OPINION - Sadiq Khan’s out in front in London mayoral race but the polls underestimate the Tories

OPINION - Sadiq Khan’s out in front in London mayoral race but the polls underestimate the Tories

The big change this year is that the London mayor will be elected on a first-past-the-post system. People understand the system and London is now a natural Labour authority.

The challenge is for the Conservatives to find a route to overturn that natural Labour majority. You should never say never in politics, but the balance of probability is with the Labour Party.

Susan Hall isn’t starting off from as low a base as people might presume. She needs the national winds to change by mid to late March, people’s perception of the Tory party at a national level and therefore their judgment, particularly on the economy. She also needs to avoid controversy which runs. A short-term controversy doesn’t harm somebody who is the opposing candidate.

As for Sadiq Khan, he is in a weaker position than last time. He needs to get the core Labour vote out and avoid a haemorrhage of support from Muslims over Labour’s stance on Gaza. He’ll probably manage to hold on to enough. But I would be surprised if he doesn’t suffer substantial defections, with people either sitting on their hands or changing party if there is a strong independent. Ulez continues to be a real problem for Khan and it’s primarily why he is so unpopular. It will be a big issue but it will be only big in outer boroughs.

The population is hacked off with politicians and that will mean an even lower turnout than normal, except in the outer boroughs. It remains to be seen whether the Tories can narrow the margin in the outer boroughs by campaigning on Ulez/Khan. Policing might become a problem for him. My inclination is the polls overestimate Labour, and therefore Khan. They probably underestimate the Tories.

The key elements of the election result will be a) the overall margin and b) whether there are marked differences between the outer London boroughs, where there’s a series of Tory marginals looking forward to the general election, including in Barnet, Chingford, Beckenham, Harrow East and, of course, Uxbridge.

Lord Hayward is a Conservative peer and polling expert