Election 2016: The Battle for London

Ranelagh has produced a “Guide to the London Mayoral Elections 2016, which is being released candidate by candidate. To read the briefings on Sadiq Khan please click here, and on Zac Goldsmith, here. The remaining parts of the briefing will be released over the next two weeks.

With the London Mayoral election fast approaching, the battlegrounds on which the election will be fought are becoming apparent. In the early stages of this contest, the coverage has largely focussed on the candidates’ most readily apparent difference: their respective backgrounds.

In terms of background, the two frontrunners could hardly be more diverse . Sadiq Khan is the son of a London bus driver and was raised in a council estate and state educated. Conversely, Zac Goldsmith is the son of a billionaire and an Old Etonian. Naturally, the media and Sadiq Khan’s campaign team have seized upon this narrative, casting the election race as a ‘battle of backgrounds’, a battle that Zac Goldsmith starts at a clear disadvantage. Khan has promised to focus his campaign on policy rather than background, but has not been shy in describing Goldsmith as a “serial underachiever”.

While the candidates’ backgrounds make for a compelling story and some fiery written exchanges between campaign teams, it is unlikely that the election will be won and lost on this battleground. After steadily falling further behind Khan in the polls since his nomination, Goldsmith is instead attempting to fight the Mayoral Election in the context of party affiliation. For a Conservative in the capital, this would normally be a bad strategy, especially for a candidate lacking the crossover appeal of the incumbent Mayor, Boris Johnson. However, Jeremy Corbyn is no normal Labour leader and his party, as a result, is not as secure in London as it could be. Goldsmith is therefore targeting Labour moderates who feel alienated by Corbyn’s leadership.

To this end, Goldsmith is trying everything in his power to tarnish Khan by association with Corbyn. Variously describing him as “Corbyn’s man in City Hall” and “Corbyn’s Sadiq Khan”, barely a mention of the Labour candidate escapes Goldsmith’s press office without an accompanying reference to Labour’s divisive leader. Anticipating this line of criticism, from the outset Khan has been keen to distance himself from the beleaguered Jeremy Corbyn and has vociferously denied that he would be “Corbyn’s patsy”, despite being one of 35 MPs to nominate him.

For those discerning voters not swayed by arguments surrounding personal background or political persuasion, there is still the matter of actual policy. In this election it is fair to say that there is broad consensus that the headline issue is housing. There is not even that much disagreement on what needs to be done. Both advocate more house building. Goldsmith would double house building to 50,000 new homes a year while Khan would strive for 80,000 a year by 2020. Both agree that there needs to be more affordable housing, delivered with a London first bias and largely built on brownfield land.

What they disagree on is each other’s ability to deliver on those promises. Goldsmith is particularly critical of Khan’s pledge for 50% of new homes to be affordable, a target which he believes to be wildly ambitious, while Khan has attacked the Conservative party’s record on, and commitment to, affordable housing.

Without any real detail of how each candidate’s housing policy will be delivered, Khan retains the edge at this stage; housing is one of the few areas on which Labour outpolls the Conservatives on perceived competence.

If turnout is high enough to counteract the Conservative’s popularity among older voters, Khan should be able to convert his poll lead into an election win.