A poll for LBC this week has a 10 point lead for Labour’s Sadiq Khan in the race to become Mayor of London. Trailing 55-45 is the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith, with James Kirkup listing four reasons he’d bet £50 against the Richmond MP succeeding Boris Johnson. More damning was Alice Thomson in The Times (£), arguing that not only would Goldsmith lose but that the Tory high command wouldn’t shed a tear if he did; a Labour win would help Jeremy Corbyn survive until the 2020 general election – a price worth paying, some might say.
To all of that, I say don’t go down the bookies just yet. Here’s 10 reasons not to bet against Zac Goldsmith being the next Mayor of London.
The lower the turnout, the harder it is to predict the result. In 2012, Boris went toe-to-toe with fellow political heavyweight Ken Livingstone. Having faced each other in 2008, this was round two and the gloves were off. Despite impressive ground campaigns on both sides, huge media coverage and millions spent, the turnout was a ridiculously low 38%. It may be lower for Goldsmith vs Khan, and therefore it’s anyone’s game.
2. Zac may steal second preferences of Green voters from Labour
Green peer Baroness Jenny Jones told the Standard last May, “Most, though not all, Greens would usually vote Labour in a second vote in an election like the London mayoralty. But if Zac Goldsmith is standing, it’s a different scenario. Many of us very much like that he comes across as very green and committed and passionate.”
3. And Lib Dem second preferences too
In just five years, he reduced the Liberal Democrat vote share in his Richmond Park and North Kingston constituency from 43% to 19%. Brutal.
4. As well as capturing UKIP second preferences
Well, he will if he takes the right stance on the EU referendum. Despite a strong track-record of Euroscepticism, he has only gone has far as to say (on the Today programme earlier this week) that “It may be that [Cameron] comes back with reforms that are not adequate for people who are sceptical of the EU. If that is the case I will, along with those other people, vote to come out."
5. Policy platform yet to be set out
While rival Sadiq Khan has been firing off policies on housing (50% affordable housing target, London Living Rent) and transport (four year rail fares freeze, first year cut and then freeze in bus fares), the Goldsmith campaign has until now kept its powder dry.
6. The united nations of London
The Daily Mail recently highlighted that residents originally from India dominate ten of the capital's 32 boroughs, while research of voting patterns at the general election found that among Hindus, 49% supported the Conservatives compared to 41% who voted Labour.
7. The best there is
The Goldsmith campaign is headed by CTF Partners. Lynton Crosby’s firm not only masterminded last year’s stunning Conservative election victory but was also behind Boris Johnson’s two successful mayoral campaigns. While the Times article above is right to point out that “the newly knighted Wizard of Oz… will not be personally involved in this contest”, the campaign is being headed by Mark Fullbrook, who with pollster Mark Textor makes up the trio that is CTF. Deputy Director of the 2012 Mayoral campaign, Goldsmith has hired the best there is.
8. Closeness to Corbyn – motivating Conservatives
Dame Tessa Jowell was the initial favourite to win the Labour nomination, but a wave of hard-left supporters who had signed up to support Corbyn also swept Khan to victory. Khan nominated Corbyn for Labour leader (although he voted for Andy Burnham) and owes his current position to Corbyn supporters. The Tory campaign will play on this – even though Corbyn’s support in London is strong – because anti-Corbyn sentiment is even stronger among Tories in the capital; motivating them on a low turnout will be crucial.
9. Distance from Corbyn – demotivating Labour activists
The more the Tories seek to lump Khan in with Corbyn, the more he will try to move away. He’s been doing this from day one of his campaign. He slated Jez for not singing the national anthem and his comments about condoning terrorism as “particularly dangerous in London” were interpreted as a savage rebuke to Corbyn and co. How this will go down with the rank and file remains to be seen.
10. Top Tories want Goldsmith to win. Many Labour MPs do too
Toasting a silver lining is not the same as welcoming a black cloud. Yes, a Labour victory would help bolster the embattled Corbyn – good news for the Tories in the long term. But any suggestion that the Conservative Party is tempted to soft peddle for Zac Goldsmith is a great exaggeration. A loss in May would be followed by the tumult of the EU referendum and, later on, what could be a bruising battle to choose a new party leader. The Tories, including those at the top, want a win in London. The same can’t be said for those many moderate Labour MPs in London who may use a Mayoral defeat to oust Corbyn in the hope of saving their party in time for 2020.
Of all of these reasons, number one is the most important. It’s all to play for.
Voting to choose the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London is coming to a close. The choice is an extremely important one for the future of the party in our nation’s capital.
Three years ago I wrote for ConservativeHome on the challenge facing the Conservatives in London. Boris Johnson’s victory over Ken Livingstone had not received the credit it deserved given the ground-level support that Ken enjoyed; the number of Tory Councillors was a little over 80% of what Labour had.
Since then, things have got much worse.
Following local elections in 2014, the number of Conservative Councillors is now 58% of what Labour’s is. The outstanding London Data Store shows us that Labour boasts an impressive 1,060 Councillors compared to just 612 Conservatives. Let’s not forget the disappointing general election results in London: Labour now have 45 MPs to the Conservatives’ 27. Add in trade union membership of 670,000 and Labour’s Mayoral hopeful, Sadiq Khan, has an incredible head-start on whoever the Tories choose.
Sadiq Khan has lost no time in setting out his stall and gaining valuable publicity at the same time. He’s has been smart enough to distance himself from Jeremy Corbyn (strongly attacking his decision not to sing the national anthem) and telling City AM, “I want to be the most pro-business mayor we’ve ever had”. Khan is a savvy operator. Overturning the poll lead of his main rival, Dame Tessa Jowell, proved just that.
But here’s the nub of it. Khan’s impressive victory owed much to union endorsements and strong support from left-leaning “registered supporters” who joined the party to back Corbyn. The fact that Khan actually nominated Corbyn for Labour leader (although voting for Burnham) shows his willingness to court the hard Left. Make no mistake – the London Labour Party was being colonised by Corbyn-types long before Corbyn rose to prominence. Hence why Khan was canny enough to appease them by nominating dear Jeremy. And it is precisely this large (and growing) left-wing membership that will campaign in all weathers to evict the Tories and install Khan in City Hall. The left will be running London. The Conservative Party in London will be dealt its third major blow in three years.
That is why the Conservative Party need to choose the candidate best placed to win. If it doesn’t, it means Corbyn and his brand of loopy left politics will no longer be a threat but a depressing reality.
That means the Conservatives need to select the candidate who has proved time and again he can reach outside his party, one who has repeatedly shown he stands up for the best interests of the people he represents. And one who, because of these qualities, triumphs at the ballot box.
Zac Goldsmith is the stand-out candidate by far. Opinion polls put him as best placed to beat Labour. He increased his majority in the general election by a staggering 19,000 votes. He has the best name recognition among the public and the highest media profile. With a policy platform that will no doubt contrast sharply with Saqid Khan he can turn out core Conservatives. As a Eurosceptic as well as environmental campaigner he can appeal to left-leaning Greens as well as UKIP supporters for second preference votes. He is, quite rightly, the one Corbyn and Khan fear the most - which is why London Tories should vote for him to be the Conservative candidate.