We daren’t use the word ‘certainty’ lightly in politics nowadays but the Betfair market signals pretty much imply that is the case in the race for Next London Mayor. Sadiq Khan is up for re-election in May and is rated 96% likely at odds of just 1.041/25.
Stewart withdrawal reduces uncertainty
These elections – the Greater London Assembly is also in play – were postponed last year due to Covid. One consequence of the delay is the absence of the Independent candidate most likely to impact the outcome – ex-Conservative Minister Rory Stewart. Whilst he wasn’t showing much cut-through, Stewart would have received a lot of media coverage, mostly sympathetic.
Whereas Stewart had the potential to eat into both the Tory and Labour shares – if not necessarily win – now it is effectively a straight fight between the big-two. An alternative vote system is used, meaning Lib Dem, Green and smaller party votes will be redistributed to either Khan or his Tory opponent, Shaun Bailey.
Polls project Khan landslide
Given very consistent electoral and polling trends dating back to long before Khan won in 2016, those transfers should prove decisive even if he underperforms. He consistently polls around 50% in the first round so may not need them. Head-to-head in the second round, Yougov record Khan leading Bailey 64-36, in line with several Redford and Wilton surveys.
To a distant observer of UK politics, such numbers may seem surprising. His predecessor was Boris Johnson, so London isn’t necessarily beyond Tory ambitions. Labour are in a dismal place nationally. London has no shortage of problems and Khan is frequently attacked over his record on crime and transport. Critics constantly accuse him of gesture politics and virtue-signalling.
Labour dominate London nowadays
The explanation runs much deeper than personalities. Since the Johnson era, London has changed politically to profound effect. Brexit transformed the dynamics as UK politics descended into culture wars. New voting blocs were formed based on age, ethnicity and education level.
The upshot nationwide is a Tory majority, as older, whiter, Brexit-backing constituencies abandoned Labour. But in younger, diverse, graduate-rich London, they have become dominant. Even as Jeremy Corbyn led the party to catastrophic, historic defeat in 2019, Labour won two-thirds of London seats, with 48% of the vote, leading the Tories by 16%. They even gained Putney.
Bailey’s brand of conservatism won’t fly
London won’t revert to the Tories any time soon. Their rhetoric and strategy is not aimed at courting those voter groups. Picking culture war fights, demonising ‘woke’ culture, associating with hard-right rhetoric and personalities, amounts to electoral suicide in any metropolitan city in 2021. That was not how Boris Johnson won London. Quite the reverse – he constantly stressed liberal credentials.
Shaun Bailey has never walked that path. His most famous comment involved accusing single mothers of getting pregnant to gain benefits. He is an overtly anti-liberal Christian Conservative, who reckons the BBC are liberal propagandists, and takes Conservative positions on abortion.
On these trends, London could be Labour for decades, maybe forever. However, complacency would be misplaced. They are dominant in London because they face no meaningful challenge – just as the Tories dominate where Labour have scant appeal. But the history of this mayoral contest suggests the conventional politician is vulnerable.
A strong celebrity candidate could win London
Ken Livingstone won as an Independent, before gaining the Labour nomination for his second term. He did so by a huge margin, driven no doubt in part by his considerable celebrity. He was only beaten by another celebrity in Johnson.
At the time, his Westminster career was going nowhere. Recognising the potential of the ‘Boris’ brand in a local contest was a truly inspired move by David Cameron. When reverting to a conventional politician in 2016, the Tories were hammered again.
Rose gamble makes little sense
So either they need to find a celebrity figure who can disassociate from the wider, national party brand, or somebody with those credentials needs to step forward as an Independent. Perhaps that was the logic of Brian Rose being gambled into 5.04/1 earlier and still trading at 50.049/1.
Rose is an American ex-banker with a big Youtube Channel called London Real, known for promoting conspiracy theories and notably Covid disinformation. He carries all the hallmarks of the post-truth grifters that have risen on social media during the age of Trump and Putin. Perhaps that too explains some of the money for him – either as a publicity device or from devoted fans.
Either way, this was one of the most bizarre gambles ever seen in UK politics. He has never impacted the polling. Brian Rose will not be Mayor, or even finish top-four. Take that to the bank. Barring some unforeseen disaster, Sadiq Khan will be.
Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.