of  3.2 per cent from Conservative to Labour city-wide. When seeking a third term. After Ulez extension. It also, by the way, makes some of the chatter last night that Hall was on course to win (before any votes had been counted) look a little silly.

Khan's campaign benefitted from relentless message discipline. His line to take in the final few weeks was robust: this is a two-horse race, a close one at that and Hall is a "hard right" Tory. In other words, he forced voters into making a choice. Had it been a referendum, who knows what they might have said?

I'll have more (considered) thoughts on Tuesday. Until then, have a lovely rest of your long weekend.