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Alastair Meeks on why London is different and why Sadiq Khan should win comfortably

January 17th, 2016

London is different.  We often hear that.  But just how different is it?  London’s Mayoral election is due in May.  With no incumbent, we are set for a fight between two rather less charismatic figures than before; neither Zac Goldsmith nor Sadiq Khan yet have the first name recognition or the tabloid quotability of the two previous office-holders.  Default party support is going to be more important than in any previous Mayoral election.  So working out just how different London is from the rest of the country is of vital importance in assessing their chances.

And it turns out that London really is very different.

London is not like the rest of Britain

In the course of a four year Mayoral term, London’s electorate changes rapidly.  As of June 2014 its estimated population was just over 8.5 million.  London consistently generates a net outflow of internal population movements, with roughly 200,000 a year moving into London and roughly 250,000 a year leaving London.  However, at the same time London’s population is consistently growing.  This is caused by international migration and more births than deaths.

London is much younger than the rest of the UK.  The median age of Britain is 40.  The median age of London is 34.

London is much less white than the rest of Britain.  At the 2011 census, 80% of respondents across Britain identified as white British.   In London, that figure was just 45% (another 15% identified as white non-British).  Both the national and London census figures showed a decline in the percentage of white British from the 2001 census and there is no reason to assume that the decline has halted or reversed.  It is entirely possible that less than 40% of the population of London now is white British.

London is also much richer than the rest of Britain.  In 2012, GVA per head across the UK was £21,674.  In London it was £37,232.  Set against that, 14 out of the top 20 local authorities with the highest rates of child poverty across the UK in 2014 were in London.  It had all of the top nine boroughs for long term unemployment in 2012.  London is a city of economic extremes.

London’s wealth does not convert into a property-owning city.  At the last census, while only 36% of householders rented across England & Wales, over 50% of Londoners were renters.

Electoral London is not Britain

How does this map onto the electoral battleground? Younger people are much more prone than their older cohorts to voting for Labour. At the last general election the Conservatives led Labour 39% to 28% among white voters, but trailed them by 23% to 65% among BME voters.  At the last general election Labour led the Conservatives among social renters 50% to 18% (UKIP also tallied 18%) and Labour also led the Conservatives among private renters 39% to 28% (all these polling figures are courtesy of Ipsos-MORI).

So all of this looks good for Labour in London.  Labour’s strength is now largely focussed in England’s big cities.  Labour hold 45 out of 73 Westminster seats in London, but the Conservatives still have substantial seat holdings in London, unlike Liverpool, Manchester or Sheffield.

At the last general election, Labour took 43.7% of the vote in London while the Conservatives took 34.9%.  This gives us a fairly recent benchmark for the relative popularity of the parties rather than the personalities of the Mayoral candidates, though these figures may be skewed by the public’s views of the personalities of David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Turnout was, however, 65.5%, far higher than at previous Mayoral elections.   In 2012 turnout was 38.1%, which is just about the average for the four Mayoral elections so far held.  So the party’s ground game and their supporters’ motivation to get to the polling booth is going to be critical.

At a national level, the Conservatives led Labour 37% to 31% at the general election.  Currently the average of the opinion polls is running at something like Conservatives 38%, Labour 31% – so no real movement since the election.  Is there any reason to believe that London has moved differently from the country as a whole in the last few months?  In terms of polling, no.  The most recent London-only poll suggested that the Conservatives had gained a 1% swing from Labour since the last election, but Labour’s own rating was holding steady (the poll also suggested Sadiq Khan was in the lead against Zac Goldsmith).  Quite how much weight we can now place on polls is anyone’s guess, but for what it’s worth, it seems Labour’s position in London has not noticeably deteriorated.

We know that Labour has had a massive upsurge in members since the general election.  There may now be more Labour members in London than Conservative members in the whole of the UK.  The average constituency Labour party full membership in London has doubled since the spring and in some constituencies the rise has been much bigger: in Hackney North the full membership has tripled, with many more registered supporters and associate members on top.  The party membership was already skewed towards London and this trend seems to have intensified further.  So Labour’s already substantial advantage in the ground game numbers looks likely to improve further, even if most of these new members are armchair warriors.

This disproportionate increase in membership numbers hints that Jeremy Corbyn’s message might play out disproportionately well with a London audience.  At the very least, there’s no reason to suppose that Labour is doing worse in London than elsewhere at present and quite a few hints that it is doing at least as well.

The sum of all this is that all other things being equal, Labour are very well-placed to win the Mayoral election.  Unless Sadiq Khan crashes and burns or Zac Goldsmith dazzles with his personality, they can expect to win comfortably.  With no sign of either of those things taking place and only four months to go, Sadiq Khan should be something like 2/5 to win.  He’s currently best priced at 8/11 (with ToteSport and BetFred) and 4/6 is widely available.  Back him.

Alastair Meeks