The UK Mayoral Election Explained

Photo: Rex
What does the London mayor do?
In most UK towns, mayors (not to be confused with beefeaters or town criers) are known for wearing an oversized gold chain and being photographed in the local paper with a super-sized pair of scissors. In London, however, they control a multi-billion pound budget with the aim of figuring out issues such as policing, housing, planning and transport. The first London mayor was Labour's Ken Livingstone, elected in 2000. He was followed in 2008 by the Conservative, Boris Johnson, who is standing down this year because he's got his eyes on the big prize: 10 Downing Street. London mayors serve four year terms and have a salary of around £140,000.

When is the election?
It's on May 5th. Londoners can only vote if they are on the electoral roll.

Who are the main candidates?

Zac Goldsmith
Tall, handsome and the son of billionaire financier and major Eurosceptic James Goldsmith, the Eton-educated Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston MP is known for his mega wealth and his environmental campaigning. He's also a pretty regular feature on celebrity gossip sites, not least because his banking heiress second wife's sister, who was married to his brother (yes, keep up), had a fling with rapper Jay Electronica.

Sadiq Khan
A so-called salt of the earth type, Labour's Tooting MP was born in London and is the son of Pakistani immigrants. His dad was a bus driver, his mother a seamstress. He grew up with his seven brothers and sisters on a south London council estate. He's Muslim and he's worked as a human rights lawyer. Other candidates include Jenny Jones for the Green Party, Caroline Pidgeon for the Lib Dems and Peter Whittle for UKIP.
Photo: Rex
Sadiq Khan
Okay, so they're ostensibly very different. But how much does this really matter?
Current mayor, Boris Johnson, didn’t seem to suffer much for his super posh background (FYI his full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and King George II is his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather) but it’s possible his celebrity status simply overpowered any negative impact that may have had. Zac might have a similar background to Boris but may struggle more as he lacks that star power. Meanwhile, Sadiq’s campaign team are certainly playing up his more humble beginnings but, the thing to remember is that Labour have been saying David Cameron is an out of touch, rich Old Etonian for more than a decade – and he’s been prime minister for most of that time.

So, if background doesn't matter, what does?
It's likely that party affiliation will matter much more in this Mayoral election than it did in any previous one as this is the first time the London election hasn’t been dominated by one or two big-name candidates. For better or for worse, Boris and Ken had their own independent reputations of which being “the Conservative candidate” or “the Labour candidate” was only a part. Zac and Sadiq aren’t nearly as well-known so which party they represent will form a much bigger part of their reputation. As the expert Adam Drummond, head of polling at Opinium, explains: "Compared to previous London elections, this one seems much less dominated by big personalities and more likely to be influenced by traditional party loyalties. The Conservatives won convincingly in last year’s general election but Labour still won a majority of London seats and a huge proportion of Labour’s new members since that election have been in London so this probably gives Sadiq the advantage."

What do they stand for?
This still very much remains to be seen, but both candidates have put housing at the heart of their campaign, and both are keen to tackle air pollution. Jobs and transport are key issues for Londoners, so these are at the forefront too.
Photo: Rex
Zac Goldsmith
What's the word on the street?
According to one north London Labour councillor, "Sadiq Khan is really quite difficult to sell on the doorstep. He chops and changes. One minute he’s trying to appeal to Tory voters, the next he's criticising Corbyn. He’s not rich on policy, it’s more about a reaction to the media, and he was never well known in the first place." And as for Zac? "I've got no idea what he stands for, other than Tory ideology." It's fair to say, so far, both have been pretty poor in spreading their message. However, as we get closer to polling day and voters become more familiar with the candidates, that’s when we can expect to see more candidate-specific factors having an impact. Basically, it's hotting up... sort of.

And the turnout?
Turnout is difficult to predict here as there aren’t any other major elections happening on the same day that would boost it. By comparison 2020 is scheduled to coincide with the General Election which would definitely mean a higher turnout. However, if people think it’s going to be a close race then turnout will probably rise. Figure-wise, think 40% ish.

What are their tactics?
Sadiq may be painting Zac as a posh boy, but the Tory team are keen to place Sadiq on the left side of the party. Sadiq may have nominated Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader but he has distanced himself from the leader since winning the nomination and Zac’s campaign is trying hard to link the two together. As Drummond explains: "Corbyn’s poll ratings are not strong and, while they’re slightly less bad in London they’re still pretty poor and much lower than Cameron’s. A huge proportion of the increase in Labour membership since the general election has been in London but it remains to be seen whether that translates into a significant campaigning advantage for Sadiq."

So where should we place our bets?
Khan is the bookies' favourite and London is a left-leaning city. But don't be fooled by this. Let's not forget the general election polling fiasco (they called it wrong, very wrong) or the fact that before the 2008 election, Johnson was trailing Livingstone by as many as six points, but was enjoying a seven-point lead by the time polling day arrived. So, with the race yet to heat up, hold your horses, because this is no way a done deal.

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